The GeeksverseREVIEW | The Lion of Rora (Oni Press)

REVIEW | The Lion of Rora (Oni Press)
Published on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 by
Christos and Ruth Fletcher Gage strike a delicate balance between secular historicity and sectarian perspective in The Lion of Rora.

  • LORV1 - 4x6 COMP FNLHardcover/black & white/$24.99 (US)
  • Due in stores 05 August 2015
  • Story: Christos Gage, Ruth Fletcher Gage
  • Art: Jackie Lewis
  • In the tradition of Braveheart and 300 comes The Lion of Rora—the true story of Joshua Janavel, farmer turned freedom fighter, who will stop at nothing in his quest to save his people from tyranny and religious persecution. This painstakingly researched graphic novel, written by Christos Gage & Ruth Fletcher Gage and featuring evocative art from Jackie Lewis, chronicles the epic war over faith, freedom, and family. Not to be missed.”

Here’s an interesting storytelling problem: given the commercial and creative challenges associated with presenting the subject of religion in popular entertainment, how does one relate a tendentious story about religious conflict so that it appeals to both sectarian and secular audiences?

The husband-and-wife writing team of Christos Gage (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10, G.I. Joe: Cobra) and Ruth Fletcher Gage (staff writer for Netflix’s Daredevil) approach the dilemma by framing The Lion of Rora—their graphic novel based on the 17th century paramilitary exploits of Joshua Janavel, the defender of Italy’s Waldensians—as a story first and foremost about a persecuted minority’s struggle for the inalienable and universal human rights to the freedom of thought, movement, and residence within a nation’s borders.

This isn’t to say that the Gages have downplayed the importance of religious doctrine in their graphic novel treatment of the historical account—not at all. It is made patently evident in the opening flashback that the story’s central conflict is rooted in the religious and philosophical rift between the Catholic Church-allied government of the Duchy of Savoy and the Waldensians, a community born of the Protestant Reformation. In short order, however, it is revealed through the book’s compacted timeline of events and efficient storytelling that the issues involved are political as much as they are theological: the Waldensian struggle is set against the imperial maneuvering and consolidation of power in Europe in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648).

Readers who are not up on their European history will still find a lot to like in The Lion of Rora. In the Waldensian freedom fighters and their families, the Gages have assembled a cast of familiar and sympathetic heroic archetypes. The book’s antagonists occasionally come off as one-dimensional, sneering villains, but there is manifest effort at providing them with a clear sense of internal motivation beyond acting as the persistent foil to Janavel and his compatriots.

Artist Jackie Lewis, whose previous works include the excellent all-ages sports graphic novel Play Ball (reviewed here), may seem like an odd fit for the book given its subject matter, but her stylized artwork actually helps make the book’s many fight scenes more appropriate for younger readers—her depictions of battle and the abuse suffered by the Waldensians at the hands of their Savoy enemies clearly impart the gravity of the situation and the high stakes involved without resorting to cheap gore or the needless glorification of lethal violence.

Entertaining, informative, and frequently stirring, The Lion of Rora is a rare example of a war comic that is genuinely all-ages-appropriate: Both school-age and adult readers, regardless of their religious convictions (or lack thereof), should find it an accessible, basic introduction to one corner of the wide-ranging topic of 17th century European upheavals, as well as the interplay of politics and religion that shapes sectarian conflict.

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