Title: The 7th Sword
Publisher: IDW Publishing/Darby Pop
Writer: John Raffo
Layouts: Douglas A. Sirois, Matthew Humphreys, Kevin Altieri
Artists: Nelson Blake II, Nur Iman, Douglas A. Sirois
Colorists: Douglas A. Sirois, Dave McCaig
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover Artist: Andrew Robinson
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
On paper, The 7th Sword sounds like something I should really enjoy. It’s a lone samurai yarn in space, and the samurai needs to fight an army made up largely of robots. The planet is sand and dust, and I can appreciate a good desert planet. Unfortunately, I found this story with swords that can cut anything incredibly dull.
The protagonist of The 7th Sword is Daniel Cray, who once studied “The Bushido.” He wields a sword called a Malathane, which has a nigh-unbreakable blade and a cutting edge only one molecule thick. After a security job goes wrong on the colony planet Helios, he finds himself in Zenzion, a city struggling to remain neutral in the conflicts between the world’s warlords. Zenzion has been under pressure to join with the warlord Quentin Kavanaugh, and its leaders offer Cray enough money to buy passage off Helios if he trains them to fight Kavanaugh. Specifically, they ask him to train citizens to use Malathanes, six of which they salvaged after storms, among other weapons.
Before I go into how I felt about the execution of the plot, I’d like to praise the art. The aesthetic is interesting and unique. The mechanical designs are streamlined and segmented, with organic curves that flow. A “Hammerhead” war drone looks hulking and powerful, and Kavanaugh’s rolling fortress, the Dreadnaught Garagantua, is imposing and impressive. It’s huge, and dwarfs anything nearby. The art team gave narrative weight to frequent silent panels. The color palette is rich and varied, which is interesting. On a sci-fi desert planet, or in a similar Western-like setting, things can look dusty, dingy, dirty. Washed out in rust colors. But people wear a variety of colors, and the environments are similarly varied. There’s energy in the combat and movement, and everything is pretty well-defined.
The 7th Sword feels like it was meant to be a movie. And maybe if it had been a movie, I would be a tad more forgiving of it. As it stands, I don’t even feel like the word “predictable” applies. It’s simply so bland and so full of genre clichés that all of the interesting worldbuilding is overwhelmed. The plot doesn’t feel like a chain of cause-and-effect, more like a series of vignettes that move in a sequence because of course they do. Of course Cray’s invited to their holiday jamboree. Of course he dances with the dead mayor’s daughter. Of course he has a tragic backstory about some horrible thing he did. I eventually found myself so bored and even irritated that I barely scanned the dialogue from that point on, relying on the pictures to tell the story, and I don’t feel I missed very much at all.
I had no investment in anything that was happening. I had no sympathy for Cray, who was thinly characterized, and I didn’t really care much about Zenzion. I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to anyone, because for the most part they were stock characters who rarely branched off into anything remotely interesting, except for maybe Hawkins, a grizzled veteran with one eye who goes out in a pretty impressive blaze of glory, because somebody has to. The people who wield the Malathanes against Kavanaugh have so little characterization that I don’t even remember if any of them were given names, aside from Kathleen, Cray’s love interest who steps up to pinch-hit when the Hammerhead injures a man Cray chose (and, naturally, because of course she does). And of course, it ends with Cray putting down his Malathane and remaining in Zenzion instead of going back to his native Earth.
There’s backstory about the United Nations and interplanetary imperialism leading to some sort of revolution, and the reason swords are so prevalent on Helios is because weapons are prohibited on the ships that take people there. They lack the material to make firearms, so more primitive weapons are the order of the day. Unfortunately, the weapons situation is explained in the writer’s introduction, barely touched on in the text itself, which fumbles with the exposition about “the Revolution” and how Cray was an Earth soldier left behind on Helios.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend The 7th Sword. An interesting universe is dragged down by bland storytelling that hasn’t even been carbon-copied from similar, better stories, like Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. The elements are there, but it’s so watered-down that the book couldn’t hold my interest. Pass on it.