Jim Munroe and Salgood Sam
Idea and Design Works ($14.99)

by Spencer Dew

Everyone loves an apocalypse: most human cultures tell stories about them to suit their particular desires. Apocalyptic literature, moreover, is never really about an end, just climactic and cataclysmic events, world-changing in a radical, fantastic, way. In his first graphic novel, writer Jim Munroe tweaks one prominent strand of contemporary politico-religious imagination—Therefore Repent! is like Left Behind without the sense of doom or smug dogma. Certain believers have been raptured into the sky, but the tribulation through which the survivors must now struggle has hardly been prophesied.

For starters, magical abilities suddenly become possible. A dog gnaws off a dead man’s throat and can, therefore, speak. A bar manager sees the future by hole-punching the pyramid eyes off of one dollar bills and tossing them into water. A particularly pierced lesbian can, by wiring up her metal-studded body and going into a trance, send and receive she-mail. This takes an edge off any sense of impending doom, and while parts of the infrastructure have collapsed (no one is picking up trash in Chicago, for instance), the sense of local community seems stronger than ever. People look out for you, even if you have the head of a bird.

Where Munroe’s vision gets most inventive is in turning the whole plot device of the Rapture on its head. Maybe these winged white guys in Vietnam-era military gear are only pretending to be angels. Maybe the earth has been studied for some time by eyes other than God’s, some force only too happy to exploit our mythologies and fears. This is the rabbit hole of narrative needed to free the story from cheap parody or reductive Manichean logic and, perhaps most importantly, to recast the events as mysteries needing to be solved. The grimy shading and soft-edged realism of Salgood Sam’s art conveys much of the narrative silently, building suspense in the threatening, post-catastrophe landscape while simultaneously emphasizing the dignity and innocence of the characters who come together, first as survivors and then as a resistance movement.

It’s hard not to be enthralled by the set-up here, though the book stumbles due to a structural shift: the first five chapters lushly build up the situation via suspenseful day-to-day actions, but the sixth skips ahead a month, speeding through explanations as if to wrap up the text. There is no resolution, though, and while we don’t learn enough about the characters to feel for them, we certainly experience enough to want more. Hopefully Therefore Repent! is the first of a series, and hopefully subsequent volumes will take their time and pace carefully through this magical and dangerous apocalyptic world.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2007/2008 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007/2008