“Abraham of Ur: Part 4: The Valley of Siddim”
Writer: Douglas Rushkoff
Artist: Liam Sharp
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
During the Vertigo panel at this past February’s New York Comic-Con, Douglas Rushkoff pointed out that the gods on display in Testament always inhabit only the “gutters” of the pages. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the gutters of a comic book page are the areas lying outside of (and between) the panels. The gods of Testament (the Judeo-Christian Lord, the sun god Moloch and the Phoenician goddess of fertility Astarte) are always drawn outside the panel borders, never within. They can, however, affect events within the panel borders. For instance, in issue #3 a military convoy on the E*Trade Expressway (formerly the Long Island Expressway (End Note 1)) runs Jake and his motorcycle off a cliff. Astarte, who has taken an interest in the young man and his former pupil/now lover Dinah, saves Jake from certain death by blowing an updraft of wind to help him land gently to the ground below. Astarte’s breath breaks through the panel border, but Astarte herself remains outside the panel. She saves Jake once again at the beginning of issue #4 in an even more fantastic display of power.
Not allowing the gods to enter the panel borders is such an appropriate and innovative way to convey the permeable barrier between the supernatural and the natural; it’s a wonderful way to present the gods existing outside of “human” time and space. It also exemplifies Rushkoff’s assertion that the comic book format is the only suitable story-telling medium to present Testament (End Note 2). This “barrier” can’t be adequately presented in a prose story, and it can’t be adequately displayed cinematically. It can only be pulled off through sequential art.
A story-telling technique like this confirms how well conceived and well executed this comic book really is. Testament is one of the most ambitious comic books being published today.
And Liam Sharp deserves a lion’s share of praise for presenting Rushkoff’s high-minded concepts both clearly and dynamically. In issue #4 the Biblical Anakim giants are menacing behemoths, and the modern day Anakim Engineering robots are monstrously technological insects, but my favorite pages are the ones where the gods inhabit the gutters. I could be wrong, but I believe that the gods appear on more pages in this issue than in previous ones.
My one concern about Testament (and this might come across as a weird complaint considering everything I have just written) is the infusion of the supernatural into a technology-focused dystopian tale. Supernatural displays suit the Biblical tale, but not the dystopian one. The manner in which Jake is saved by Astarte in this issue is so supernaturally fantastic that it doesn’t fit within the modern story involving robots, implanted homing chips, and the like.
However, I am curious to see if future issues can organically unite the supernatural elements of the story with its technology underpinnings. So my “concern” has been changed into a “curiosity,” and that speaks to the lure of Testament’s narrative.
1. By the way, Long Islanders would gladly accept the name change of the Long Island Expressway if it will ameliorate rush hour traffic.
2. I’m referencing Rushkoff’s “On the Ledge” column as found in Testament #1 or other December 2005 Vertigo releases.
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