Graphic Novel Review – Saints
Saints is the second section of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints. It was colored by Lark Pien and published by First Second Books in 2013.
In a story that intertwines with Boxers, a girl is the fourth born in her family, and due to Chinese superstition, she is ostracized by much of her family, and isn’t given a proper name. She meets a family and priest that introduce her to Christianity, and she begins having visionary encounters with Joan of Arc. She converts and is given a named, Vibiana. After facing the full wrath of her family’s intolerance, she moves with the priest to a new monastery and begins to have fantasies of becoming a new Joan of Arc. With the Society of the Harmonious and Righteous Fists gaining notoriety, she sees an opportunity to practically do so.
Lark Pien worked on the colors for this book too, but the direction is notably different. The color scheme is far less saturated and the only exceptions are seen in Joan of Arc, who is illuminated by comparison, and her flashback scenes are tinted yellow. This plays into Christianity’s dissonant world view in comparison to eastern religions, as balance isn’t a key element so much as being lifted from a world doused in sin. It also adds to the bleaker tone of this book, which has some excellent jokes that break through the mood.
Humor arising from cultural differences is more prevalent in this book, and one of the jokes will stick with me for life. Divinity is explored in a slightly more positive light in this book, but it’s offset by the lead character’s self-interest and cynicism. In an odd and entertaining twist, Vibiana seeks Christianity because her peers refer to adherents of Christianity as “devils”, and since she identifies as an outcast devil herself, she wants to be like them. Once Vibiana performs an act she is guilty about, she converts to seek absolution, but the absolution is self-serving as she still doesn’t fully understand the theology. The negative traits that draw people to religion are more prominent in Vibiana than they are in Bao, but she is a more sympathetic character overall becomes she doesn’t succumb to extremism and violence.
Saints gets a one up on Boxers for managing a more complex tone and having a more interesting protagonist. The hero’s journey isn’t present and the plot structure construction has sort of this reverse bell curve going on, so I can appreciate that as well. If you’re going to be buying one of these, you’ll likely be going after the other as well, so I don’t think the individual reviews would sway a purchasing decision, but it does allow me to go into detail about both. Expect an essay comparing the two books when I find the time.
Saints on Amazon