Written by: Nik Havert
Art by: Wes Sweetser
Published by: Pickle Press

I’m in a real independent comic book mood. Brian Michael Bendis (Powers, House of M), among others, got his start in indy books (Torso and Jinx). And those were the books that immediately came to mind when I first opened Pickle Press’ crime noir, Act of Contrition.

Act of Contrition is a mystery involving a crime spree and the suspicious comings and goings, centering around a church. It’s a straight procedural, where we learn nothing about the protagonists, but are engaged by the fast pace of the story. Mind you, this story uses more black ink than a Sin City story. If I have one general issue with the book, it’s that there needed to be clearer lettering/word balloon placement in order to make dialogue easier to follow.

“The law doesn’t recognize the supernatural. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but there aren’t any laws that deal with this sort of thing.” –Det. Stuart

Granted, the story pushed one of my buttons (and it was supposed to, so Havert did his job). The Church makes for an easy target villain, with the evil priest having become such a cliché because it is rare that anyone does anything interesting or balanced with it.

Some of the bitterness towards the church is more than understandable. Besides its spotty record in the annals of history, it has propped itself up as moral authority so we expect better of it, but its scandals constantly keep making the headlines. We have this sense of betrayal from an institution we put our trust in. However, my contention has been that people can cloak themselves in the church (or religion) to cover their misdeeds, but that no more makes them holy than wrapping yourself in the flag makes you a patriot.

“Put your faith in God. He brought you through this trial, have faith that He will bring you through another.” –priest

The Act of Contrition is a prayer recited by the penitent during the Catholic sacrament of Confession:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.

Donald Miller, in his wonderful book Blue Like Jazz, tells the story of the time he and his small band of Christian friends built a confession booth on the campus of Reed College, “the college where students are most likely to ignore God.” The story picks up like this:

“We are not actually going to accept confessions.” We all looked at him in confusion. He continued, “We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.” … I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I had betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip service to issues of human rights … “There’s a lot. I will keep it short,” I started. “Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix his spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, you know.”

And I guess I would echo Miroslav Volf when he said that “I am not a Christian because of the church, but because of the gospel. However, it was only through the broken church that I received the gospel. Because of the gospel, I participate in the church.”

Act of Contrition is rough, but a solid read. Hopefully some of the detectives can be more fleshed out and brought back for another case. Comic books need more tales of the non-spandex (super-hero) variety and tales of our humanity being explored.

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