No Apology Necessary
by Mike Baron

Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel
Written by Marv Wolfman
Illustrated by Mario Ruiz
Conceived by William J. Rubin

Marv Wolfman is an award-winning comic book writer who has thrilled several generations of fans, from Tomb of Dracula to New Teen Titans. Marv knows how to tell a story. More importantly, he knows the difference between telling and showing. Which makes Marv's work on this history of Israel so perplexing.

Homeland is one long snooze-worthy lecture delivered by a fictional lady professor whose mug appears more often and more prominently than any real person in the book. Marv glosses over legendary events in an off-hand way. "With Moses on Sinai, the people who heard God say, 'You shall make no statue,' demand that Aaron produce a golden calf to go before them. ...upon seeing the sin for himself, Moses smashes the tablets of the Ten Commandments." The Ten Commandments are never listed.

© 2007 Nachshon Press LLC

"Near 1000 B.C.E. a young shepherd and singer from the Tribe of Judah defeats the huge Philistine champion, Goliath." So much for David and Goliath, an inherently exciting story that begs for showing. Imagine how much more memorable this event, and numerous others in the book would have been had Marv and Mario chosen to show instead of tell. The pictures themselves are static: an endless gallery of Middle-Eastern heads and names that are forgotten as soon as you turn the page. The history is solid, but so are many unreadable history books.

There's an apologetic tone to much of the narrative. "Professor, are the Jews of Masada considered heroes?" a student asks. "I think the answer depends on who you ask. But keep in mind the difficult problem of deciding when to fight and when to compromise." Excuse me? Are the Jews who fought the Roman Empire heroes? Hell yes! No need to apologize for Jewish heroism. The siege of Masada is worthy of its own graphic novel.

Marv's research is impeccable. Whole lotta history going down. Homeland would make an excellent adjunct to any study of Israel, but as entertainment it falls flat. The images are overwhelmingly reverential portraits of historical figures. Big heads. Word balloons appear on one page. Ruiz has found an innovative way of touching up photographs so that they resemble what you would see if you came out on deck on a sunny day after remaining in the dark for a long time. All the colors and depth perception are there, but when you look closely you see that the details are blurry. It's an eye-drop effect. I wonder why he didn't just run straight photos.

As the narrative moves into the Twentieth Century even the dullest reader will conclude that Israel wants peace while its Arab neighbors will settle for nothing less than obliterating the Jewish state. Far too little space devoted to Yasir Arafat, the father of suicide bombing, and one of the worst mass murderers of the twentieth century. And nowhere in the book is the argument that suicide bombing is a crime against humanity. It cannot be stated too often.

Toward the end there's a recitation of terrorist attacks beginning in 2004, but they are printed faintly, receding into the background as if afraid to give offense, like English public schools which have stopped teaching the Holocaust for fear of offending their Muslim pupils. Those atrocities should be printed in blood red against a black background. Finally there is a recitation/gallery of Israel's many achievements in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

The history is accurate. But the impression Homeland gives is of a decent, pluralistic society struggling to survive in a hostile neighborhood. Well yes, but it leaves something out. We are in a world-wide war between civilization and barbarity. Israel is on the front line of this struggle. It needs a more spirited defense.
Mike Baron worked for the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark, and the Real Paper. He broke into comics with Nexus, his groundbreaking science fiction title co-created with illustrator Steve Rude. Baron has written Marvel's Punisher, DC's Batman, Deadman, and Flash. Nexus has garnered honors too numerous to mention, including Eisners for both creators. Baron has written Star Wars for Dark Horse, Turok, Dinosaur Hunter and Archer & Armstrong for Valiant, and has three issues of Legends of the Dark Knight in the works.

A prolific creator, Baron is at least partly responsible for The Badger, Ginger Fox, Spyke, Feud, and many other comic book titles. He currently has two new web comics up at Big Head Press. The Architect is a horror story based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Hook is rock and roll science fiction - think Farenheit 451 only instead of banning books they have banned music.
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