Welcome to the first installment of FreakSugar’s Flashback Friday, where I’ll take a look back at comic stories of the past that I think deserve a second look and that you might or might not want to take a gander at. (I do this as part of my court-ordered community service. Apparently, nobody likes a streaker.) Today I’m taking a look back at writer Mark Millar and artist Peter Gross’ tale Chosen.
Originally published in late 2004 as a three-issue miniseries, Chosen examines the life of Jodie Christianson and his possible connection with the divine. At 12-years-old, Jodie’s life is changed when a truck drops on him from above (as trucks do), yet he survives, unscratched and unharmed. More than that, however, Jodie comes out the other side of that encounter with abilities far beyond those of mortal men: He can turn water into wine, awaken men from comas, and correct the vision of his glasses-wearing buddy. (Any of this sounding somewhat familiar?) The small town in which Jodie lives is a-tither and abuzz at the miracles Jodie leaves in his wake, making many, including Jodie himself, if he is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As a grown 33-year-old Jodie recounts this time in his life to a group of followers on the cusp of a trip to Israel, there is a hint of sadness in his tone, either stemming for a longing of a simpler time or for the naiveté that his younger self possessed, not realizing what was in store to him.
A lot was made during the publication of the miniseries’ concluding installment about the big twist at the end of the book, and to comment on it here would ruin your experience if you haven’t read it already. However, what Millar does best when he can rein in his kneejerk impulses toward splashy storytelling is to really explore the notions of identity in his characters: what makes them tick and how are they influenced by those around him. While his run on Marvel’s The Ultimates was, for me, hit and miss, his exploration of Captain America and Hank Pym were fairly well done, particularly when addressing how identity is tied to notions of patriotism and gender politics.
Similarly, while the plot twist in Chosen is neat for what it is, the real satisfying part of the tale is the examination of Jodie, his newfound powers, and how his use of those powers affects his sense of self and his fellow townspeople. When you’ve got people of faith telling you that you’re the Christ reborn, a demon, or a charlatan all at the same time, that’s going to have an effect on a kid, imbued with divine powers or not. Millar goes out of his way not to deify Jodie in his portrayal of him, but rather show him as a normal 12-year-old with all the awkwardness and fears and desires of a typical 12-year-old boy. This is to Millar’s credit, as it allows readers to connect to Jodie through their shared humanity (a nice touch that does have a nod to biblical roots), while at the same time giving the tale an air of mystery of where Jodie’s new life will take him.
It should be noted that this book wouldn’t be as successful as it is without Peter Gross handling the art chores. His use of muted colors and linework rooted in the real world helps keep the story grounded. Further, the expressions on his characters’ faces, particularly Jodie’s, give readers the notion of the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that are going on within the characters beyond what can be read on the outside. And if you’re looking for signs of the tale’s big twist, once you’ve read Chosen the first time, give it a re-read. Gross has hidden some tell-tale signs that point the way toward the climax of the story that you might not pick up the first time around. (I certainly didn’t, but I’m kinda slow. You might be more of an eagle-eyed reader than I am.)
The comics’ press at the time of Chosen’s release made many allusions to the story as being somewhat derivative of the work Garth Ennis was doing with Preacher. While the two stories might share some storytelling DNA, Chosen is a quieter tale and its own animal completely. If you would like a yarn that is a character story of how faith shapes identity and vice versa, definitely give Chosen a look.