Image Comics – Doug TenNapel (w/a)
Earthboy Jacobus, the newest graphic novel from creator Doug TenNapel (whose previous works, Creature Tech and Tommysaurus Rex, were excellent), is an odd book to even attempt to describe. Nevertheless, it’s…y’know…my job, so I’ll try my best.
In the simplest terms possible, Earthboy Jacobus is about the Chief, a Marine sergeant-turned-police chief, a man about to enter the oddly disconcerting world of retirement. The Chief lives for his work and his men, and the prospect of facing an uncertain world without the safe haven of police procedure leaves him uneasy, to put it mildly. On his first night of retirement, while driving home with his fast-food dinner, the Chief drives his car into a whale that’s lying in the middle of the road. Still understandably taken aback at this strange turn of events, he is even more surprised to hear a timid voice emerge from within the whale. Even in such a surreal setting, the Chief recognizes the sound of a child in distress and pries the dead whale’s mouth open, releasing the small, longhaired, and black-clad boy inside. After the whale disappears before his eyes, Chief figures that both he and the boy have had enough for one night and takes the child, named Jacobus, home with him.
Jacobus explains that he has come to Earth from a parallel Earth via the dimension-spanning powers of the terra-whale, fleeing a horrible breed of space insects known as the ectoids. The Chief, of course, ignores all this, even Jacobus’ warning that the Chief’s presence will not dissuade the ectoids from their pursuit, and puts the boy to bed for the night.
When an ectoid springs from the closet to attack him and Jacobus, the grizzled soldier begins to rethink his initial assessment of this boy from another world.
What follows is an oddly touching (but never schmaltzy) father-and-son story, divided into three chapters (each of which chronicles a period of Jake’s life: his boyhood, teenage years, and adulthood), as Chief and Jake learn from one another and eventually fight to free Jacobus’ world from the oppressive rule of the ectoids.
Earthboy is notable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is TenNapel’s ability to inject subtext without seeming preachy. On one level, the book is simply the story of how one boy’s will to survive and find a family carries him through some rather extraordinary circumstances. On another, the story can be seen as a narration of the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism (hence this review’s tongue-in-cheek title), particularly Communism, as depicted in the ectoids’ desire to stamp out individuality in favor of one race marching lockstep in safety and good health, if not in liberty.
Mostly, however, it is worth mentioning that TenNapel’s story is clearly influenced by his faith. For some adamant secularists, Earthboy Jacobus will be a laughable Christian-oriented fairy tale about boys from other planets and evil insect-men, at best. Some will find the mere mention of Christianity downright offensive, of that I have no doubt. That having been said, while the lead character’s crisis of faith is a central plot point, in my opinion it never feels as though TenNapel is beating the reader over the head with a mallet about it. Put another way, while you certainly can’t read the book without acknowledging the presence of a Christian theme (as you can with the political subtext), I doubt an open-minded non-Christian would feel put off by it; it’s pretty non-confrontational and, again, it doesn’t feel preachy.
Earthboy Jacobus is, without a doubt, the best book to hit the shelves this week (and keep in mind, it was a good one for comics). I read quite a few quality books before I got to Earthboy and I planned to review a considerable number of them. However, afterwards, they all seemed more than a bit trivial by comparison and frankly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on a great work of sequential art that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle on a busy week.