[20 April 2006]
Editor’s Note: You can now download this comic book at RichJohnston.com.
As I began reading The Flying Friar, the faint sound of Remy Zero’s Save Me appeared in the back of my mind. Why would I think of the theme song to Smallville while reading this book? Funny you should ask.
The Flying Friar tells the story of Saint Joseph of Copertino, a Catholic Saint who lived from 1603 to 1663 and was rumored to receive ecstatic visions, hear heavenly music and apparently was able to levitate, hence the term “Flying Friar”.
While the existence of Saint Joseph is apparently real and his feats are documented, no proof could be found for some of the other characters listed in the book, namely Lionel and Lux Luther. Do you see why I heard Remy Zero now?
Yes, Johnston has taken the audacious step of merging the life story of a real-life holy person with the basic overall plot of Smallville. Creating a story that essentially is “What if Superman was the patron saint of all air travellers?”
Some might think that this comic is blasphemous, equating a Saint with a comic-book TV show. That certainly is one way of looking at it. I prefer to think of this book as pointing out the devote reverence that some fans give to certain characters.
I have a test for you: go to your favorite search engine and type in Saint Joseph of Copertino. I got 2,486 results. Now go and type in Superman. I received over 8 million results. Many of those results are web pages devoted to all things Superman. Some are devoted to his movies, some only to Smallville, some are all inclusive. The one thing these sites all have in common, besides Superman that is, is the almost religious fervor these people have for the character.
I don’t know if Johnston intended this kind of comparison when he wrote the book. But the sign of good writing is that it raises questions and comparisons that even the writer hadn’t originally intended.
Johnston’s addition of the Superman mythos doesn’t take anything away from the true story of Saint Joseph. Everything that you would find in a biography of the Saint is here, the Smallville mythology serves to flesh out story and adds a different dimension to the tale. The author writes a solid tale with excellent characterization and slices of humor where appropriate.
The artwork by Polish artist Thomas Nachlik is reminiscent of Phil Hester’s and his detailed backgrounds bring to mind the work of Gerhard on Cerebus, which is high praise. It should be interesting to see where his artwork goes from here.
The Flying Friar was published by the now defunct Speakeasy Comics, so the chances of this issue being reprinted are slight. However, if your local comic store still has copies available, or Johnston finds a new publisher, you might want to pick a copy of it up. You might find yourself entertained.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/flying-friar-1/