The first time I read the graphic novel “Watchmen,” I was profoundly shocked by what writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons had done with the superhero genre. A gritty amalgam of nudity, profanity, sex, and political subtext, it caused me to feel overwhelmed and a little embarrassed at what I was reading. To be fair, I was young — no more than a naïve freshman in high school — and didn’t fully appreciate the masterful, genius artistry before my virgin eyes. Today, however, it’s one of my favorite comic books for its flawed characters, use of alternate history, and bold exploration of crime fighters and vigilantes in a world devoid of romanticism and sugarcoating.
History repeated itself the first time I laid eyes on “Child of the Sun,” a limited seven-issue comic book series by Michael Van Cleve, who blends the versatile tools of historical fiction, biblical epics, and myth to tell the story of a young Samson and his little-known wife before he got caught up in all that mishugas with Delilah and the Philistines. I was delighted to read the current issues, having written a short story inspired by the iconic strongman story.
Moreover, Van Cleve’s journey toward publishing an indie comic series is just as fascinating as exploring the formative years of the Nazir:
“I wrote this story, in part, because I was waiting to hear back from the Florida Bar on whether I passed the bar exam,” Van Cleve told me via email.
“I had nothing to do, and I always liked Samson. I used to have conversations with my dad about Samson and his life and, in a way, he’s almost a superhero, biblically.”
Above anything else, “Child of the Sun” is a visual delight, switching between monochrome and vivid color, rudimentary drawings and detailed sketches from a number of different illustrators. The author fully embraces these dramatic artistic shifts: “There is a large variety of illustrators working on the book, but I think everyone is talented and hopefully it will add more flavor to the story,” he said.
For instance, the style of the opening of Issue 1, which shows the Israelites being punished for sinning (shocker!), reminded me of Frank Miller’s Spartan-centric “300.” And that’s just what you want in a comic book about ancient times: gore, violence, magic, sex, Oannes-esque deities, and some bloody lion-wrestling thrown in for good measure.
Van Cleve offered me a disclaimer that the series “is not a strict literal telling of the Samson story. But I strongly believe the heart and themes of the biblical Samson are still intact.”
His ultimate goal was to craft a piece of art that appeals to a wider audience, not just religious types. He wants readers to “return to the source material, the Bible, with a new perspective.”
So, if you’re a hardcore Tanakh fan or just a casual connoisseur of the “good books” of Torah, I highly recommend checking out “Child of the Sun.” You can currently get Issues 1-4 on Amazon. All issues should be available by September 2016.
See what great heights can be achieved when writers and artists are willing to take chances and go off the beaten track of the decades-old comic book path? And if you’re wondering, the answer is yes: Van Cleve did pass that bar exam.
Josh Weiss is a student at Drexel University.