Review: “The Life of Christ-The Christmas Story” (Marvel Comics, Jolly Jinglings Special)
Welcome back to Jolly Jinglings, The Splintering’s holiday celebration of all things gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Today, we’re going to look at The Life of Christ: The Christmas Story, published by Marvel Comics in 1993 and distributed by Thomas Nelson publishers. Heavy spoilers will follow, but the story is probably familiar to many of you, anyway, right? (If not, you’re roughly two thousand years late to the Christmas party)
Written by Louise Simonson and featuring pencils by Mary Wiltshire, inks by Bill Anderson, and colors by Tom Smith, The Christmas Story is a comic book retelling of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ as told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
As such, The Christmas Story manages to cover a lot of ground in just 32 pages. The book begins with the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and covers the events of Gabriel appearing to Mary, the birth of John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary’s wedding, King Herod’s plot to kill the newborn Jesus, the three wise men, the angels appearing to the shepherds in the fields, the flight to Egypt, and the visit with old Simeon at the temple. It’s a lot to squeeze into a single book, and as written, it reads very quickly. This results in comic that isn’t the most engaging retelling of the story, but it deftly hits the highlights well enough.
While the plot is largely accurate to the Biblical events, there are a few areas where some creative license was taken and changes introduced to the narrative. There are a couple of new characters added – the innkeeper’s daughter and young boy traveling with the three kings – who were likely created for “relatability” to younger readers. It’s also worth mentioning that there are no advertisements in the book, so nobody is going to temporarily pull you out of the story to try to sell you a copy of Double Dragon III on NES.
On the art side, the line work does a nice job of accurately representing the world. I appreciated the attention to detail on some of the depictions, particularly the angels. They are are shown with six wings, including two on their feet, likely inspired by the description of the seraphim angels in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. The pacing, as mentioned above, is rather quick, and sometimes the choices for the panel layouts struck me as odd. For instance, the arrival of the angelic hosts speaking to the shepherds received a full page splash, but the actual arrival of Jesus is covered in a much more cluttered, non-dynamic way, and is still only given one page.
Outside of the line art, there were unfortunately several moments where the coloring looks sloppy… slapdash, even! There are color mistakes on the backgrounds, characters, even some remarkably obvious ones on faces. The Jewish people in the book are also drawn and colored in the European Christian tradition, so they don’t appear to have much Mediterranean heritage. This wasn’t much of a sticking point for me, but worth mentioning for those who care.
Overall, The Life of Christ: A Christmas Story is a respectful, but not bold, interpretation of the birth of Jesus Christ inspired by the Gospels. The book is well-researched, and definitely well-suited for kids, though purists may not appreciate the artistic license taken to add characters to the story. The gravity of the historical events are slightly lost in favor of approachability, as I’m sure that expanding the story to include the broader context of Roman-controlled Judea or diving into centuries of Old Testament prophecy would probably put off younger or more casual readers.
Do I recommend picking it up? If you are a person of Christian faith already familiar with the details of the story, then it doesn’t have too much to offer. However, if you have people in your life with whom you can share it, then The Life of Christ: A Christmas Story is a good pickup, it’s still very easy to find, and worth going through together during the holiday season.
Thanks for reading!
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