Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, March 28, 2008
      ( 3/28/2008 08:14:00 AM ) Bill S.  

Photobucket"THE DAYS OF THE IRON CROSS ARE LONG GONE!" Gotta admit I probably would've skipped a comic book entitled Warriors Creed (Guy Thing Press) were it not for its promo release. Sent by a firm in Texas, it trumpeted the new color comic book series as part of a burgeoning Christian-themed boomlet aimed at young male readers: "For boys especially, for whom the King James Version of the Bible might not exactly seem compelling, these comics present a new way to engage youth in their own language."

Christian-themed comic books aren't new, of course. Most comic fans are familiar with the notorious evangelical graphic tracts of Jack T. Chick, while the Spire Comics line published series of Christian-focused Archie comics for years. But having recently moved to a small Arizona town where the only bookstore in the area is a religious one, I was feeling curious about this new supposed movement of religio graphic novels. Which is how this largely lazy agnostic wound up writing Guy Thing Press for a review copy of this floppy.

The book's creator John King, I've since learned, is an Australian-turned-Texas-evangelical who is also founder of the International Men's Network, a group devoted to building better men through application of Christian principals. In addition to his new comic series, the minister also has a collection entitled Helping Guys Become Better Men, Husbands And Fathers, which the p.r. folks also sent me alongside two copies of Creed #1. Haven't cracked that puppy open yet, though I have read my way through the 24-page Creed premiere several times. The experience hasn't particularly inspired me to dig any further into Dr. King's oeuvre.

The comic concerns itself with two brothers, Joe and Paul Lee, whose parents were killed by a nefarious terrorist organization called the Black Hand. As the story opens, Joe is a clandestine operative working under the code name Operation Mongoose, while Paul is a streetwise pastor teaching young boys kickboxing. After the Hand captures Joe, his brother is enlisted to pull his own G.I. Joe-styled outfit out of mothballs. Going by the heavily connotative moniker of the Iron Cross, Paul flies to the Philippine island where his brother is being tortured by a turban-wearing (but of course!) baddie called the Inquisitor. "Shouldn't someone named the Inquisitor be wearing something more Papal? A mitre, perhaps?" the inquisitive reader may wonder, but this is no anti-Roman jeremiad. The Black Hand, we learn, worships the Middle Eastern deity Moloch.

In issue one, King largely downplays the religious overtones in favor of his fairly familiar action comic set-up: the better to seduce his young readers, one supposes. The only open reference to Christianity comes when Joe is about to be tortured (suggested on-panel by a series of largely lettered "Whack!"s and "Fwak!"s) and he tells the reader, "The torture starts and the world goes black. I find myself remembering stories of a hero called the Savior. Could it have possibly been like this?" Reading that passage, I suddenly flashed on the image of the school teacher from A Christmas Story, pulling out her red pen to angrily slash "vague pronoun reference!" across the comic book lettering.

If anything, Warriors Creed serves to demonstrate that not just anyone can write comics. As a scripter, King proves remarkably tin-eared. Check out this piece of narration from the opening page: "It is said that this island holds many tales of would be conquerors, almost heroes, and forgotten pains. You could say I'm here for a little of all three of these things." I had to reread that rascal several times before it could actually register.

Artist Chris Fuentes doesn't particularly help matters either. He has a shaky handle on anatomy - his characters' necks, in particular, have a propensity for elongating in unnatural ways - while his big-draw action panels are frequently characterized by petrified poses. Fuentes' panel compositions don't always clarify the action, and, combined with King's unsure grasp of storytelling niceties, things can get pretty dicey. When King tries something as basic as a simple flashback illuminating his bland characters' background, for example, he doesn't include enough info in the narration to make it immediately clear when we return to the present. In more confident hands (think the current season of Lost), this type of confusion can be calculatedly entertaining. Here, it just comes across as sloppy.

At one time, this kind of fumbling, half-formed comics work would've been largely confined to amateur-produced fanzines: where young would-be comics writers and artists could have taken their first fumbling steps into creating in front of a small audience of fellow comics geeks, hopefully learning from their mistakes in the process. These days, the existence of web comics and specialty publishing companies makes it disastrously easy for eager newcomers to foist their work on an unsuspecting public. I'm less concerned about what this means for Pastor King's message of Christian manliness than I am any young boys who are given this book in a misguided attempt at introducing 'em to the King James Bible. Let's hope they have some friends with a decent pile of mainstream comics or a shelf full of manga - lest they get turned off graphic storytelling altogether.
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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