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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Douglas Rushkoff's Testament - reviews and opinions

I don't know if it will be possible to read every issue of the Vertigo series Testament, but with many of the issues reviewed to date, that may yet happen.

Below, I'm providing hyperlinks to various reviews, as well as quotations from them.

general reviews

"Epic Trip" in Heeb magazine (February 2007?) - mini-review and interview with Douglas Rushkoff by Jeff Newelt

The series ranks among the triumvirate of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Invisibles and Alan Moore’s Promethea, and alongside Jack Kirby’s ’70s psychedelic cosmologies/comics, The New Gods and the Eternals.

10th Zen Monkey by RU Serious

The “Testament” series is a startling attempt to bring Biblical mythology back to life.

Ishush blog (as in "I shush people" ; it's a blog by a librarian)
What Testament should have been was a story that started as a story -- instead of a manifesto that got a spackling with plot.

Akedah (volume 1 trade paperback)

Silver Bullet Comics "Line of Fire" review by Robert Murray

This is one comic book that, though polarizing in subject matter, utilizes all the bells and whistles of traditional hero comic books to tell a tale unlike anything we have seen before. Sure, there are instances when the momentum of the story feels forced or gimmicky, but this is a title that is guaranteed to make you think and ponder long after you’ve finished reading it.

Testament #1
Suspension of Disbelief blog - review by Loren Collins

The theory is that Abraham's story itself is the anachronism, a later-scripted message from a time when Moloch-worship was prevalent, written to condemn child sacrifice by retconning God's opposition to it far back into Israel's history. It's not a theory I'm particularly fond of, but I suspect it's one that Rushkoff may subscribe to, and it's one that seems to be on display here.

Bags and Boards review by Tom McLean

the comic itself is impossible to put down once you start reading it as Rushkoff retells the biblical story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac alongside a futuristic tale of a young man preparing to enter a mandatory military draft. Many will surely find this approach pretentious or on-the-nose, but it’s done well and chock full of the sort of cool, forward-looking ideas that made classics of such cool 1980s comics as “American Flagg!” and just about anything written by Alan Moore. Sharp’s art is terrific and sexy, and should draw in readers on that level alone.

Testament #2
IGN review by Hilary Goldstein

I commend Rushkoff for managing to take a very modern story and relate it to the Old Testament, but I wonder how long this can last. In some respects, I think the series might prove stronger if the parallels were merely implied rather than demonstrated repeatedly throughout the issue. The problem, though, is that Abraham has become a more believable and relatable character than the modern-day star of the series.

Silver Bullet Comics "Line of Fire" review by Keith Dallas

Testament is the epitome of what Vertigo prides itself as being: thoughtful, sophisticated, controversial, avant-garde. Comic book enthusiasts are always on the look-out for titles that legitimize and dignify the medium, titles that reveal the grandest of possibilities for sequential narrative, titles that are worthy of being taught in the college classroom alongside canonical literature, titles like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Art Spiegelman's Maus.

Testament is such a title.

Testament #3
IGN review by Hilary Goldstein

I've been trying to stay "in the moment" with this series, but this issue killed some of my enthusiasm. The parallel storytelling was a great convention in the first two issues, but seems less exact for issue 3. There are a few supernatural elements to this ish that come out of nowhere.

Testament #4
Speculative Friction blog - review by Bill Baker

This issue starts with violence and a miracle, and ends with the promise of a very big bang. Along the way, it strikes the perfect balance between building suspense and furthering the story, all the while giving the reader something astonishingly fun and easy to read. ... I honestly can't rave enough about this series, and what these folks are doing with the comic medium. My highest recommendations. review by Blake Petit

You know, I find that I want to like this title a lot more than I actually do. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, but Rushkoff seems to have arbitrarily tethered his story to Biblical allusions that, thus far, really haven’t added very much to the story. ... Overall, this book just feels like it’s trying too hard to be relevant, and the story is getting lost in the mix.

Silver Bullet Comics "Line of Fire" review by Keith Dallas

Testament is one of the most ambitious comic books being published today. ... My one concern about Testament (and this might come across as a weird complaint considering everything I have just written) is the infusion of the supernatural into a technology-focused dystopian tale. Supernatural displays suit the Biblical tale, but not the dystopian one. The manner in which Jake is saved by Astarte in this issue is so supernaturally fantastic that it doesn’t fit within the modern story involving robots, implanted homing chips, and the like.

Comic Book Resources forum - online discussion of the issue
comment by "dude_abides" :

it is in the preposterous premise that angry and forgotten, old testament deities are possessing pseudo-punk teenagers in a technological and totalitarian dystopia. it's yahweh meets philip k. dick. it's like some crazy hallucination. in fact, i'm not sure what it is, and that is precisely why i like it. it keeps me on my toes: a rare thing, and for my money that's worth $2.99.

Testament #5
Obssesed with Comics review

mostly your enjoyment of this series will be directly proportional to your willingness to read a story that's full of bizarre moments, unexplained complexity, and odd mysteries. Testament is a book in which very strange things happen in very strange world to very strange people. Not a lot is explained. Much is implied, often by analogy, but little is actually spelled out for readers. For example, readers receive no explanation of the evil Mr. Fallow, with no explanation for the bizarre libertine lifestyle that surrounds him. It's not even clear if Mr. Fallow is a literal presence or one of the Gods, since his world is so abstracted from the real world of the story. The series seems to carry the promise that Mr. Fallow's motivations and background will come out in time, but without that, the reader is left to interpret cryptic pieces such as the weird cover of issue #5 or the bizarre things shown in the background in his mansion without a lot of help from writer Douglas Rushkoff.

Testament #6
Comics Should Be Good review by Brian Cronin

What I was most impresse by in the comic was the part where Rushkoff showed how the story of the Bible was a plot by three gods to gain power over the other gods, because when there was a multitude of gods, no ONE god could become too strong. However, in this story, three gods banded together to create “God” and they did so through the Bible. Through the issue, we see them write and then do revisions on the Creation story. Very clever stuff. “Hmmm…no, I think we’ll make Eve come from Adam’s rib,” stuff like that. ... All together, I thought this was an engaging story. I would recommend it without reservations, as you do not even need to have read the first five issues to pick up on the story.

Testament #7
IGN review by Jesse Schedeen

It is slightly annoying that most of the characters from the first arc were taken away just as I figured out who they were. Unlike other Vertigo titles such as Y: The Last Man, DMZ, or American Virgin, Testament hasn't provided readers with a true main character to latch onto. I think if the creators slow down a little and let readers catch their bearings, this could become a series truly worth following.

Testament #8
Comics Should Be Good review by Brian Cronin

When we go to the modern parallel story, it is interesting how the “Joseph” character is positioned in an ANTagonist position, rather than as a PROtagonist. I thought that that was particularly clever on Rushkoff’s part, in a way to really keep the whole “parallel story” idea fresh, which can be quite difficult at times. There is a clever idea presented in the modern story, which is the question, “If everyone was praising you for the perfect crime, and you wouldn’t be punished for it, would you take the ‘blame’ even if you knew it was not you?” Very clever scenario. review posted by Blake M. Petit

I know the Biblical allusions are really the whole point of this series, but honestly, I think they’re holding the story back more than anything. Since the first arc the allusions have been more and more strained, and with one exception we haven’t seen any reason to believe that the ancient gods that are watching both stories from the gutters really have any impact on the plot, and thus far that one brief exception hasn’t really been enough to justify their existence. Testament is a very difficult title for me – it has an interesting premise and I want to like it, but the more I read the more I feel like the ideas are simply too big for the story Rushkoff is trying to fit them in.

Testament #9 review posted by JJ Fresh

My only qualm with this issue is our hero Jake getting involved in all kinds of debauchery, such as smoking dope and getting busy in brothels. I'm not saying heroes have to be squeaky clean, but if this character is considered a part of a messainic line his actions are pretty deplorable. On the flip side though, Biblical characters also had thier shortcomings, yet thier return to good made them champions of virtue. See how deep this book goes with the premise? Still, while Jake is in this dark time it's kinda hard to root for him.

Testament #10
No online review found.

Testament #11
pop syndicate review by Cornelius Fortune

God and Satan make a wager concerning one of God’s faithful servants, a man who has everything—what if you took these things (essentially his life) away from him, would he still worship you? God then allows Satan to put his servant to the ultimate test including the death of his children, the defamation of his body, and even the jeering of his wife, who pretty much tells him he has nothing to live for.

This is told in both a Biblical timeline as well as a retelling in our present time. This is like the clock on Fox’s 24, the device can kind of holds the thing together, but you either dig high concept shows (and comics) or you don’t. Casual readers can get easily confused with this book, because like Promethea it doesn’t just read from left to right and requires active participation to get the most from your reading experience.

Testament #12
Chickity China review by JP

the Babylonian god Marduk is summoned by the other gods. Originally he assumed a place as head god of the Babylonians, so it will be interesting to see where this leads. This continues to be a good but dense story, and it’s well worth the effort to read.

Testament #13
Broken Frontier - Guiding Lines review by William Gatevackes

last issue the modern day cast went “off-script”, breaking from the allegory and causing the deities to take a more active role in the proceedings. This added a bit of excitement to the series and renewed my interest in the book. If you have turned away from the comic, this issue might be one to get you started reading it again.

Testament #14
All About Books & Comics Blog review by Phil Mateer

I couldn’t keep the story straight, didn’t really feel like rereading previous issues to figure it out, and was eventually reduced to just skimming through each new issue to see if it had any nude scenes. Comics serials like these, to be successful, need a delicate blend of long-term mystery and short-term reader satisfaction (see Preacher), and this, I’m afraid, seems to have lost its way and is just sputtering to a bad end.

The Kingdom review by Big Bibbowski

Issue #14 has perhaps the least Biblical content of any so far, which would be a weakness if it weren’t for the fact that Rushkoff’s writing relies more on the human experience than riding on the tails of Bible history. As it is, this issue turns out to be one of the best. The Dr. Green character is compellingly portrayed as a flawed, complicated man whose quest for redemption would feel right at home in the Old Testament. Rushkoff’s confidence as a storyteller is evidently growing and his craft is in rare form from the first to the last heartbreaking pages.

pop syndicate review by Jared Blumberg

Once again series writer Douglas Rushkoff deftly handles the intertwined tales, ratcheting up the tension without leaving anyone behind. While all this plot builds to its climax, he still manages to keep us up-to-speed on the smaller details, such as the peculiarities of the artificial intelligence, Green’s underlying motivations, the schemes of Atum-Ra and Moloch, and Astarte’s pregnancy courtesy of Krishna.

Testament #15 review posted by JJ Fresh

Some scene shifts in this issue don't quite flow, and anybody who remembers thier creative writing classes knows the importance of "flow". This disjointedness isn't that evident enough to totally remove a reader, but moments do cause the reader hesitation, and with that the escapism stops as well.

The Kingdom review by Big Bibbowski

One page of Liam Sharp’s art packs more kinetic energy than 24 frames of most films whether it’s a quiet office scene between a student and her professor (who looks an awful lot like Rushkoff) or after that a giant world-eating god raping a goddess in the cosmic deep. ... If you’re interested in a book that tries to be about everything, and like the source code, succeeds, take a trip on the Testament wagon.

Testament #16
Comic Book Resources - The Buy Pile review by Hannibal Tabu

The "As above so below" rule gets all muddled as the actions of mortals are powerful enough to fell divinities, as the Bible Gods (that's how solicitation copy referred to 'em, let's go with that) are undone by their alliance with the Babylonian god of cities Marduk, himself all rage and expectations. ... Challenging allegory, densely informative storytelling and not for the easily distracted or dissuaded, but quite a reward if you can grasp it.

Testament #17
No online review found.

The essay version of the "Another Abraham: The Exegesis of Douglas Rushkoff’s Testament" presentation that A. David Lewis recently gave at the annual conference of the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association in Boston may be found online at (Word format)

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