Modern Testament is an anthology of three stories written by Frank Martin, with each story spotlighting biblical beings, specifically a fallen angel, a devil, and a Horseman of the Apocalypse. In “Fallen Angel”, Martin tells the story of an angel disguised as a bar patron who just wants to be left alone to drink, but his plans are challenged by a stranger who knows who he really is. “The Bad Guy” features a possession from the point of view of a devil and gives a unique perspective into his motives and his overall role. And finally, “Feast or Famine” reveals that the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse aren’t necessarily going about their job in ways you would expect.
The book is very clever, and Martin plays around with our expectations and the stereotypes that are ingrained in biblical characters. I’m not religious and still appreciated character development and conflict because of how Martin presents the stories. They are biblical stories, but I did not feel the stories to be solely about religion, nor do I feel like I have to be religious to enjoy them. In “Fallen Angel” our main character has his faith returned to him by his greatest foe. The devil in “The Bad Guy” sees himself as a necessary evil and goes about his actions the way an actor does: someone needs to play the role of the villain and it winds up being him. In “Feast or Famine” the Four Horsemen have gone into “reverse retirement” to battle their arrival on earth, and we spend the issue ironically seeing Famine trying to gorge someone he kidnapped with bags and bags of food.
What I also like about Modern Testament is its sense of cinema within the panels. With a book, you enjoy the writing, but as the reader you create the visuals and control the pace. With a movie you enjoy the visuals, but cannot control the pace. With a comic book, as the reader, you enjoy the writing as if it were a book, and the visuals are provided to you like a movie, but you control the pace. The artist also gets to do something a filmmaker can’t do even with 3D: they gets to break out of the panel and play with how characters reveal information, whether it’s in a thought bubble, panel, flashback, or reference to another comic. Modern Testament has some very beautiful moments where fight scenes have characters crashing through panels or bleeding into frames to create meta-connectivity. Chaotic scenes have actions barely contained in non-symmetrical frames, foreboding moments are presented at very high and low “camera” angles, and the color palette of the stories set the dark tone wonderfully.
I feel like Modern Testament was written almost as a test for a television series or film anthology because it has the scenic economy of Tales From the Darkside where all of the stories more or less take place in one location. Perhaps Frank Martin was trying to show his ability to be visual using limited means, but considering we’re in a comic book where there aren’t necessarily “budget limitations”, I wanted to see the artists cut loose a bit more. Also, given how smart Martin’s writing is challenging stereotypes, I was surprised to see that the God character was an old white guy sitting in a chair, or that the devil was a red-horned beast. Considering how clever and fresh everything else was, I was surprised that he defaulted to some of the things that he was avoiding in his writing.
I recommend this book because of its freshness, and its cinematic panels. If this does get adapted into a television show, why not read it now and see if they get the translation from page to screen right?
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