Lion of Rora
by Christos Gage, Ruth Fletcher Gage (writers), Jackie Lewis (art)
Review by Drew Bittner
Oni Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781620102480
Date: 07 August 2015 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In the 1600s, a boy who saw his people decimated and ground under the iron heel of a despot grew to command an unlikely army. His name was Joshua Janavel and this is his story.
In The Lion of Rora, Christos and Ruth Fletcher Gage--a husband and wife team whose work includes being staff writers on Netflix's Marvel's Daredevil--take on a very different kind of project. Joshua Janavel was a member of the Waldenses, a splinter sect of Christian Protestants who were not well tolerated by the King of France. Although they lived on France's Italian border and had pledged their loyalty, they were harassed, plundered and often killed by the men of the Duke of Savoy.
Janavel refused to bend his knee to the duke's larcenous and sadistic lackeys. When the demand was his dignity, he took action and sent the duke's man packing. The duke marched a detachment of soldiers into their territory, but it did not go well for him and his defeat dishonored the duke in the eyes of the king.
Matters take a turn for the worse, as England (led at that time by the arch-Protestant Oliver Cromwell) and others take an interest in the Waldensians. Support comes to them, even as Janavel insists he does not want a war. Sadly, it is too late: France has declared war on them.
A small army, all that can be spared from an interminable war with Spain, is sent against them. Janavel and his allies, a French Protestant general and his loyal friend Jahier, lead the villagers into one engagement after another, cleverly using guerrilla tactics to strike and then vanish. They enjoy considerable success, until a devastating betrayal gives the duke a crucial bargaining chip.
Janavel faces a choice of betrayals, unless he can come up with the most audacious plan he could imagine...and hope to pull it off.
The Gages deliver a rousing epic fit to stand alongside Sabatini and Dumas. Janavel is a heroic swashbuckler, for all that he's a simple man who only wants what is best for his dwindling people. He fights a battle that should not succeed--a holy war, one of the first like it--and is dedicated to justice when it would be easier to step away. Although Christos is well known for his work on superheroes including Spider-Man and Bloodshot, and Ruth has a filmography including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, they prove that they can construct just as compelling and gripping a tale from history. (It's worth pointing out that this is a true story.)
Jackie Lewis gives the tale its structure with sharp, stark line work akin to wood cuts or etchings. Her style gives the story a strong historic flair, while keeping it grounded in real world physics and very practical cinematography.
Oni Press has done a wonderful job presenting this piece of little known but fascinating history. One can only hope that Oni and other publishers will continue to branch out like this, delivering exciting stories that have the added benefit of being true.
Those looking for something different in graphic storytelling will be well rewarded by reading this adventurous saga.