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.


Elliot said...

LMAO!! HAIL... MARY, MOTHER OF GOD! I'll have to remember to invoke Mary next time I want to fling an imaginary fireball or conjure an imaginary sword. The imagery is so over-the-top it's almost good. Almost. As you say, if there had been a bit more actual Catholicism on display it would've made the kookiness more endearing. If someone said "I'll just run into the sacristry and grab the pyx and my flame-thrower..."

I bet this is how ancient pagans would have felt about Wonder Woman shouting "Great Hera!" and flashing her breasts.

"I already know women have breasts; the fact does not fascinate me."

I must admit it fascinates me; or at least my unconscious limbic system or wherever that reflex originates. Maybe comicbook warrior women show cleavage in order to distract and stun their comicbook male enemies!

In realworld terms the reason comics are covered with ample bosoms is that, well, sex sells. It draws male attention. It's the same reason female bodies are used to sell everything from power tools to toothbrushes. And when you're catering to a largely male market of comic readers...

Of course it's sleazy and exploitative and immoral, objectionable in both feminist and religious terms, but the publishers are probably willing to give up on the cash of one thoughtful DGD in order to gain the cash of five thoughtless Beavis & Butthead types.

But yeah, as you say, authors who are willing to bypass the cheap thrills and be more mature have much more depth and staying power.

Anonymous said...

No, if you're going to do something about martial arts nuns, here's how it should be done:


The article refers to them as "karate nuns" but it's tae kwando they're studying. On the other hand, here's a real karate nun:


Yeah, he could at least have gotten the prayers right...

D. G. D. Davidson said...

It actually gets worse, guys. I didn't bother to describe some of her specialty moves, such as the "Holy Rosary Attack," which involves exploding beads (and an inaccurately drawn rosary), and the "Virgin Kick," which involves, um, kicking.

Fuinseoig, that's awesome! I'd bet on these nuns in a fair fight against Areala any day!

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Elliot. I know I won't change anything, but I like to rant sometimes. I am glad for those authors and illustrators who seem to be interested in changing things. I almost added Rod Espinosa to my good list because of Neotopia and The Courageous Princess, but I just read Battle Girlz and I think that might have put him back on my bad side. Of course, on the other hand, I think it might be an elaborate inside joke. If I can figure it out, I'll talk about it in the future.

A little more real Catholicism might have also given a good deal more nuance to a comic seriously lacking in the same.

Elliot said...

Oh, and the phrase "Catholixploitation" = genius.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Thanks, Elliot. That's my new term for anything that uses Catholicism not because it's interested in the Church but because the Church is there.

EegahInc said...

Yow, I've never read this one. Looks like something I would avoided like the plague during the 90s.

But I do recall The Seraph. Am I the only one old enough to remember him from the Super Friends comics of the 70s. He was a Jewish guy who ran around wearing articles of clothing from Old Testament heroes. I think he had the staff of Moses, the cloak of Isaiah, that kind of thing.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

That one sounds as if it would be right up Gabriel's alley, EegahInc.

Viagra said...

Ok this is not a good one, I believe it goes more in a personal matter, i had an aunt that was a nun, and i just can imagine her in this type of action... I really don't like this one.