Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mother Teresa in the Mighty Marvel Manner

Webster's Dictionary defines hagiography as: "Biography of saints or venerated persons."  The word is often used by critics who want to demonstrate how much smarter they are than their readers by showing off their huge vocabulary, like me, as a condemnation of any biography that paints an overly rosy picture of its subject.
To call the Mother Teresa of Calcutta, on the other hand, a hagiography is to neither condemn nor praise it.  It is simply to state a fact.  Published by Marvel Comics (believe it or not) in co-operation with the Catholic Church in 1984 as part of a short lived series of sequential biographies of religious figures that also included volumes on the lives of Pope John Paul II and Saint Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a reverent retelling of the controversial nun's life up to that point in time.  The comic was written by David Michelinie from a story by Franciscan priest Father Roy Gasnick and pencilled by John Tartaglione with inks by Joe Sinnott.
To frame Mother Teresa's story, Michelinie and Gasnick introduce the reader on the first page to Nick Bugatti, a reporter for the fictitious World Cable News.  After meeting Mother Teresa in Beirut, Nick drags his comic relief cameraman Marty along on a worldwide quest to determine just what makes her so "special".  The pair travel to Yugoslavia, Ireland and finally to India, gathering biographical details along the way.  These details are presented to the reader in a linear fashion, tracing Mother Teresa's life from her birth in 1910 to winning the Nobel Prize in 1979.  
In the end, Nick does, in fact, uncover what makes Mother Teresa so "special".  What is her mysterious secret that took this ace reporter forty-eight pages to figure out?  "She cares."  Of course, by the time the story got to that final page revelation, I really didn't. 
Since the book is written in such an earnest, reverential manner, there are a number of unintentionally hilarious moments. For instance there's the panel where Mother Teresa and an associate are shown leaving a village as the angry villagers throne sticks and stones at them and she calmly concludes that, "I don't think God wants us to have a leper clinic here!"  However, the book never reaches the level of high camp that I was hoping for.  
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is not really a bad book for what it is, but its definitely one for true believers only.

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