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The Urbane Turtle 2021 Year in Review – The Comics

In 2020, in the first couple months of this Urbane Turtle experiment, I posted a Year in Review of some of the various forms of media that got me through a difficult year. I was very explicit that it wasn’t a “Best-Of,” and I did not limit it to any medium.

But after a full year as a semi-professional comic critic, I want to share with you my Top 10 comics from the year that was. There is not much in the way of ground rules for how books qualify for this list. They had to release new issues in 2021. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks catching up on a backlog of releases and am happy to finally share this with you all.

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Judas by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka

Last night I started and finished Judas by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka, published by Boom! Studios in 2018.

I didn’t intend to get all the way through it last night, but I could not put it down. This is is a tremendous book. A rich piece of religious art made all the more rich by such a lack of it in the 21st century. It is challenging, heartbreaking and rich with human drama and emotion.

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There is a throwaway line a quarter of the way through where Judas says he didn’t think Jesus would let them do it. There is a school of biblical scholarship that says Judas’s idea of the messiah was a more traditional avenging angel figure. Someone who would overthrow Roman rule. Judas was a figure trapped by his own expectation and he didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to do or say. Jeff Loveness clearly did the work to understand this angle of scholarship and I applaud him for it.

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Moreover, I applaud him for his willingness to tell a challenging story of faith, doubt, anger, human tragedy, forgiveness, and hope. The Bible remains a source of fascinating stories and lessons but our fundamentalist-influenced society has turned it into a hacky cliche.

As someone who spent the time and energy to get a Masters in Theology, I often roll my eyes when writers fail to write about religion in a real or authentic way. Loveness has created something beautiful.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect after reading some interviews prior to its release—but the final product is a rich tapestry that clearly comes from a place of sincerity and care. Judas is treated with a deft human touch that mines the complex subtext of the scripture in a new and nuanced way.

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I can’t speak to Loveness’s faith life, but he does not approach this difficult and creative story from an air of judgement or dismissiveness. It reads as a complex confrontation with the hard questions of religion. His depiction of Jesus is a complicated human character. A welcome change.

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And one cannot discuss a comic without touching on the art. Jakub Rebelka provides a graphic style that evokes classical stained glass window shapes and powerful iconography. The black halo that surrounds Judas is a powerful symbol.

Rebelka’s art, though clearly illustration, brings these ancient characters to a new and believable life. They are tanned and wiry, exhausted and joyous. Mournful and lonely.

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I cannot sing the praises of this book enough. A profound work.

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