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The Lion of Rora


The Lion of Rora

The history of Christianity and the history of European persecution dovetail far too neatly. There are the most famous instances, of course: the Crusades of the 11th and 12th Century, the wars of the Protestant Reformation, and the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th and 16th --- not to mention the scores of Crusades that followed, or that the Spanish Inquisition wasn’t definitively abolished until the mid-1830s. But Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, had been up to these tricks for a long time. Early, Medieval and Renaissance Christians wiped out whole populations of “heretics” --- those whose beliefs differed from official Church doctrine, including Gnostic sects and the Cathars --- and the ritual murder of Jews in Europe was common through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Women were burned regularly as witches in Europe and America up through the beginning of the 19th Century. And during European exploration, Christianity was used as an excuse to murder hundreds of thousands of people in the Americas, Africa and Asia who refused to convert to a foreign religion. In 2015, Pope Francis beatified Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who served as inquisitor of an entire segment of New Spain. Of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” is indisputably the one Christians adhere to most lightly.

“The research here is earnest and attentive, the portrait of this people compassionate and compelling.”

It is a relief, then, to read a story focusing on a “heretical” Christian sect that somehow survived the ruthless persecutions of the Catholic Church and its attendant nations. THE LION OF RORA is a beautifully bound original graphic novel penned by Marvel journeyman Christos Gage and his wife, screenwriter Ruth Fletcher Gage, and illustrated with loving detail and expansive expression by Jackie Lewis. 

LION focuses on a little-known Christian cultural group called the Waldensians (or Waldenses), which originated in the Alpine region along the Franco-Italian border in the 12th Century and --- spoiler alert --- miraculously still exists today, primarily in the Piedmont region of Italy. Our hero is Joshua Janavel, a farmer turned guerilla resistance tactician who led his people against the forces of the Duke of Savoy in the wake of the slaughter of nearly 1,700 Waldensians on April 24, 1655 --- a day now known as the Piedmont Easter, famously memorialized by asympathetic John Milton in his sonnet “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.”

Janavel is the perfect soldier of Christ: a strong family man who’d rather be farming than fighting, yet would do anything to protect his people, their customs and their way of worship. It just so happens that he’s an excellent soldier in worldly ways, as well, as Oni Press’s fetching jacket helpfully notes, mentioning that Napoleon once called Janavel history’s greatest military tactician. So successful that the Duke of Savoy, unable to quell the uprising, finally offered freedom to imprisoned Waldensians and free passage from his domain.

The Gages’ most recent work together has been for Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil series, and their storytelling proves as compelling when focusing on a renegade populist hero of the 1600s as it does when focusing on the same in the fictional present day. The research here is earnest and attentive, the portrait of this people compassionate and compelling. Lewis’s illustration is equally excellent --- the battle scenes in particular are breathtaking in their detail and scope, and the facial features of her characters are almost endlessly expressive. This reader’s only disappointment came upon realizing how much the creators had to boil down. The Waldensian uprising against Savoy and France lasted nearly 35 years, much of which was inevitably left out --- and the rest had to be condensed into 170 pages. A pity for the Christian history buff, but a fast-paced, exciting and inspiring tale for the habitual comics reader. And who knows, you might even learn something. 

Reviewed by John Maher on August 5, 2015

The Lion of Rora
by Christos Gage, Ruth Gage, and Jackie Lewis

  • Publication Date: August 5, 2015
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • : 184 pages
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • ISBN-10: 162010248X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620102480