Adapted by Chris Ryall
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
Published By IDW Publishing

I have been a fan of Clive Barker since he popped on the horror scene with his collections of short stories, The Books of Blood. Based on the eponymous novel, The Great and Secret Show brings to comics a story full of imagination and wonder, as well as a few chills.

The mythology of the story revolves around the dream sea known as Quiddity. Each of us visit this sea three times in our lives: the first night we spend outside of the womb, the night we lay beside our first love, and the last night of our lives. Any more times and we’d go insane. The Shoal is the organization that safeguards it. Randolph Jaffe wants to visit again.

Jaffe, working in the dead letter office, pieces together the existence of The Art and that America has a secret history all of which will lead him to Quiddity. Along his journey to the dream sea he spends time in The Loop, a loop in time, and visits with Kissoon, last of the Shoal and later gets connected with Richard Fletcher, a drug-addicted biophysicist. Fletcher is led to create Nuncio, the stuff to nudge people along the evolutionary ladder. However, Jaffe wants to do things his own way, on his own terms. Nuncio takes hold of both men and they fight, realizing that they have different goals, leading to what will become a battle between good and evil on a grand scale.

And that was just the first issue.

Having not read the original novel, The Great and Secret Show has shades of J. Michael Straczynski’s Midnight Nation or a dash of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Chris Ryall seems to have gotten to the heart of the story, one laden with both character and a sense of mystery. Gabriel Rodriguez has imbued his portrayals of ordinary people with aspects of the sinister, grounding the story with a sense of realness.

The Great and Secret Show is rife with spiritual connections. The Show in question is all of creation, what we see as well as what we don’t see. The physical and the spiritual, a world that many stay purposely blind to. Jaffe leads an ineffectual existence, knowing that there’s more to life, knowing that there’s more to creation and he sets off on a journey to change himself.

“Jaffe walked so far heeding the call that he came to a place where the facts were in doubt.”

Jaffe’s pursuit reminded me of Adam and Eve in the garden, seeking “ultimate” knowledge in their own way under their own power. Nuncio is no different than the fruit, with Jaffe pursuing magic for his own/selfish ends. Yet it’s the nature of The Art that fascinates me. The story speaks to the idea that there is a magic side to reality, an acknowledgment and desire to reach the transcendent. To peek behind the veil, a world of unseen spirits, and, despite our supposed need for answers, find answers to questions we hadn’t thought to ask.

We tend to place limits on what faith is and can be, forgetting that there is room for mysticism in faith. Parts of us hunger for something beyond the strictly rational. What I’m calling mysticism, at least from a Christian worldview, would be a deep experience of union and knowledge of divine reality. Wrestling with God’s nearness (immanence) as well as His otherness (transcendence); how He interacts with creation and human history as well as being separate and holy. Not a denial of reason, but seeing its limits and moving beyond it; finding truths in the paradoxes of life and belief. Maybe by embracing the mystical, we can truly catch a vision of God.

IDW Publishing has established themselves at the premiere outlet for horror comics. From Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night to Clive Barker’s the Great and Secret Show, they have churned out compelling books. The Great and Secret Show crams a lot of story, a lot of mythology, into its pages, yet lends itself well to comic adaptation for quite the riveting tale. I can only hope the rest of the series lives up to the high expectation that Ryall and Rodriguez have set up thus far.

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