A common criticism of the Bible is that it is dull and unable to capture the attention of modern audiences. But what if a writer and artist created a compelling parable of a Bible story, imitating the manner in which Jesus also told parables?
‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
Matthew 25:11b-12 (NIV)
In a kingdom of medieval/fantasy feel, but featuring anachronisms like WWII era planes and machine guns, a prince goes to retrieve his exiled love to bring her to their wedding. But despite an escort of well-trained female fighter pilots, his quest won’t be easy – both at home and abroad, he faces challenges by those who would rebel against the kingdom, including a mysterious man who could bring down an entire kingdom.
The story above isn’t particularly new, but its arrangement in Many Are Called, Manga Hero’s latest OEL manga release, is unique. The volume actually begins not in the land described above, but in Judea, where James and John are speaking with tax collector Matthew, who is recording the words of Christ. Jesus is relating the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) to the crowds. Those who know a bit about Christ know that He often spoke in parables as a teaching tool. The work then moves to the story described above, as writer Gabrille Gniewek tells a parable of her own, explaining not only the story of the ten virgins (whose main point is that we should live like Jesus is returning today), but other stories as well.
Gniewek’s goal is lofty: at best, the manga will tell a compelling story within which the reader will find biblical truth, without feeling that he or she is being hit over the head with a Bible. And does she deliver?
Many Are Called features a large cast of interesting characters. As in Jesus’ parable itself, the prince is actually absent for much of the tale, allowing for others to take the forefront, like the lead female pilot, who is all-business; a pair of troublesome subjects – one a cad and another a doting father; and a villain who impresses upon us a real sense of danger. With ease, Gniewek weaves together varying but connected story lines, all related to biblical parables. This is a real accomplishment as the story is both complicated and epic.
Even those familiar with the Bible will become lost in the tale, largely because of Sean Lam’s strong artwork. With each succeeding volume he’s worked on (Lam has been the artist for every Manga Hero release thus far), he has grown stronger and stronger as an artist. Always providing familiar, but unique character designs, Lam goes further in this volume in advancing his style, using shading particularly well and improving in his illustration of action scenes, such as those involving aerial fights.
Each series put out by Manga Hero continues to build the company’s reputation as one that can create material equivalent to that released by Japanese publishers. I’ve approached each of the company’s works with a skeptical eye, but the consistent superiority of Manga Hero’s releases in undeniable. For instance, if there’s one major criticism of Many Are Called, its simply that I wished this epic tale spanned many volumes, instead of just one.
As I finished this manga, my thoughts drifted to a movie I recently watched: Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Both that film and Many Are Called took a relatively typical situation for their time periods and showed us fantastical, action-packed representations of what was transpiring. But unlike the former, Gniewek and Lam’s work never tries to outsmart us with not-so-smart material. Instead, they take us along for a journey that is engrossing and thought-provoking. Rarely has soul searching been so much fun.
Review copy provided by Manga Hero. Available for purchase on Amazon.