A review a day: <i>Some New Kind of Slaughter</i>

Today's comic is officially titled Some New Kind of Slaughter - or - Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths From Around the World. Now that's a title!

I don't feel like typing that title again, so I'll just point out that this is written by A. David Lewis, drawn by mpMann, and published by Archaia. It costs 20 dollars. If you think that's too much, maybe you should consider that it's one of the best graphic novels of the year. Will that sway you?

The first two issues of this mini-series came out before Archaia's implosion earlier this year, so when they got back to business, they decided to release it as a complete work, which works much better. First of all, the landscape format Lewis and Mann use to tell the story works much better in a hardcover book than as a floppy. Second of all, this is a fairly complex work that benefits from existing between two covers, as you can read it all at once and get the whole story at one time. Some stories work well as single issues. This doesn't, really.

But as a complete work, this is wonderful. We think, as it's a flood myth comic, Noah will be the focus, but Lewis and Mann instead begin with Ziusudra, the Noah-figure from the Epic of Gilgamesh (which predates the Noah story) and use him to tell their story.

Early on, we learn that Lewis and Mann will be doing something interesting with Ziusudra and the other diluvian stories: the king is standing on deck and having visions of the other myths, including Noah's, plus he's seeing into the future (our present) to check in on Sharon Boatwright, an environmentalist who is "sounding the tocsin" (in Ziusudra's words) about global warming and the consequences, consequences she experiences first-hand when a flood threatens her daughter in the aptly-named Noahville. All of this occurs while Ziusudra is having a crisis of faith over whether he has done the right thing and whether his god Enki will allow humanity to be redeemed. The story of Noah is the other main story of the book, as the patriarch struggles to explain his actions to his family and then, when the rain is upon them, he must confront his son, Canaan, who wants him to save those who before jeered him. The other myths are sprinkled throughout, illuminating the grand themes of creation, destruction, and redemption.

Lewis does a fantastic job blending everything together. The transitions between scenes are linked well, either through the words or the pictures (which is probably Mann's contribution, naturally). He also does a fine job with the fantasy elements of the story, creating worlds that don't look real but feel real. The greatness of myths is in this, taking the fantastical and illuminating the mundane, and Lewis does that well. He links Noah with Sharon Boatwright through the Book of Raziel (a book of Jewish wisdom), which gets knocked overboard during Noah's journey and ends up in Noahville, providing Sharon with a way to search for her daughter. Little touches like this make Sharon's ordeal, where she drives to Noahville and ends up braving the flood to discover what happened to her daughter, more of a metaphor, much like the rest of the book. While Lewis never forgets that he is making myths as much as the ancients did, so the idea that Sharon's plight, which is far more "real" than the others stories, is also part of the myth-making, is very neat.

Interestingly, Sharon's tale is the weakest part of the book, because it feels unfinished, as Lewis leaves her hopeful but still questing. But it's a minor complaint, because it's still an interesting counterpoint to Noah and Ziusudra, both of whom "find home again." Lewis also links her decisions about her daughter with Noah's about Canaan, forcing us to consider what each parent's action say about them. The characters muse about their mortality and their place in the world, the wisdom of listening to visions and whether they are truly mad, and whether they deserve the gods' blessings. Khem, Noah's son, wonders this aloud when he sees his father's nakedness after the flood, while Sharon herself wonders this because her warnings go unheeded. Lewis doesn't beat us over the head with a global warming screed, just fits Sharon's beliefs into his greater tapestry of floods destroying the world. We don't even get a sense of what he, personally, believes, which in my book is a good thing, because he lets us judge the character based on what she does.

Mann is a dynamic artist, at home with stories about the past, as he seems to have a fine feel for the way society looked (or at least how we believed it looked) in ancient days. As I wrote above, many of the transitions between stories are visually linked, which I have to believe is Mann's doing (you'll notice Mann is credited first on the cover; I don't know how much that means he plotted with Lewis or if the collaborators flipped for it).

The most astonishing artistic parts of the book are when Lewis pulls back a bit, possibly just reciting myths with little elaboration, and allowing Mann to illustrate them. We get snakes in blood-red oceans, gorgeous full-pages marshlands, giant yellow fish, battling dragons, and bears who turn into men. When Sharon reaches Noahville, Mann has her float through a half-submerged world, moving past landmarks from across the world, isolating even more from the "real." Water, naturally, is tremendously important in this book, and Mann does a marvelous job showing the power of the waves and the utter loneliness of these men and women, adrift on more than the sea. The art matches the narrative well, as Mann brings Lewis's somewhat melancholy but ultimately hopeful tale to glorious life. In many places, Lewis wisely lets Mann tell most of the story through images, which emphasizes the power of the myths, which are supposed to create metaphorical images in our mind.

If you're looking for a big-time action comic or even a nifty, twisty tale, you won't find it here. You can easily find these myth stories anywhere, and they don't hold many surprises. What you will find is a wonderful book about who were are, where we come from, and how we make sense of the world. Lewis and Mann want to examine our beliefs, our wisdom, and even our collective insanity. In Some New Kind of Slaughter, we are forced to examine our own beliefs and what drives us. It's a tremendous book, and I can't recommend it enough.

Tomorrow at noon: Are they zombies? Who can tell?

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