Two Brothers

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Dark Horse Comics, 2015

Based on a novel by Milton Hatoum, Two Brothers tells the story of twin brothers Omar and Yaqub. While they are the focal point, it is really a family history which extends before the twins' birth and beyond them to a new generation. That aspect of the tale makes it similar to the epic family histories of other great Latin American novelists like Gabriel García Márquez. The twins may look alike, but they seem to be bent on being as different from each other as possible. Their youthful competition leads to a fight in which Omar cuts Yaqub's face, scarring him for life. It becomes an emblem for the differences between them, as well as a possible cause for aspects of Yaqub's personality (not to mention a convenient visual cue for telling the brothers apart visually). 

The brothers' parents figure strongly in the dynamic. Father Halim never really wanted children; he is a sometimes neglectful parent who defers to Zana, his willful wife. Zana smothers the boys with her love. Omar is her favorite: he grows up a handsome rake, a ne'er-do-well who never takes up a profession of holds a proper job. Yaqub is the opposite: an intelligent, driven engineer who leaves his family home and finds success elsewhere. Family life conspires to bring the brothers back into contact periodically, which always results in further conflict rather than reconciliation.

Set in the port city of Manaus on the river bank of the Amazon, the story celebrates the beauty of Brazil and the vibrant life of its diverse population. Moon and Bá have worked successfully on a wide variety of projects, but for me they have always been at their best on their own stories set in their native country of Brazil. The Vertigo miniseries Daytripper comes closest to this one in scope, but they have previously collaborated on black and white Brazilian slice-of-life stories that are visually similar (several of them are collected in De: Tales, also published by Dark Horse). It's tempting to look for autobiography in this book about twin brothers illustrated by twin brothers--but I think the fact that the brothers share a studio eliminates the possibility of the kind of conflict depicted here. This is ambitious, epic storytelling: some of the best that comics has to offer.

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