What would you do if you lost what you loved most? What if your world was literally coming to an end? Would you fight back? Would you know how? Would you be brave enough? Or would you go with the flow?
Trials are sent to strengthen us, and force us to do our part. You’ve led a good life – a life in the light – and it’s treated you well. But…it’s only in the dark that you can see the stars…
This advice, offered to the protagonist from her ailing husband, present the theme of Judith: Captive to Conqueror, a two-volume release from Manga Hero, a publishing company creating solid, Christian-themed comics. After finding Paul: Tarsus to Redemption so compelling, I was eager to dig into another release from the company.
Based on The Book of Judith, part of Catholic scripture, the manga follows the beautiful title character and her role in trying to prevent the capture of her city by conniving general, Holofernes. As the story begins, the Assyrian army plans on conquering all the known world, including Jerusalem, where they will desecrate the temple. The shrewd womanizer, Holofernes, must first destroy Judith’s town, Bethulia, before he can reach the capital city.
Crisp and sometime poetic writing marks this first volume of the series. Gabrielle Gniewek really presents the tale masterfully, peeling back layer by layer, revealing pieces as they become necessary; at times, it felt like I was reading a mystery manga, rather than an historical and spiritual piece. She also wonderfully develops her cast, including the mysterious Judith and the most compelling character in the story, the pretty boy/devious enemy, Holofernes.
Sean Lam’s art doesn’t reflect the sometimes amazing work he did in Paul, but it’s more than adequate. The lead character is quite striking and stands out from a field of generic manga-style women, while the antagonist will, I think, particularly appeal to female readers. Indeed, in addition to Gniewek’s writing, Lam’s artwork is what establishes Manga Hero’s works as not just another throwaway in the growing pot of poorly produced Christian OEL manga.
I did have some questions, however. In particular, the historicity of the events portrayed threw me for a loop. The story takes place shortly after the Babylonian captivity, but features the Assyrian army (which failed to conquer Jerusalem before the Babylonians) and a King Nebuchadnezzar, who was a Babylonian king. I’m not all all familiar with the The Book of Judith, so perhaps when these points will be cleared up when I read up on that work after I finish the second volume.
The volume ends with a surprisingly exciting conclusion which makes me feel the same way about the second volume as I now do about all of Manga Hero’s works: I’m eagerly anticipating what’s next. Judith and the company’s other pieces aren’t just good Christian OEL manga – they’re good manga, period.