Messiah OriginLeave the dumbing-down to Classics Illustrated – this is a re-telling with some dirt under its fingernails.

Messiah: Origin
Illustrated by Kai Carpenter
Translation: Fr. Mark Arey
Adaptation: Matt Dorff
175 pages, soft cover
ISBN-10: 0310431611
ISBN-13: 978-0310431619

Following on the heels of the Matt Doff and Chris Koelle's graphic novel treatment of The Book of Revelation, Zondervan offers Dorff and Kai Carpenter's Messiah:Origin – and just in time for our annual celebration of that very event!

The difference between the two stories couldn't be more obvious – one being an apocalyptic tale of sweeping universal events, exotic creatures, and fantastic imagery, the other being a story rooted very much in frail human beings touched in amazing ways by their God. One story takes place on earth and in a universe beyond our perception, the other in the tents, homes, and fields of an eastern landscape where men work the earth, priests serve in temples and politicians make life that much more difficult. Oh – and in the midst of all of this life a virgin becomes pregnant.

In terms of graphic storytelling, Carpenter had the more difficult task of rendering everyday life in an interesting way, and succeeds (sure, there's the occasional angelic interruption, but – you know what I mean). The artistic approach is stylized, with no attempts at super-realism. There are plenty of earth tones used as a basic color-scheme for this story about people in a sun-drenched desert landscape. Where The Book of Revelation often had a dark universe as a background against fire, golden candlesticks, seven-headed beasts and the like, Carpenter's work puts us in temple courtyards, fields and mangers. There are full-page illustrations as well as more traditional panels, but never more than a few panels to a page, making for a nice flow of storytelling.

As in the Revelation project, word balloons are not used for dialog, but instead a careful written narration accompanying the artwork tells the details of the story. Calligraphy buffs might be disappointed in that the text appears to be done in a typeface font - but accuracy buffs will be pleased to know that scripture has been honored and not 'played with' in the this book. Matt Dorff takes Arey's translation and lays out the timeline without embellishing the Biblical text.

The very first title-page in the book simply says "Messiah – Volume I". The implication, I suppose, is that there's more where this came from – and that's good. With Messiah: Origin and its predecessor we at last see Bible-based graphic novels that don't sacrifice art to 'duty' or functionality. Leave the dumbing-down to Classics Illustrated – this is a re-telling with some dirt under its fingernails.

Bert Saraco


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