I honestly believe one of the most courageous and difficult things for an artist to do is to "re-invent" a famous story. When it works, an artist is given a triumph and a wreath of Delphic laurel is placed upon his/her brow by the adoring mob. When the artist royally screws up, the mob will throw garbage and curse his/her name. Perhaps that sounds unfair, yet it is still very much true and just comes with the territory of deciding to tinker with a fan/believers beloved story, and no doubt, Darren Aronofsky (story) and Niko Henrichon (illustrations) knew that when they decided to retell the Biblical Noah story. (And yes, this graphic novel is based upon Noah, the major motion picture. I did know that.)
Now, I’m sure, most people are familiar with the basics of the Noah tale, but if not, it goes something like this. God creates the universe, the earth, all living creatures, and finally the first man and woman. This father and mother of mankind live in paradise until they sin against their creator. At that time, they are removed from the Garden of Eden and put out into a world now tainted by sin - mankind’s inherent evilness, if you will. Adam and Eve make the best of it though, have some children, and try to live their life. Unfortunately, one of their sons, Cain, kills his brother, Abel, and the avalanche of evilness just keeps picking up steam, as mankind invents more and more ways to ruin the previously "perfect" Earth and commit "sins" against the creator. A fact which soon leads "God" to "grow weary" of mankind’s continued evilness and determine to wipe out all living creatures (air breathers) by a worldwide flood before man’s evilness destroys the Earth. The only "righteous" man spared this watery fate is Noah and his family (wife, 3 sons and their wives) who basically build a huge ark, fill it with two of each kind of animal, and ride out a year long flood of the whole Earth. After the waters subside, the creator promises not to flood the earth again, places the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this promise, and then tells Noah’s family to multiply and repopulate the earth.
Those are the basic facts - as I understand them. (No, I am not a professional theology expert, so please do not lynch me if I have gotten something somewhat incorrect. Thanks for you patience with my human imperfections.) However, there are many facets of the Noah story that are not "fleshed" out in the ancient Judeo-Christian tale. Like what was the pre-flood world like? How were the people so "wicked" back then? What was Noah really like? How did he and his family build such a gigantic ark? How did Noah gather up all those animals and put them on a boat together? What did knowing all of mankind would die except for his family do to Noah’s psyche? What happened when people finally discovered that Noah was right and that only he had a boat big enough to save people from the prophesized cataclysm? And how did Noah’s family survive once the flood was over?
As you can see, Noah’s tale lends itself to becoming a marvelous apocalyptic story/film. It has all the bare bones needed to build an edge of your seat adventure tale for the ages with just a bit of re-imagining and filling in of details, and honestly, Aronofsky and Henrichon start this graphic novel doing just that, penciling in the blank spots of Noah’s story and gifting a reader with awe inspiring images of a legendary world. Noah is exciting. It is action filled. It has emotional impact. It is almost spiritual in many of its pages. Indeed, at the start of this graphic novel, the creative team does a marvelous job of tip toeing down that invisible line of "re-imagining" a story and adding excitement without changing it so much that its "fans/believers" become upset. But -
I mean, you knew there was a "but" coming, right? Honestly, there has to be doesn’t there? This is a book review after all, and any "review" is going to point out good and bad things about the book. Maybe not every reviewer does that, but fortunately for you (Because you obviously are one of those inquisitive people, who would always take the red pill, stay in Wonderland and ask Morpheus how deep the rabbit-hole goes.) I am accustom to pointing out unpleasant things while also dodging rotten eggs from my critics.
So as I was saying, Aronofsky does a marvelous job of providing an exciting, Noah story until he decides to begin providing a "message" to his readers. (Something which is never a good idea in an action story/movie, but which is especially not prudent when retelling a religious story to begin with.) However, Aronofsky is determined to turn this apocalyptic tale of worldwide destruction into a modern morality play, and so he soon casts aside the edge of your seat action regarding the end of the world for "greenpeace" proselytizing. The worst of it no doubt being the de-evolution of Noah, the would-be savior of mankind, into an existential nihilist, whose sole purpose is to ensure the destruction of mankind so that the cancer known as man cannot multiply to harm mother earth anymore.
Did you actually read that last sentence?
Uh-huh, sure you did. Let us take a moment to revisit it just to make sure you understood what I was saying.
Noah, the hero of our story, begins this tale as a fighter for right and is chosen by his creator to warn mankind of the coming apocalypse, build an ark to save his family and the animals, and while doing all this he turns into an existential nihilist. Existential nihilism being the belief that life (Here being human life) has no intrinsic meaning or value and that the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to correct its "sinful" ways if it is allowed to continue to survive.
"What?" Some of your are asking yourself. "Are you serious? An action story about the end of the world is preaching that man should be destroyed to preserve the environment. No way."
Way, dude. Sorry to say I only wish I was joking, because Noah had real potential: a lost civilization, prophesized end of the world, single man against overwhelming odds, cute animals, epic destruction by a flood, and survivors having to rebuild civilization. Can’t get much better elements for a successful story, but Aronofsky decided to throw all those great plot points to the side and try to sell "greenpeace" existential nihilism in an action story/movie. Just a bad idea. Mainly because most people do not want a theology lesson in their action adventure story. You know, they just want — action and adventure.
In summation, Noah is a graphic novel that starts off great, has great artwork but falls flat as it changes from a pure action-adventure tale into a morality play. Read it at the risk of deciding that your continued existence has no meaning since you are the cause of global warming by refusing to stop eating meat, driving your car and using electricity.
I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank the publisher for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.