By: Brian Azzarello (story), Eduardo Risso (art)
The Story: Cortez gives new meaning to “The truth will set you free.”
The Review: While I’m not the most religious person in the world—I may love the word “bitch” a little too much—I think it’s relevant to point out that in most other respects, I’m fairly devoted to my Catholicism. As such, I feel qualified in saying that Brother Lono has been admirably nuanced in its depiction of the Church and of Father Manny, in particular. Manny is no saint, but he is a man who sincerely tries to act on his deeply-held beliefs.
Like many people of faith, Manny struggles most in situations where he must balance the value of human life against his own moral integrity, and like many of people of faith, he chooses to compromise himself to save the lives of others. In this case, lying about lying to persuade Cortez to release Lono, in itself a measure to save Cortez and his men from Lono’s wrath, does more than add a venial sin to Manny’s heavenly docket; it also puts him at Cortez’s mercy, which makes him vulnerable to further, probably worse, temptations.
For this reason, you might say that Manny’s curiosity is a saving grace, even though it condemns him to death. His discovery of Cortez’s big secret is disturbing, obviously, not only for the implications to the Twin Towers’ business empire, but also for what it says about Cortez’s psychology. Spoiler alert—the fact that the identity of his pickled fetus is “my brother. My twin. We are Las Torres Gemelas,” obviously reflects Cortez’s ruthlessness and utter disrespect for the dignity of life. Unsurprisingly, Manny, who takes stock in the lives of those who would persecute him, calls Cortez’s secret “an abomination!” But if Cortez is so depraved, why the earlier pretenses of affection for Manny and the orphanage? Why bother with confession if he’s an unrepentant sinner?
With one issue left to go, I doubt we’ll get the answers we seek, which is a serious problem because it leaves Cortez seriously underdeveloped as an antagonist. But there are multiple characters in Brother Lono who suffer this same defect: Maddon, Cesar, Cráneo, even June to a certain extent. Perhaps it’s too unrealistic to expect a mini to fully flesh out every player, but we’re talking about major deficiencies in understanding their fictional bottom lines. What do (or did, in some cases) these people want, and how does that play into the plot?
But then, the plot suffers from vagaries too, doesn’t it? It’s not difficult to catch on to the baseline conflict (orphanage vs. drug cartel) or even the spiritual one (Lono vs. himself), but there is something of a disconnect between the two. It’s unclear how the outcome of Lono’s struggle will affect the orphanage’s livelihood, and vice versa. Unlike Paulo, who had a prodigal storyline to resolve with his childhood home, Lono’s relationship with the orphanage is less defined. Perhaps such a relationship isn’t necessary. If “the heart of religion…is fear,” as Manny claims, then Lono’s rampage may be the necessary element to strike fear and respect into others’ hearts on God and the orphanage’s behalf.
In mainstream comics, I’m always struck by how little damage the heroes and villains seem to suffer while battling each other, like face-punches that at most churn out little spits of blood, but otherwise leaving the face injury-free. Risso doesn’t engage in such artifice. Every torture Cráneo inflicts on even the hardened Lono looks ugly and painful, and while severed heads tend to look almost comically melodramatic in the superhero world, there’s nothing to laugh about when Lono flings Cráneo’s bruised, battered noggin on his compatriots’ poker game.
Conclusion: Azzarello’s unromantic view of the world means that some characters, just like some people, may live, even die, without much meaning, but that makes for a less than satisfying comic.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – With Cráneo’s flamethrower tease, I have just gained another nightmarish way to die. Thanks, Azzarello.