Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review -- NEXT TESTAMENT #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Next Testament #1
(Clive Barker, Mark Miller, Haemi Jang; BOOM!)
3/5 Stars 
Horror master Clive Barker wants to reintroduce you to the God of the Old Testament. You know, that guy who flooded the entire Earth slaughtering everyone except for Noah, who asked Abraham to kill his only son, who sent plague after plague upon the Egyptians, who fucked with Job like nobody's business -- you know, THAT GOD -- mean-spirited, insecure, vengeful, and powerful. Not the kind of guy you want to piss off.
Guess what? In Clive Barker's new 12-issue miniseries Next Testament, he's pissed. 


Next Testament #1 all starts with a dream, a vision. I've often had conversations with my students about how, in some cultures, individuals who have hallucinations are hailed as prophets, shaman or visionaries, and they are promoted to positions of power and reverence because of this. On the other hand, in Western culture, these same sort of people make us, the larger society, nervous, so we medicate them or 5150 them and put them away until they become more like the rest of us. Visions make us agitated; dreams fill us with unease.

In the first pages of Next Testament, wealthy industrialist Julian Demond has a dream which sets him on a quest. As he is a man of wealth and power, he is allowed to follow this vision. It leads him to run through the desert blindfolded (rich as that is with symbolic intent), until he stumbles upon an ancient monument festooned with giant faces, one of which sprouts horns from its head. 
You can see where this will lead, can't you?


This all ushers us to the appearance of Wick, the father of colors, the Lord, Our God. Freed from his prison, Wick prepares to announce himself to the world. Meanwhile, back in California, Demond's prodigal son Tristan has the sudden sense that something is wrong with his father, and so he and his fiancee, Elspeth, journey back to the family manor for some good old fashioned sleuthing.
This first issue does a fine job of doing all the things a first issue is supposed to do. It introduces our characters, it sets the stage for the upcoming conflict, and it raises enough questions for the reader to want to know more. Why does Demond have the vision? Is Wick really God? Why was he imprisoned? What will be the result of his freedom? What can Tristan do about any of this? We've got the tension, and, as active readers, we demand resolution.


Unfortunately, Haemi Jang's art is a bit of a stumbling point in this book, though. While he does an amazing job of realizing Wick and his prison, it is his faces of the lesser beings that took me out of the experience.  There's just something amiss, as if at times they are plastic mannequins and not men. When the emotion is high, Jang can pull off something believable, but there is page after page of flat affect that is disrupting.
Still, there is enough going on in Next Testament #1 to make me eager to see issue two. Barker and Miller are playing with God here, and that's a subject always ripe for a critical exploration. Were this a big budget film, those Focus on Family folks might have dusted off their picket signs and there might have been a Million Moms ready to launch some sort of boycott. But this is comics -- BOOM! Studios to be exact -- so it will be interesting to see what comes of this.
Anyway, the next time you see some bearded, toothless gent wandering the streets in rags, muttering to himself about God's wrath, you may want to stop for a second and listen. Who knows, that man could be an actual prophet with something of importance to impart. One thing's for sure, though, you don't want God coming back all pissed off.

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