Monday, February 06, 2006

This Comic Is Good - The Lone and Level Sands

Ever hear the story about how the film Speed was originally intended to be a sequel of Die Hard? As it were, Die Hard, as such an interesting action film, completely changed the realm of action films in the scope of its influence, to the point where there was a cottage industry made up of films that essentially copied the structure of Die Hard. Under Siege, Speed, Air Force One, Toy Soldiers, Con Air, Passenger 57...the list goes on. Similarly, the idea of taking a well-known story and viewing it from the perspective of a character other than the usual protagonist is also an idea that was so dramatically influential that we soon saw a variety of similar approaches, with Wide Sargasso Sea being one of the more notable examples. However, the fact that the structure follows a certain pattern does not mean that the work, itself, is not notable and novel. This brings us to The Lone and Level Sands, A. David Lewis' re-writing of the Book of Exodus from the perspective of Ramses, which, I believe, is a familar style of story, but handled with enough care and intelligence to still be a worthwhile and recommended read.

Lewis and artist Marvin Perry Mann originally self-published this graphic novel, but now Archaia Studio Press has a more recent edition out (which they so graciously sent to me for review), in color rather than the original black and white (colors handled by Jennifer Rodgers).

In "With God On Our Side," Bob Dylan wrote, "In a many dark hour/I've been thinkin' about this/That Jesus Christ/Was betrayed by a kiss/But I can't think for you/You'll have to decide/Whether Judas Iscariot/Had God on his side." That, essentially, is the main dramatic tension in the story of Pharaoh Ramses II. Part of God's plan was for Jesus to be sacrificed, so therefore, for the plan to succeed, Judas had to play his part. So, therefore, wasn't he, in fact, doing God's will? That, however, conflicts with the idea of free will. It is this tension that is present throughout The Lone and the Level Sands. How much control does Ramses have over his own destiny?

To Lewis' great credit, he never flinches from the fact that he does not give us real answers, and rather, the fact that, for the story to truly work, he CAN not give us definitive answers.

While this tension is the meat of the story, the potatoes of the comic are Lewis' depictions of the society at the time, and it is here that he would be lost if not for the strong work by Mann. Mann's design work is irreproachable, as he manages to depict life in such a manner that we, in 2006, can easily comprehend living in such a society. It is not so foreign to us, while at the same time, Mann makes sure that the depictions of Moses, Aaron, Ramses, etc. do not lean towards deification. There is no movie star good looks in this comic, far from it. Meanwhile, for a comic that was originally produced in black and white, Jennifer Rodgers does a tremendous job making the colors seem both natural and necessary to the story.

Beyond the design work, Lewis' imagining of how the citizens of Egypt (the type of reactions lacking in Exodus, for the most part) are quite telling. It is interesting to compare the reactions of the "common folk," who basically view themselves as caught up in events that they cannot control/comprehend with the attitudes of citizens today when faced with such thoughts as terrorism. One cannot let such thoughts dictate one's lives, and that is the case for the citizens of Egypt. They adapt to each plague with an attitude of "Okay, what do we have to do now?" while their leader, Ramses, knows that his actions have a much more direct effect upon what is going on...or does he? Back to the tension between his power as a ruler to control his country and his lack of power in the workings of a God.

All in all, The Lone and the Level Sands is a very intelligent, and interesting, re-imagining of events that most of us have heard many times before, yet Lewis manages to still make the story interesting and new at the same time. Couple that with fine art from Mann and Rodgers, and you have yourself a fine comic package.

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Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Part of God's plan was for Jesus to be sacrificed, so therefore, for the plan to succeed, Judas had to play his part. So, therefore, wasn't he, in fact, doing God's will?

Have you read Borges's "Three Versions of Judas"? The narrator of the story comes to the conclusion that Judas Iscariot was clearly the messiah, and not Jesus Christ, because it's Judas, not Jesus, who becomes the ultimate sacrifice for mankind: Judas goes to hell and is hated for the rest of history, while Jesus ascends into heaven and is worshiped by millions.

2/06/2006 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous C. Tynne said...

That's only if one subscribes to the view of a PuppetMaster God, where everything happens because he forces people to do it.

Not many people comfortable with that view, because it makes God out to be a cruel bully. I could not worship that sort of god, and I don't.

I believe that God is aware of everything, but I do not believe everything that happens is "his will". Because he allows us moral agency.

I also believe that some bad things happen because that's the way things have to be for reality to exist. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin. For the sweet to exist, the bitter must exist as well. There must be choice.

Even if Judas had not betrayed Christ, Jesus would still have offered himself up a sacrifice. That was his choice, his desire.

Judas just set in motion one method of it happening.

Jesus may be worshipped by millions...but millions -more- use his name as a cussword, blame him and his followers for everything bad and hypocritical in the world, or simply ignore him as never having existed at all, or been divine.

2/06/2006 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

What I like about Lewis in this story is that he doesn't pick a side on the debate, but rather presents both angles.

2/07/2006 01:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Dave Lewis said...

Perhaps it's forbidden for the subject of a review to post a comment in response, I don't know, but I only wanted to say two very brief things, neither of which is a rebuttal nor an explanation:

1. I'm thrilled that Brian gave both Marv and Jenn their due in his write-up, because without their immense talents, this book would almost literally have been nothing. They were vital to the storytelling, Marv in particular; he served just as much as an artist as a collaborator on this, so I'm delighted when a review properly acknowledges their huge part of the process (as opposed to my keyboard pounding).

2. Analysis like Brian's and the reflective posts that have followed were exactly the reasons I wrote this book. Besides being a compelling story to get out of my head, I wanted to encourage debate and reflection on these topics, no one interpretation being the sole correct one in my mind. Therefore, I'm pleased that any careful ambiguity injected into the story can be picked up and played with after the fact.

Play on!

2/07/2006 07:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Brad Curran said...

It's cool to see Tynne here. I'm not touching the religious debate with a ten foot pole, but hey, nice to see you around here.

2/07/2006 07:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Apodaca said...

As far as I'm concerned, creator responses are the best we can get. It's creator defenses that I hate to come across.

2/07/2006 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"As far as I'm concerned, creator responses are the best we can get. It's creator defenses that I hate to come across."

I think both are cool, so long as it's an open dialogue, and not "you're obviously wrong, my story was perfect."

2/07/2006 07:50:00 PM  
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