Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Warrior Nun Areala
The Sci Fi Catholic peeks into the seamy world of Catholixploitation comics.
Warrior Nun Areala Color Manga #1, written and illustrated by Ben Dunn. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2005. ISBN: 1-932453-82-2. $9.99
Ben Dunn is known in some circles as the "godfather" of American manga, mainly for founding Antarctic Press and for creating Ninja High School. His artwork is impressive and sometimes innovative, and his writing is at least slightly above average. Warrior Nun Areala is possibly his second-best-known title.
The comic opens in Norway in 1066 where a nun is running from a group of especially ugly Vikings. Just as the Vikings are about to finish her off, a Valkyrie named Areala appears and announces that she has left "Valhalla to serve the only true God!" She then infuses her power into the nun and gives her a magic sword. After kicking some serious Viking butt, this "Sister Areala" goes on to found the order of Warrior Nuns. The story moves from there to the present, when the Warrior Nuns' mission has changed somewhat. No longer permitted to kill regular human enemies, they instead battle demons who have found their way to the material plane.
The central character is Sister Shannon, a novice Warrior Nun recently assigned to New York where she takes up residence at St. Thomas' Church and meets Father Terrance Gomez, a kindly, overweight priest who occasionally packs a flamethrower when the situation calls for it. Other characters make regular appearances, including Shotgun Mary, a motorcycling vigilante who left the Warrior Nuns because of her "unorthodox" demon-slaying methods, and Father David Crowe, with whom Sister Shannon had a romantic relationship before they both dedicated their lives to the Church (if we believed comics, we'd think every nun has an unrequited love interest somewhere). Father Crowe is a "Magic Priest," member of an order that provides spiritual and magical aid in the various battles while the Warrior Nuns provide the muscle. Hovering in the background is the demoness Lillith, an ambiguously evil but unambiguously goofy character whose motives are vague (and whose name is misspelled).
The Warrior Nuns work in standard, goofy comic book ways. To prepare for battle, Sister Shannon recites a Hail Mary (incorrectly), and then a magic sword appears in her hands while her regular habit is replaced by--*ahem*--a less restricting outfit. If you're annoyed that the nuns in your area wear pantsuits, you can at least be glad they don't dress like this.
Early in the story, Sister Shannon loses her left hand and has it replaced with a cyborg arm. She also becomes the new bearer of Areala's spirit, though that doesn't seem to mean much. She also gains access to the "God Armor," a magic armor suit with possibly the dumbest name of any magic armor suit ever, which she can make appear instantly at any time.
The world of Battle Nun Areala is a simple one where magic is commonplace, slavering demons show up out of nowhere to make trouble, the best way to fight villainy is in tights or leather, and simple-minded villains bent on taking over the world always speak in exposition, as in, "NO! Without that we can't infiltrate the Vatican's 'Gabriel'! As long as that computer is in operation we will not have total control of the Earth!"
The story could have been significantly cooler if Dunn did a little research. Apparently, Warrior Nuns govern certain "sectors" in which they are responsible for keeping demonic activity in check. If Dunn referred to dioceses, deaneries, and parishes instead of sectors, I might have believed he knew what he was talking about. A few references to actual Catholic practices or maybe a little use of Vatican politics might have enriched the story immensely. For example, instead of creating an oddly named order of Magic Priests, Dunn could have assigned magic powers to our exorcists, who already have less spectacular demon-fighting rituals.
It's hard to say from this first volume exactly what the comic's attitude is toward religion in general or Catholicism in particular. It seems to be taken for granted that Heaven and Hell exist, that the universe is monotheistic, and that Catholicism is the true religion, though creatures from a number of other religions and folkloric traditions comfortably coexist, but the comic doesn't seem particularly interested in religion as such; rather, it uses it as an excuse for its plots. Similarly, putting the word "Warrior" in front of "Nun" is probably a gimmick meant to grab the eye, much as putting "Battle" in front of "Pope" grabs the eye. We can also guess from the lurid, bloody, and sometimes sexualized artwork that Dunn isn't on a particularly holy mission.
And really, if you're planning to exploit a religion for a comic, Catholicism is an obvious choice. For one thing, we've already got the monster-fighting equipment: as I write this, I have a full bottle of holy water at my elbow in case the vampires or zombies show up, I have several icons nearby, and I can lay my hands on a rosary or crucifix pretty quickly if the situation calls for it. It's also easier to imagine the Catholic Church with a supercomputer and demon-tracking satellite network than it is to imagine, say, the Conservative Baptist Association with the same (though some author should get on that). However, I can't help but think the Catholic Church has by now been a little over-exploited. As I read Warrior Nun Areala, I kept thinking to myself, "Didn't we cover this same ground in Hellboy?"
I'm also displeased with the costuming. I'm displeased with women's costumes in comics generally, but I'm extra displeased with this one. In addition to wearing a goofy Warrior Nun outfit, Sister Shannon appears naked in a quick panel whenever she changes into the God Armor. Oh, pardon me--I thought I was reading about a nun, but it seems I've accidentally stumbled into an episode of Cutey Honey. Come on, Dunn: even if you won't show her some respect as a woman, at least show her some respect as a religious or even as a warrior. I invite all comic illustrators to pay attention to what actual soldiers in combat wear. You will notice they don't run around with bare legs or exposed cleavage. There is a practical reason for this.
The last time I was in the Shady Bookstore Down the Street, I walked into the comics section and looked around. From every shelf, I saw lascivious women giving me come-hither gazes while their volcanic bosoms exploded from their metal or leopard-print bras, and I said to myself, "I'm bored." I'm bored! I came here to get a good story, not an anatomy lesson. I already know women have breasts; the fact does not fascinate me. Comics are so rife with this garbage, whenever I find an author--especially a male author--who can actually create strong, well-realized female characters instead of taking the easy way out and sticking them in bronze bikinis, I instantly latch onto and adulate him. Ben Dunn could learn a lot from the likes of Jeff Smith, Paul Sizer, and James Robinson. If you're wondering why the comics industry has drooping sales or why it isn't attracting women and children, try not writing crap for a change and see what happens.
Okay, I realize it's my own fault. After all, I of my own free will picked up a comic with the words "Warrior" and "Nun" both in the title, so I get I what I deserve. But it's a mistake I won't likely make twice.