Friday, August 19, 2005

GOLEM: OUR SINS OF YESTERYEAR

What Palmiotti & Gray's Monolith both should have been and never could have been.

Alex Lamas takes a turn with the old kabbalist stories of the golem and produces the first part of what I believe is supposed to be (what will hopefully be) a longer story of Gustav Kessler.

Many stories of the golem can be, at their root, superhero stories. The golem is a mystical, spiritual thing, created only by those who not only have the kabbalistic knowledge but also the purity of faith that God will reward by animating the clay they have formed in human image. But once active, a golem is a bit of fantasy fulfillment -- an almost invincible defender of the Jews at a moment in time when there were none, mortal or immortal.

From the angle of a tale of a superpowered savior, what makes this work is that the golem is not a dumb Frankenstein's monster, not a slow-witted, slow-moving freakshow. If anything, he resembles Mister Fantastic as played by Ioan Gruffudd -- a good-looking fellow confused and mystified by his new abilities. His realization of his nature is quick and painful, but his appreciation for his potential is slow and accidental and he swings into action more by instinct than by design, all the time slightly horrified at what he can do.

There is much here that is resonant with elements out of a typical superhero origin story, but while Lamas is restrained with the wholly religious underpinning of the story, he never ignores it. There is no Madonna-ing of the kabbalah here, no sense that anyone could just say the right words over a pile of clay and get a golem the way Brian Azzarello did with John Constantine. There is no hocus-pocus. When the rabbis watch the golem and ask themselves in shamed horror what they have done, they are reminded that they did very little and that God did the important stuff and He presumably knows what He's doing.

The meat of the story is in 1930's Berlin, a time when most Jews (and their friends) realized too late how badly a protector would be needed. Neither Gustav nor his friend Isaac appreciate the danger in time, caught up as they were, as many young intellectuals who came of age in the Wiemar Republic were, in prettier things. So unsuspecting are they that Gustav, disgusted with the Nazi movement, still decides to join the army as an officer, hoping to ride out the coming troubles with a bit of comfort and control. Of course, nothing ever works out so easily.

The contemporary parts of the story work less well. it's a lot of exposition and the less-developed part of the plot -- that the golem has spent the post-War period as a Nazi hunter is presumably the tale for a sequel -- but the rest is worthwhile reading and there will hopefully be another volume so that we can find out what happened to Gustav, Isaac, and their 'sidekick' in the intervening years.

Lamas's art is striking and elegant and the result is a book that looks like it was always meant to be in black-and-white and not only monochrome because it was too expensive to print in color.


I picked this up at MoCCA's June shindig... and am totally failing at coming up with an alternate means of purchase save for going to the website and writing Lamas himself.

Riddle in the Dark is the production company Lamas (who is in the film business), his brother, and an associate have put together. The Golem has a subsite with a preface, a summary (the back cover), some excerpts and an email address. Take a look -- the excerpts and summary give away a bit more of the story than I have coyly tried to avoid divulging -- and if you like what you see, then contact Lamas and see where he's going to be next or if he has plans to market the book.

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