Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Guest Review: Saints (Boxers & Saints) by Gene Luen Yang

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Four-Girl, left without a real name by her family because of her gender and birth order, wants nothing more than the approval of her grandfather. When her schemes to gain his favor fall flat, she goes to the other extreme: she shall become a devil. Allying herself with the "foreign devil" Christian religion which is making inroads in her area, she becomes further alienated from her family when she is baptized and takes the name Vibiana. The beating she receives at her cousin's hand finally drives her away, traveling with a missionary to a larger town. There, she works with orphans at the church, and has visions of Joan d'Arc, who speaks to her about her life as it progresses in parallel to Vibiana's. Vibiana takes inspiration from the Maid of Orleans, and when the Boxer Rebellion draws near, she is determined to become a maiden-warrior herself. As the assault overruns the town, she sees how Joan's life as a warrior comes to an end. In a final turning of the other cheek, Vibiana attempts to give her executioner something of value before she is slain and succeeds. I recommend Saints, on its own or as a companion to Boxers because the characters are honestly written, with motivations laid bare and their humanity intact, which is far more satisfying and realistic than a more Manichean portrayal could hope to be. Long a punchline in terms of boring and irrelevant history lessons, the Boxer Rebellion comes alive in all its complex, morally conflicted dimensions. As a work of sequential art, Saints is not flashy or burdened by unnecessary detail. Panel layouts are conventional, but not rigid, and use a panel border which suggests the humane unevenness of a calligraphic brush. The pencils and pens are classic Yang: sharp and expressive, and while not realistic, never veering into the overtly cartoonish. The bleakness of the life Four-Girl flees, as well as the bleakness of the life she finds as Vibiana, are emphasized by the flat, sepia greyscale, which itself serves to emphasize the inviting golden glow of the visions she has of Joan d'Arc. You would like this book if you like… Jerusalem: A Family Portrait, A Chinese Life, Koko Be Good, Rashomon, In a Groove, or Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths.


- RET3, Guest Blogger