Publisher: Biblical Comix
Story: Tzvi Lebetkin
Art: Tzvi Lebetkin
Editor: Michelle Goode
The subtitle of Biblical is “Bible stories for Atheists, Creationists, Rationalists & Rouges” so it’s safe to say it’s aiming for a broad church of potential readers and this is a bold ambition for a comic series. Can you tell the stories of the Old Testament, the Talmud and of early Arabic writings in a manner that is respectful of the source, is engaging to the modern reader and that does not preach to those who are not on-board with the doctrine that they are designed to deliver? And is that what is really being offered here with Biblical or is this a cunning front for the delivery a message that some readers may not ordinarily be open to receive?
Well from the off, with issue one of the ongoing series, none of those concerns really matter because if nothing else Lebetkin has delivered a compelling comic book. The opening half dozen or so pages introduce the story of King Nimrod and his doomed folly, the Tower of Babel, with style and subtlety and with panel bursting black and white art that really engages the eye and prose that intrigues the reader as readily as any of the AAA titles that have debuted this year.
Across the opening two issues we see Nimrod rise and fall and in doing so see the peoples of the Earth lose their unifying voice and become cast asunder to disparate corners of the globe as the singular spoken word is replaced with the cacophony of the multitude of languages following the Towers destruction.
As we follow along this first person narrative the art raises the spectre of what can happen when only one voice can be heard with the iconography of the National Socialists of the German 1930’s and as the Tower lies shattered the parallel the art offers up is the most visceral of images of the modern age available when showing what happens when religious fury rages. That of the broken and shattered remnants of the smashed Tower looking not at all dissimilar to the jagged angular shards of New York’s fallen icon The World Trade Centre. It’s an interesting and powerful visual. An uncomfortable light shone on the idea of the wrath of God. A bold choice. And whether or not it is entirely successful at carrying the authors point it is unquestionably brave.
The selection of tales told by Lebetkin is key here. Should an agenda be at hand then the easiest way to see through the veil of the claims of the subtitle would be to find the selection from Genesis be those that have the sting of controversy. To select Creation and lay on thick the weight of the imagery on offer. To make God the ever present hero of the hour. But that is not what we have on offer here. We begin with Tree of Knowledge sure but it is a brief visit, purely establishing the familial line of Nimrod and the passage of his heritage from one generation to the next. The exile from Eden comes and goes in an impressive two page spread, the begetting and begating in just a few deft panels and the waters of the Great Flood rise and subside in just half a page (more on that later). But our focus is on Nimrod and his young audience Esau. Much greater time is spent telling the tale of the rise of the Great and Terrible King and his domination of the minds and hearts of those he rallies to his side and longer still as they lay waste to those who dare to defy his reign. As Nimrods hubris grows so does the Tower and with the Tower comes the one certainty of all tales of man. That absolute power corrupts absolutely. That to want to show God how worthy one has become means to become something horrifying, something entirely unholy.
As the tale progresses in issue two we see the choice of story again decide to take the road less travelled as Abraham and Nimrod enter a battle of wits and faith that will be unfamiliar to those not well read in matters of early Islamic and Hebrew tradition, a story not noted in the Christian version of the Old Testament and again as the tale is played out it is done without any clear and cloying agenda, other than of course that of good storytelling. Sure Idolatry is the crux of the matter, but it plays out through the eyes of Nimrod as opposed to that of the more obvious choice (should you be looking for converts) of Abraham. Closing as it only could with the final exchange between Esau and Nimrod with great aplomb.
Arriving at issue three once more the obvious is forsaken for something more interesting and engaging. We find ourselves back on the endless waters of the great flood and aboard the great Ark. But we are not here to deal with the familiar, we are not following Noah on his journey or seeing his quest to follow the word of his God. No, we follow a story that again is less frequently told. That of The Raven.
It may be commonly known that Noah sent out both a raven and a dove (and possibly even a swallow) to search for land but it was the dove that showed the way home whereas the raven was less fastidious in its investigations (possibly due to the abundance of carrion available post global devastation). Here though we are told of the story behind why it was that the raven was selected for such an arduous mission.
Not initially chosen as worthy of rescue the raven finds himself aboard the Ark as a result of a moment of unusual kindness from Noah but with him comes an apparently insidious idea. A craven and all too human idea. One that is thrust upon it the dark overtones of sin. And it is this sin that forms the backbone of our tale. Once more though the obvious narrative of the Missionary isn’t offered up for the reader to yawn at and pass over with the crushing weight of the all too familiar but rather the point of view is that of the raven Orav (surely no coincidence that loosely translates as “youth”) and his protestations seems to be more than reasonable. The questions raised are not those of the regular but are rather more interesting and as a result more engaging.
By the end of the issue the arc of the series sets sail in the direction of Jonah and his whale but the pathway there is both fascinating and elegant and the connective tissue between that tale and this is unexpectedly strong.
At the beginning of the review the question was raised that could a comic book about religious subjects be done without the burden of preaching and the agenda of conversion? The answer is a resounding yes. The subject matter is obviously at a basic level engaging and has the benefit of drawing from the grand tales and narratives that have withstood the test of time for millennia so to find them interesting is not a surprise. To find them as enthralling as this though and to find the questions raised as enthralling without feeling the weight of the sermon is truly exciting.
But then that shouldn’t really be a surprise. The one thing that can be relied upon in Biblical is to expect the unexpected.
You can find Biblical here and we’ve even been able to get a special offer from it’s creator Tzvi Lebetkin meaning you can download both of the previous issues and an early release of book three all for the bargain price of just $2! That’s right all three issues for under £1.50.