A Religious Adventure That Explores Theodicy
Everyone knows and I have been unabashed about my love for nearly everything sci fi, but few of you know I have another weakness… religion. So far I have only been able to find one really good religious comic book to talk about and ironically enough I posted that last Christmas. Even though Theodicy is religious it has nothing in common with The Magdalena The Seventh Sacrament, my last review of a religious nature.
Theodicy is available at Indyplanet and comixology, but you can also read about it at their blog and link to it yourself. Theodicy is written by Chad Handley, penciled by Fernando Brazuna, inked by Ryan Boltz, colors by Minan Ghibliest, and lettered by Kel Nutall. The art is done very well and it works well for the sort of book it is. With the nature of this book Nutall gets a workout, it’s a very word heavy book that focuses a lot on the story and dialog of characters versus the visual story telling that we see a lot with comics, and I’m good with this. I truly feel that comics are one of the greatest mediums, some comics tell a great story without a character saying a word and sometimes the book becomes in depth and more involved in the dialog. Guess which one Theodicy is.
According to Merriam-Webster theodicy is, “Defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil” and yes I did have to Google it. I feel like this is an amazing title because everyone, whether they know it or not, struggles with the thought of theodicy, and most people base their belief or disbelief on their interpretation of theodicy, characters in this book included.
The cover gets straight to the point of evil in this world as it features a young boy with his arms and legs cut off. The image sets the tone well before it starts with the story. Theodicy starts off with a man named Paul unloading some pretty hardcore atheist arguments to what turns out to be his future parent in laws. Of course the fiancé doesn’t take kindly to his smug, arrogant, and rude speech and gives him back his ring as she tells him he needs to find something or someone and let it all out. After reading his diatribe I was leaning towards agreement with his fiancé because it was pretty smug, especially because he did it at a nice dinner with the future in laws.
After the first few pages of Paul and his fiancé Theodicy turns to a second story where a catholic priest named John, his Monseigneur, and an attorney argue a contract that requires a young woman to leave the priests care and turn herself into her debtor. Father John argues vehemently for the poor girl but in the end he loses. Father John has already described the institution the girl is going to as some sort of horrible brothel where the girls are drugged and used up and that thought is only reinforced when a military looking force shows up to take her away.
During these panels with Father John I can tell that he is being faced with doubt but another priest tries to remind him that he is a good guy and has done everything he can do but Father John points to the boy with no arms or legs as a sign of his doubt. I feel like this exchange sums up the ideas behind this book, a poor little child that has never done anything to anyone and deserves so much more as he lays helpless with no limbs, and how can God let something like that happen? What could this child possibly done to deserve such a fate? Why won’t God do something? And probably most important to this book, how can anyone believe in a God that allows such things to happen?
I believe the struggle of how God can let bad things happen is what keeps the man Paul an atheist but because of his exchange with the parent in laws and the loss of his fiancé he is compelled to attend a church service. Paul at church is only one page with six panels but the artists involved do an amazing job at showing his skepticism about religion through body language and facial expressions as he sits and watches a baptism. It’s a quick page but it’s also powerful and meaningful to the story.
After Paul and the baptism the story shifts back to Father John as he does some magic for some kids and talks to a woman named Kate that appears to be a nurse or a doctor. They talk about the magic trick and Kate tells him that their MRI machine is acting up. Father John seems to be a jack of all trades because he agrees to look at it again, hinting that it has been on the fritz before, but also through dialog they reveal that Father John is somewhat of a mystery to Kate because she asks how a father could fix an MRI let alone build one. The more I see Father John the more I like him and I feel like I could be a Catholic if everyone in the church was as caring as he seems to be.
Father John and Kate make their way to the conference room to meet with the Monseigneur, another priest, and a little boy. They discuss the boy and through dialog it’s hinted that the boy is at the center of some sort of healing miracles. They talk about him being healthy other than losing his voice but apparently they have no explanation of how a few of the people near him miraculously came out of a coma and went into cancer remission. Father John doesn’t think he is a miracle worker, he says he just doesn’t believe the kid is special in anyway. Father John is clearly starting to lose faith and become disillusioned by the thought of a God that can allow so much misery. I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed and under qualified to deal with so much and I feel like mentally Father John is losing the faith.
Father John leaves the meeting and goes to prepare for a mass where the young boy with no limbs comes to receive the Eucharist from Father John. The boy’s mother brings him in with a wheel borrow and the entire church stares in wonder while the boy comes in. Father John losses it a little bit and makes a small speech about “Just what kind of God you serve” and walks out. Even though Father John leaves the woman and her child are more than happy to have been there. I love the contrast between the believers, non-believers, and people like Father John who seem to be somewhere between. I truly believe that faith is a never ending struggle and this is portrayed perfectly.
Hours after Mass Father John gets a visit in his invention room by the other Father that brought the kid with no limbs and the two fathers have a conversation about Father John harboring his doubts. Father John is an inventor and a practical guy so when he sees practical issues he has a problem with all of the impractical suffering. I understand and I see where the ideas of a godless world meets the thought of so much suffering but I struggle with Father John losing his faith, I never like to see the good guys get disillusioned to the point that they stop trying.
The story flashes back to Paul as he sits in the church getting ready for a showdown with God. I actually do this all the time, I just call it prayer, but Paul is on another level with his lack of faith in any God let alone Jesus or the Christian God. Paul’s rants to God is not by any means unfounded, he reveals his upbringing that was heavily Christian, he speaks of a brutal way of losing his parents, and has an all-around good reasons for being bitter and unbelieving, but before he can finish his rant he looks down to notice that he is standing on water. Of course the second he notices this small miracle he falls into the water only to pop up with a look of amazement on his face. I feel like Paul needed that moment with God for him to realize that he is bitter about some things in his life and come to terms with it. In my eyes the root of most disbelief, at least with atheists like Paul, stems from personal loss and personal examples of suffering and pain. I don’t blame people and the argument is fairly solid but people like Paul don’t account for the free will of man. Naturally man’s heart is not pure and free will causes pain. Paul is mad that God didn’t keep the Garden of Eden as the blueprint for the world, and I get that, especially when he lost his parents so brutally.
Handley leaves us with Father John being woken up by an alarm and scrambling to get people inside the gates to avoid a raid by collection agents like the ones in the beginning that came for the girl. Although he expected collection agents there were none; he ran out to find the limbless boy standing with limbs next to his mother, and the mute child that heals people. I enjoyed the book and I feel like this hook is inescapable, it just leaves way too many questions. Is God real? Does Paul convert? Is the healing mute child a gift from God? Are any of the things that happened real? What is going to happen to Father John? Just after the final panel there is a wonderful little synopsis that has a definition of theodicy so you don’t have to Google it like I did, but it also has a synopsis of what the crew attempted to accomplish by writing this. They focus on Paul the atheist and Father John as they deal with people like the mute boy and form an unlikely alliance.
I was impressed mostly by the thoughtful and intense dialog but please don’t think that because it’s word heavy that the illustrations lose out in anyway because they don’t. The book is an all-around success and it takes on a very serious issue from both sides and with class, that can be hard to do and they certainly pull it off. I’m glad that someone out there had the wherewithal and courage to tackle such a controversial topic, and they did it from both sides, which only adds to the appeal.