Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Warrior Nun Areala #1

Warrior Nun Areala #1, July 1999, Antarctic Press
writer: Brian Farrens
artist: Ben Dunn
colorist: Nathan Lumm

Blogger’s note: Entry for Monday, March 10, 2008.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a nun, excluding when Showtime aired Sister Act 2 a few months ago. No, I’d imagine that the life of a nun is a rather ironic one; in order to effectively serve her fellow man, a nun must be immersed in society, potentially interacting with some of the most corrupted or disturbed specimens of humanity. At the same time, she must resist most earthly ties and temptations, including a woman’s natural need to procreate and mother a child. The challenge seems almost impossible to fathom, let alone actually experience. Is prayer enough to take a nun’s mind off of the dichotomy of her spiritual service?

If not, how about some good old fashioned sword-welding combat with international terrorists? Yeah, that usually takes my mind off of the little things.

Warrior Nun Areala is one of an order that has accepted the call of “the angel of war,” defending the church and consequently the world against supernatural threats and terrorism. In this first issue (which is actually the beginning of her third volume), Areala and her fellow warrior nun Sarah infiltrate the stronghold of a Liberian despot and discover the enormity of his reign’s violence, along with a gauntlet that belongs to the armor of God -- ah, the source of the tyrant’s hold on his people. When Areala expresses melancholy about the number of lives that were lost in their quest to recover the gauntlet, her superiors decide that she needs more training, and as Areala is whisked away, the reader is led to believe that a conspiracy is brewing behind the scenes.

A conspiracy in the Catholic church? No way!

Although this issue marks the third series for Areala, Warrior Nun, it effectively introduces the reader to her plight sans lengthy (and unnecessary) origin-oriented flashbacks. Heck, even the three splash pages that take the time to explain the source and scope of our heroine’s power are superfluous and intrusive to this story’s otherwise action-packed opening act; I would’ve preferred them more as an interlude between the adventurous terrorist fight sequence and the more character-oriented scenes that follow. Further, I think writer Brian Farrens could’ve done more with the pages at his disposal, but this issue sets up the rest of the series like any dutiful first issue should. Had I purchased it right off the new release rack, I would’ve instantly wanted more. Mission accomplished.

Ben Dunn’s art is puzzling to me at best. His style boasts heavy manga influence, but not enough to satisfy me that this is meant to be a full-fledged manga series. His inking is almost inconsistent; his more detail-oriented panels would benefit from a varied brushstroke or different pen widths, yet he seems to use the same utensil throughout the book, both muddying the smaller images and minimizing the larger ones. Still, when the proportions of his ink line and his characters’ blocking align, his competence is obvious and really quite impressive. Nathan Lumm’s palate is really rich considering this issue’s subject matter, as well; a story that takes us from the gore of the Middle East to the starkness of the church really shouldn’t be this vibrant, and I say that as a compliment.

March is Women’s History Month, and as such, I am dedicating this week to a brief look at various portrayals of women in comics. (Incidentally, from this series, we march into another stint of comics starring animals -- specifically, in honor of Easter, rabbits. For a whole week? You better believe it!) If I was a comic book novice (which I pretend to be for many of these reviews, to objectify my opinion of the industry as a whole), and Warrior Nun Areala was my first impression of how women are depicted in this graphic medium, I’d say: with much conflict. On one hand, Areala has embraced her responsibility and spirituality and is obviously willing to defend it, yet her compassion for humanity conflicts with her calling’s preferred methods, instantly infusing her character with sympathetic internal strife. Further, she’s a nun, yet she’s pretty, uhm, shapely, and under that habit she’s really wearing leather, metal, and thigh-high boots. She may have the fortitude to fight temptation, but what of the men around her?

Think about the female comic book characters you like. One part nun, one part warrior . . . from the likes of superheroes like Wonder Woman to the indie annals of Strangers in Paradise, doesn’t that describe them all? We’ll see.

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