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by Mark London Williams

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Fervor

I am back, and in motion -- in e/motion, too. Which is to say, I've just had a Big Summer Trip, only to come back to find not only my father in very rough shape with the illness he's been battling, but the need to pack up the place I've been living in for many years, and find new L.A. digs.

Jerusalem
Saints
Zombillenium

It's a time of change.

The notion of "change" also applied to my summer destination. For the first time in (also) many years, I did not have a summer outing to the big Comic Con down south. Instead, my son went, having gotten old enough -- and published enough -- to qualify for a media badge of his own, which I guess is an example of the whole apple/tree thing. It was just yesterday when he was a 10 year-old getting in on my extra "pro" badges, in the days when you could take a whole family there gratis, if you qualified.

But I digress.

So instead of being at Comic Con I was in... Israel! Yes, somewhat to my own surprise, as well. As longtime readers of this column may remember, one of the non-writing things I do is teach Sunday school at a synagogue also here in L.A. In that capacity, I had a "secret admirer," a sponsor, if you will, who offered to send me to a conference for Jewish teachers that was held in Israel, so that attendees could see first hand -- if they hadn't already -- the terra firma where so much sacred (and often contentious) Western and Monotheistic lore began, and what that land was like now.

It's a more subtle place than you might expect, given the headlines, and to my surprise, I came away with somewhat more hope about Israeli politics than I currently have about the U.S. variety (though of course in a land of stark extremes -- both Israel and the U.S. -- that hope is always cautiously tempered).

We were up and down the country during the conference, from Tel Aviv and the Negev on one end, to a Kibbutz near the Golan Heights, on the other. In the middle, was Jerusalem, which may have been the most powerful four days of the eleven I was there.

Jerusalem I'd never been before. When you're wandering around the Old City, with its warrens and alley-like roads going from Jewish quarter to Arab to Christian to Armenian, and especially when you're at the wall -- and in the tunnels -- of the Temple itself, it feels like the Ley Lines must be working overtime there, emitting kind of energy which everyone is in a sort of fervor to tap into, to try and transcend themselves.

Which itself may explain a lot. The world is, according to some accounts, supposed to have begun there, on a particular rock, where it's said Abraham later tried to sacrifice Isaac, and where Muhammad fled to "the edge," or "the farthest place," as the name of the Al-Aqsa mosque is commonly translated, this before ascending to heaven, and then returning, presumably to transmit some Larger Truths, which one suspects -- since this seems to happen with Prophets on a routine basis -- were eventually misunderstood.

One is also routinely put in mind of certain "books" while one is there -- the Torah, the Qu'ran, the New Testament all come to mind -- but one book I kept thinking of, germane to this column, was a comic: Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi's Jerusalem, which I reviewed earlier this year.

I was struck again by the degree to which the scope of this historical saga took in all the facets and contradictions of the founding of the modern state of Israel. I would be at a museum, for example, or a historical site, and think, "this was like that scene in the book."

Of course, it was the last full book about Israel I'd read before embarking, so it was the freshest -- occasionally, scenes of Paul Newman in the early 60s film Exodus would come back to me, too. The landscape there is quite good at suggesting stories.

The fact that Jerusalem can serve as a credible launching point for discussions about modern Middle Eastern history is a testament to the thought behind the work itself, and perhaps suggests that in some cases, comics might even be a preferred medium for such historical revisits -- especially in such a visual age, on a platform not dependent on the budgets required by movies (and especially if such work can captivate readers who are in danger of becoming "ahistorical," like so many of the "grown-ups" in charge of the world).

History is also grippingly on display iin Gene Luen Yang's terrific Saints (like Jerusalem, also published by First Second), part of his two-part historical opus, along with Boxers, set at the time of China's Boxer rebellion. Yang, of course, wrote the renowned American Born Chinese, and here, expands the scope of his canvas, bringing even more storytelling chops to bear.

In Saints we follow a girl named Four-Girl, where chance, numerology and family systems align to convince her she's a devil. Which, contradictorily, lead her to explore the Christianity offered by missionaries, who themselves would be the spark and focus of much of the Boxer Rebellion's violence. Yang pushes his magical realist tendencies (tendencies I've always liked in a storyteller), with a subplot involving Joan of Arc's ghost, and if you know JoA's story, and realize it's being used here to reflect the main narrative -- well, let's just say that much of the book's power comes from the kind of ending we might remember from 70s-era filmmaking.

I commend this one to you highly, and will report back on Boxers when I get to it.

Arthur De Pins' Zombillenium may have truck with a darker kind of "fervor," since it's about the undead, and the recently-back, not returned for any prophetic reasons, but rather, because they're needed as workers in a monster-themed amusement park, where the merely human think they're looking at actual live beings, in costumes.

A demon arrives, to upset the apple cart, as demons often do, and it appears to be up to a young witch to keep things reined in. Except, as we approach the end of the first volume, we find she has a secret.

It's a fun read, and the illustrations, all done in Adobe Illustrator, have a Richard Corben-like sheen and volume to them. The translations from the French are only slightly stiff, in spots, but a scary amusement park populated by monsters is always such a good idea for a premise, that I hope further volumes delve even deeper -- darker? -- into the tales of these night beings trying to make an honest buck.

Or a dishonest one, but the whole buck-chase can be like that. Which, I guess, is why so many are so anxious to leave "worldly" things behind.

The world, though, stays with us. Unspoken histories, energies, and all.

See you back in this corner of it, next month.

Copyright © 2013 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series, and a contributor to the fiction anthology Magical Mayhem Info on his work can be found at marklondonwilliams.com. His horror novella for adults, Ghostdance: Showdown at Carthay Circle was recently released on eBook platforms. Mark gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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