Noah is the kind of story that’s tough to tell for a lot of reasons. Every movie you’ve ever seen about a biblical story, you kind of have to know exactly what’s going to happen, so you have to find your element of surprise elsewhere. You pick people to play the parts that people won’t necessarily expect, you fill in holes in the narrative and focus on those, or you try to make it say something opposite to the text. Noah does all of these to some extent, with less-than-stellar results. This is the most epic version of the story of Noah I’ve ever seen, in a very literal sense. It goes all the way from Genesis 1:1 and the creation of the universe, through the fall of Adam and Eve, to Noah, who claims rights as a descendant of Adam. My Bible knowledge is fuzzy as I get further from the church of my youth, so I’m not sure if that’s a real thing, but this comic does hit all the Cliff’s Notes story beats of Noah. There’s a wicked land, a righteous flood, a dove with a branch, and a drunken, broken Noah. And it’s all drawn gorgeously. Seriously, it is like the space scenes from The Fountain-cubed. A visual delight throughout.
What’s interesting in this version are the smaller passages from Genesis that Aronofsky and Handel have latched onto. The book relies on them to a degree that if it really chose, it could almost be wordless. Especially with Henrichon’s art, which has an expressive cartooning quality to it. Very reminiscent of a Becky Cloonan look. They introduce a whole new class of characters that I hadn’t heard of, presumably because they’re Enochian and I just haven’t gotten around to it. They work in the context of the story, and they’re actually one of my favorite parts.
Where the book tends to be lacking is two-fold. On the one hand, we know how this story ends. We know Noah and his family are the only survivors of the flood. In that sense, this book spends an awful lot of time trying to make us give a shit about battle scenes that happen before the flood. It’s a strange contradiction to hold in your head; when a story is pre-ordained, as it were, you want to spend more time with the characters, so that it affects you when things happen to them. This book relies heavily on narrative captions and extended action sequences, neither of which really do them any favors.
The character of Noah is also an enigma in this book. He sets out as the Reluctant Prophet, which is a character trope that’s all over the Bible, but he doesn’t really get a chance to be any better than that. He doesn’t get to rise above his station and enjoy his victory, because it’s never really his victory. It’s something he was fated to do, and it makes a lot of his actions, especially on the boat, feel like they’re going against message. The authors want us to think that we’re relating to the strongly-held convictions of a real believer, but he comes across as... less than that. If I’m being polite, that is.
The book also tends towards this weirdly misogynist turf in a lot of places. It’s dealing in a lot of archetypal, First Man/First Woman issues throughout, and relating that to repopulation of the earth, but still. That boils down to a lot of “since you’re a woman, your only value to me is as a vessel for a child.” You learn very little about Noah, you learn even less about the women in his family. If pressed, I still couldn’t tell you his wife’s name, and the book is 260 pages. I’m not asking for the most groundbreaking feminist take on the story, but surely we could have lost some battle scenes and learned what the female characters wanted in this story? Not only do they not pass the Bechdel Test, but they don’t even really pass the Sexy Lamp Test, and in 2014? That’s just kind of sad.
Writers: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel Artist: Niko Henrichon Publisher: Image Comics Price: $29.99 Release Date: 3/19/14