Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review - Theodicy: Book One

One of the things that I do, when I obtain a new comic book, whether for review purposes or not, is to just flip through it, catching only fleeting glimpses of the art and coloring that lies in store for me.

I do it for my own reasons. I do it for my own purposes. I find it to be continually useful, as it instructs me in a first-hand and forceful manner to abide by the dictum, "Never judge a book by its cover."

Theodicy: Book One is a perfect example of this axiom in play. Just flipping through the pages, without bothering to absorb either the story that it tells or the talent that it encapsulates, is to miss this little gem of a comic book.

I was actually asked to review this comic book a couple of months ago, and circumstances and health conspired to effectuate me losing track of it. I wasn't even looking for it, when I happened back upon the digital copy that writer Chad Handley had sent to me back on October 1st, 2014.

I won't call it a miracle, that it made its way back to my attention, but I am thankful that it did, nonetheless. 

Note the contortion of anatomy in transition from neck to face.

At a glance, this is not a comic book that I would gravitate to. The coloring and the art of the interior pages relegate this work into the realm of standard fare independent comic bookdom. In other words, there's plenty wrong with them.

Make no mistake, the art and the coloring of Theodicy: Book One is a long, long way from the very worst that independently published comic books have to offer. Yet, neither rise to the occasion of showcasing this little diamond in the rough.

Though I read this comic book in PDF format, which is a digital format, if this comic book were in traditional paper form, and if it was sitting on the shelf of my local comic book shop, its front cover would catch my eye.

The front cover features an artistic depiction of a young boy, a quadruple amputee, wearing a Jesus Heart Me (Jesus Loves Me) tee-shirt. The artwork of the front cover is actually the best drawn and best colored art to be found in the entire issue. None of the interior pages are as fortunate.

That said, the front cover's art and coloring neither offend me nor attract me to sufficient degree that I feel compelled to open the book, to see what's inside. In that sense, I would adjudge the front cover art to be a failure, for isn't that the whole or overriding purpose of any comic book's front cover? If it doesn't grasp me, if it doesn't command my attention, if it doesn't interest me with artistic temptation, itself, then aren't I - and others like me - likely to simply pass it by?

All the more to pity, then, for this is comic book ground that should not be allowed to lie fallow.

Theodicy's theme is a religious one, and it makes sparing - but effective - use of resort to the quoting of scripture from the Bible to ground itself and to serve as a foundation for suspension of disbelief, that readers might allow themselves to get swept up into the story, itself.

Once I turn past the credits page, and land squarely on the first page of the story, itself, I am met by coloring that so visually dominates the eye-scape that I immediately want to just close the book.

Amateur. Amateur. It just screams amateur, at me, in a visual manner. I can already tell that I am not going to like this comic book. Oh, God, do I really have to review this?

Fast forward to the end of Book One, and somehow or other. by hook or by crook, Theodicy has managed to snag me. It leaves me on a high note, wanting more.

For all of its many shortcomings, I end up liking the damned thing. And that, to me, is the mark of a fundamentally sound comic book. The art and the coloring are typically the visual equivalent of smoke and mirrors of comic books. They are often pretty and attractive or eye-popping.

But, they never are a full and proper substitute for competent story-telling and adequate lettering.

Like many independent comic books, Theodicy: Book One has its share of typos. That accounted for and aside, the lettering present here in this issue is more than up to the task at hand. Bad lettering can kill an otherwise great comic book, but as this issue more than amply demonstrates, competent lettering can salvage even second tier art and coloring to deliver unto the end reader a positive reading experience.

Theodicy: Book One features a couple of pages about the issue's creative team. One of these pages lists writer Chris Handley as possessing a Master's Degree in screenwriting from Hollins University.

Well, I know next to nothing about screenwriting, but what I do know is this - the writing for Theodicy: Book One is this issue's true path to salvation.

Though this comic book deals with religious and theological fare, it tackles the subject matter with equal portions of seriousness and humanity's proclivity for error. It yields a very human approach to certain issues, and it brings the issue of doubt in God to the forefront - doubt forged in the furnace of things that happen in the real world, every single day.

The confrontation in the book between a character named Paul and a statue of Jesus Christ sets the stage for an atheist's baptism, of sorts, but while Paul is the one left soaked from the water, I was the one who felt like a fish hooked and yanked from the water.

If one were to simply flip through the book and happen upon this scene, the end effect isn't nearly as effective as if one allows the story to lead them to where it is going, panel by panel.

Speaking of panels, Theodicy: Book One is imaginatively stale, insofar as imaginative use of panels goes, which is not the exact, same thing as effective use of panels.

This issue derives far greater positive effect from its use of speech bubbles, than it derives from its exploitation of panels, visually speaking.

While I am not a fan of the coloring, overall, I will concede that I did like the coloring of the stained glass imagery that appears within the pages of this comic book. They do a great job of setting the mood of certain panels, and they visually deliver, in sharp contrast to a lot of the coloring that dominates the pages of this comic book.

The art on the pages could have benefited considerably, if the artist had invested more time in their rendering of both human anatomy and details. A huge amount of potential visual interest simply never materialized for me, with the end effect being more of a visual dumbing down of the end product.

With regard to the special effects lettering, it is a gospel of mediocrity writ large. There is some sprinkled throughout, but it seems to have been little more than an afterthought. The end result is that it proves to be a meager offering incapable of paying visual penance to the underlying vessel that is the story.

As with every comic book ever produced, it is what it is, for better or for worse. All things considered, though, Theodicy: Book One is a comic book that I can and do recommend to others. The search for a good comic book is often times as elusive as the search for God, or so it seems to me. There are a lot of things about this comic book that I don't like. Nonetheless, when taken and considered and digested as a whole, Theodicy: Book One is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Writer: Chad Handley
Penciler: Fernando Brazuna
Inker: Ryan Boltz
Colorist: Minan Ghibliest
Letterer: Kel Nuttall

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