Mike Luoma, the chief creative force behind Glow-in-the-Dark Radio, is best known for his work as a radio DJ. But he has also put out quite an impressive library of indy comics in recent years. Panthea Obscura, the Vatican Assassin trilogy and, perhaps best known, Holy Shit all deal with the theme of religion in various approaches and settings. Good Samaritan: Unto Dust continues the trend, exploring the place of faith in a changing world through the prism of that ever-popular comic book genre, the superhero story.
It’s an idea that I’ve heard discussed often: superheroes are the new mythology, the gods of a secular age. Luoma takes that a step further with the character of Bill Sullivan, a priest who has a side career as a superhero. “I can do more good behind the mask than behind the pulpit,” Father Sullivan proclaims at one point. The message is clear: we’re in a time where young people draw more inspiration and learn more about morals from superheroes than they can they do from the church. Sullivan is acting not only out of a desire to do good and punish evil, but to alleviate that disconnect.
The story is set in 1965, a time of change. Sermons were being spoken in English rather than Latin, the Vietnam War was ready to escalate, and Marvel Comics was on the rise. The little touches of period detail help ground the story, adding a layer of authenticity to the fantastical events of the first issue. I must say, however, that the script boasts its fair share of clunkers in the dialogue department. “This isn’t horror,” our hero snarls earnestly in one panel, “It’s just HORRIBLE!” And there are a couple of instances of characters acting like douchebags beyond any realm of reasonable motivation, making it a bit too overt that they exist simply to antagonise our hero. But any writing shortcomings are forgivable, as I think there are plenty of good ideas at play to compensate.
Complimenting Luoma’s writing is some interesting art by Federico Guillen. It’s an unusal style, reminding me of Christian Zamora’s work on Surviving the Damned, only tighter, with more detail and stronger anatomy. Like Zamora, Guillen makes effective use of a style that seems like pencil shading or charcoal. The visual language of American comics is so often tied into hard black ink lines, so when you see something done with softer lines like this, it is all the more striking. It feels more intimite, less like polished and produced comic art than something an artist might draw in a notebook. That’s not to say anybody could do it, as there are some instances of highly impressive detail, with impressively-constructed buildings and locations and some detailed faces (with shading cleverly used to subtly enhance expressions).
On the downside, there are moments when the clarity of the images suffer, particularly during the fight scenes. If it weren’t for Luoma’s captions explaining what was going on, I wouldn’t have any real idea of what exactly Sullivan’s superhuman powers were, or even have a clear idea of what exactly Sullivan was supposed to be fighting. Though to be fair to Guillen, a lot of the blame here falls on Luoma’s scripting of this action, which doesn’t give the fights time to breathe or Sullivan’s powers time to be properly showcased.
I’d say this is a story that’s rough around the edges, and has it’s share of flaws. But as a first issue, it shows a good deal of promise. We have an interesting main character, a varied supporting cast, and the issue ends with Sullivan in a situation where I’d be interested to see how the narrative develops. I hope Luoma and Guillen continue their story with further instalments.