Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seek, and Ye Shall Find: The Seekers #1

Continuing my feeble exercise to explore black comic book heroes in an attempt to understand the idolism around Senator Barack Obama's approaching presidency, I dug up my unread copy of The Seekers #1, acquired for a quarter at Frank & Sons. Judging this issue by its cover (not recommended), The Seekers is a series deliberately targeting black youth, not unlike a title from DC's Milestone Comics, right down to the obligatory skateboard. (If you haven't read Dwayne McDuffie's poignant pitch for Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers, you can find it at this installment of Comic Book Resources' "Comics Should Be Good.") It even features art from Shawn Martinbrough, a Milestone alumnus whose work I first encountered and appreciated in Detective Comics a few years ago. Alas, I'm saving a legitimate Milestone issue for a near-future review, and, besides, The Seekers has a different target audience in mind.

The Seekers is a . . . gulp . . . religious comic book!

A Comic A Day has only touched the surface of religion in comics, from the comically devout modernization to the harsh, preachy condemnation. Thankfully, The Seekers establishes a third, more likable category: the fun, Bible-driven misadventure. Actually, the cartoon series Superbook and The Flying House really established the fun, Bible-driven misadventure, but The Seekers adapts the concept for a new, definitively more urban generation. In this issue, Jesse discovers an iPod that transports its user to different periods of time. Stashed in Jesse's church by its desperate inventor, the iPod is sought by community icon Steven Dark, a suspicious, sometimes ominously red-eyed man in cahoots with an errand raven. When Jesse's new friend, the issue's token white kid named Brooklyn, needs to research the Revolutionary War, they select a song by Paul Revere and the Raiders to experience the era personally, but when Jesse returns to his bedroom, Brooklyn doesn't. To be continued indeed.

The Seekers is published by Urban Ministries, Inc., a company that describes itself as an African-American Christian publisher, and is just one of four titles in their Guardian Line imprint. Although this issue is laced with overtly religious advertisements, its content is the furthest from preachy a supposedly Christian comic can get, and honestly I rather enjoyed the story, told boldly through Martinbrough's broad, expressive brushstroke. The tale's overarching mythology retains a bit of obligatory spirituality, considering that keepers of the iPod are called seekers and that the kids' first journey takes them to 10 B.C. Galilee, but sugar-coating the message by actually utilizing the comic book medium to its fullest potential makes the pill go down that much easier.

So, what's the Obama connection? Well, you don’t need me to tell you that religion was a critical component of this year’s Presidential election. Speculation about Senator Obama's religious affiliation ran from ardent analysis to conspiratorial craziness, culminating in a statement by Colin Powell that seemed to hush up anyone duly concerned. To paraphrase, Powell said, Senator Obama is not a Muslim, but if he were, so what? Indeed, as if the racial undertones weren’t enough . . .! On a surface level, Powell's inquiry is applicable in any instance of discrimination; for example, recent headlines report that a batch of retired generals are condemned the military’s old "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Basically, they're asking, if some soldiers are gay, so what? In the context of this review, here’s a Christian comic book. So what? A Muslim might make a great President, a gay guy or gal might make a great solider, and a Christian comic might make for a great read.

Of course, while a comic book comes and goes in twenty-two pages and is relatively immaterial in the grand scheme, a President has four long years to mess everything up. Gulp.

On a more spiritual level, The Seekers tells an entertaining story with a religious context, proving that religion can be present without being overbearing. That Jesse finds the iPod in a church, and that his first trip back in time reflects a Biblical account of world history, is almost more writer's prerogative than publisher's mission statement, at least in this single issue. And, yes, I do want to read #2, if I ever find it, which goes to show just how effective good storytelling is in comparison to preachy editorializing. Besides, considering that the iPod time-travels based on definitively secular bands or song titles, these spiritual matters seem grounded enough in the real world to remain entertaining despite the potential for a sappy moral. Further, that the browsing button on mp3 players is commonly called the "seek" button is a pun that hasn’t escaped me here, especially with the rewind and fast forward symbols affixed in The Seekers logo. We're all seeking something sometime, even if it’s just a song by Genesis. That's as spiritual as Phil Collins gets!

In regards to the Presidency, very few Presidents have actually asserted their religion (specifically, their particular faction of Christianity, at least thus far!), with the exception of the occasional comforting Bible verse in the midst of tragedy, which seems acceptable enough in our politically correct society. Then again, if you're looking for something to offend you -- seek, and ye shall most definitely find.

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