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Review: Boxers and Saints

BoxersSaintsThough they are two separate works, it’s kind of hard to not talk about Gene Luen Yang‘s Boxers and Saints without discussing the two books together. Out this week from First Second, the two volume work doesn’t have to be read together, but they’re enhanced by doing so.

Boxers and Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.

But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

The two volume set is ambitious work, it tells the same story from two perspectives, giving us the Boxer Rebellion which fought against the oppression of Western Imperialism, but at the same time a story of a Chinese girl, accepted by Western missionaries throwing off the oppression of Chinese society. Both give us insight to a world most of us don’t know and a time period we don’t learn enough about.

Yang’s storytelling is masterful, which each volume playing off of each other in both themes, design, and plot which interweave at points. In Boxers, Bao is driven by visions of Chinese gods while in Saints, Vibiana is driven by visions of ghosts as well.

What’s interesting to me though is how much more I enjoyed Boxers than Saints. While they can be read on their own, I would recommend reading Boxers if you choose Saints, but you can skip Saints if you just want to read Boxers. I don’t think Saints, is as strong storywise, but it greatly enhances Boxers. However, as a diptych, Yang makes a strong case for graphic novel(s) of the year. Each on their own are candidates for award season.

I could go on and on telling you why you should buy these, but my words don’t do justice to Yang’s and definitely don’t do justice to his art.

This project was ambitious, and it is pulled off masterfully. To just put out one of these graphic novels should get people talking, but to do this two volume set is just showing off. Some writers just hope to create one graphic novel of this quality, Yang does two in one week. If I had to choose between picking up some of my monthly comics and this? I’d drop the monthly comics and pick these up instead, it’s that good.

Each volume is sold separately or as part of a boxed set. I’d suggest buying the box set, you’ll read one and want to get the other, trust me.

Story: Gene Luen Yang Art: Gene Luen Yang
Boxers: Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy
Saints: Story: 8.75 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy

First Second provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review