Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the amazing, fantastic, incredible, book that inspires children all over the world to read the Bible and enjoy reading it.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story” by Sergio Cariello. 832 pages, published by David C. Cook in September 2020. Available in hardcover for USD18.79 and in Kindle for USD9.99 in Amazon. Or you can get it via Faithlife for USD4.99 as part of their discounted books in their Free Book of the Month programme.
By the way, the Faithlife’s Free Book of the Month is “Knowing God the Father: 52 Devotions to Grow Your Family’s Faith”. Normally I take the free book as an assignment and just review no matter what it is but I’ve been reading too many devotionals lately, and I just want to read and review something else.
Not to mention, I saw a comic book amongst the discounted books. I don’t see that often. I’m a big comic book and manga fan, so I was happy to pay USD4.99 for the Action Bible, to enjoy and review.
A comic book Bible has obvious appeal. It’s visual, easy to read and attractive to children, all of which your King James Version Bible is not. How often do you hear your children say, “Oh Mom, can I read another page of the KJV, please?”
If you are listening or reading this review in front of a bookshelf wondering whether to get the Action Bible for your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, I won’t waste any more of your time. Yes, get it and get it for all of them. And while you are at it, you can get one for yourself too.
Now, my strong endorsement should not be understood as a universal endorsement of all picture book Bibles. There are picture books supposedly for children, with the Bible in the title, but are in fact subversive attempts to turn readers away from the Christian faith. And I’ll give you one example at the end of the episode, after I review today’s book.
Let’s get to the book.
From the website, David C. Cook, the publisher announces:
The Action Bible family of products has more than 85 million units in print worldwide since it launched in 2010. The original The Action Bible has sold more than 2.3 million copies and has spent more than 515 weeks on the ECPA Top 50 bestseller list. It is available in 27 languages globally, with 10-15 additional language translations to be completed in 2020.
They have a family of products. They have a curriculum. You go to the website, sign up and they have resources you can download. It’s a mini industry. And all that started with a humble little comic book that has gotten a second edition in 2020, which is what I’m reviewing today.
As befitting a comic book, let’s do an origin story. This is my dramatised version taking some artistic liberties from the original source material. This is my comic book adaptation of what really happened.
It was a dark and stormy night, Sergio Cariello was hunched over, brush and ink in hand when the doors burst open. It was a summons from David C. Cook. They needed a wizard artist to rejuvenate the ageing Picture Bible. Sergio Cariello looks across the desk at his Portuguese translation of that very Picture Bible. The book was old, faded and well-thumbed. That Picture Bible was like the spider in Spiderman, the bat in Batman, the iron in Ironman, what turned the young Cariello into the Christian comic book artist he was today. How could he deny the chance to make a comic book Bible for a new generation?
And so Nick Fury, I mean David C. Cook, recruited Sergio Cariello, the man who drew among many others, the X-men, Batman, Superman, Ironman, he will now draw Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Peter, John and Paul, not to mention the Lord Jesus Christ. Never before, has he faced a challenge as great and as noble as this.
And thus we have the Action Bible. It has more than 230 stories from Genesis to Revelation in 800 plus pages. A very motivated reader can finish it in a day and once he is done, he can go back and read it over and over again.
Personal Testimony on the Power of Comics
That’s what happened to me. My grandmother gave me comic versions of Bible stories. At that time, her faith was not as strong as it is now. She just knew the Bible was a good thing. At that time, I had no faith at all. I knew nothing of the Bible.
I read those comics over and over again. If I close my eyes I can see Elijah riding in the chariots of fiery horses towards heaven. To me, these were just stories. They didn’t make me a believer but they did make a claim that God was good, just, almighty and that he loves all.
And these ideas of God came back to haunt me when those simple days of reading comic after comic have passed. When life is not filled with comic book villains but with much troubles and despair but in the real world there is no Superman. Parents can’t protect you. You have to make your way in the world and leave childish things behind. Unless those childish things have planted a grain of truth in your heart.
And that’s why people buy and give these books. In the hope that a grain of truth, seeds of faith, may be sown in young hearts. Waiting for the day of harvest. Because of this, it’s important that what is planted is true. It is biblical.
Is it Biblical?
As far as I can tell, the Action Bible is not based on any translation. Then where does the text come from? It says here that the copyright for the text belongs to David C. Cook, the publisher, while the copyright for the illustrations belongs to Sergio Cariello.
I don’t know why the publishers didn’t use a translation. There are children’s translation or very simple English translations around, which could be included in the text. Maybe it’s because they had to modify many verses to fit it into a comic book format with the pictures and a need for snappy dialogue.
Christians who know their Bible will quickly see artistic license, liberties, taken with the original Bible passage. In the first page, it says:
In the beginning, there was nothing. Except God.
“Except God” is in bold. Subtle. No ‘Kapow’. Also that is not how Genesis 1:1 goes.
I am not nitpicking. Nor am I a purist. When you turn the Bible into a 800 page comic book, some things will not be in it and what is in it will be modified to fit the medium. As it should.
The question is whether the omissions and changes produce a work that remains true to the original source, to the Word of God. Because sometimes they don’t.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Marcionites ditched the Old Testament. They saw it was incompatible with the New.
Thomas Jefferson, no less, edited his own version of the New Testament. He removed the supernatural and dogma to bring out what he thought were the true and good parts.
Today, in China, the Chinese Communist Party limits the distribution of Bibles and according to Voice of the Martyrs, the CCP is writing a translation. I wonder what they will remove and modify.
And just in case you think you will never face the threat of a distorted translation, have you heard of The Passion Translation? That translation looks like it belongs on a shelf with other legitimate Bible translations, but one day it will jump out and yell, “Hail Hydra”. This not the time, nor the place to explain why I say there is something wrong with the Passion Translation, but if you have it, I ask that you read up the problems with that translation.
Not are changes to the Bible potentially dangerous, but when we visualise the Bible, you can have the wrong picture in mind.
Wrong Picture in Mind
For example, in the Action Bible, in the story of Abraham interceding to the Lord on Sodom’s behalf, Genesis 18:22-33, the Action Bible has Abraham speaking before an altar with burning, smoking, sacrifices. But if you read the Bible, we see that Abraham is speaking to God as one who appeared as man. A theophany which is concealed in the illustration.
If you didn’t know before, you now know that there is a potential danger when people remove parts or change the Bible to produce a new piece of work. There is a potential danger when pictures can wordlessly convey a meaning apart from the text. And I am glad to report that I could not find any signs or hint of a problem with the Action Bible. And I was looking for trouble but there was none.
While I wished it would use a known translation, the comic sticks to telling the Bible stories. When it gives an interpretation, whether in the text or visually, it is safely within Christian understanding.
Every Book in the Bible Except One
Also, the reader knows that there they should refer to a Bible. Every story has a title. In the title, it clearly states where the story comes from. A Rainbow Promise based on Genesis 8-10. A Babbling Tower based on Genesis 11:1-9. Eat Your Vegetables based on Daniel 1.
When moving to a new historical period, it introduces the relevant books, for example:
The books of 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles record the same period of history — the reign of David, Israel’s greatest king. 2 Samuel is the original history, as written down by the prophets, while 1 Chronicles fills in gaps from the perspective of the priests.
That’s quite informative. More informative than you would expect for a comic book for 8 year olds.
I give you another surprise. The Action Bible could have skipped them and no one would notice, but they intentionally include the minor prophets and epistles into the comic.
There is one page titled “Four Prophets”. The page is divided into four parts: Hosea, Amos, Joel and Micah. Under Hosea, we see a man looking at us with a kindly smile. A woman stands front of him, frowning or unsure of herself. The text above the two reads:
Hosea loves his wife Gomer, very much. But one day she leaves him. The Law says Hosea can divorce his wife, but he chooses to stay married to her. He tells the people of Israel that they have treated God the same way. God loves his people, but they have run away to worship idols.
The man in the picture, Hosea, says:
Don’t you see how much God loves you, even though you don’t love him back? If God can love an unfaithful people, then I can love an unfaithful wife.
It’s hard to bring out the epistles in a comic. In one scene, we see Paul giving Epaphroditus a scroll. On the side, we see an open scroll with the headings: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, and to the Colossians, and to the Ephesians. Under the Colossians, we read:
But Christ wasn’t just a man. He was truly God — but in human form. Jesus is all we need.
When I read that, I wondered whether quoting a verse from a translation would have been better than a rough summary. It’s not wrong. If I make a bigger deal out of this than I should, it’s only because I’m impressed by scale and effort put in. So I speak as a fan, not as a hater.
It covers the whole Bible so well, they even include a Scripture index. 13 pages at the end of the book listing Bible verses book by book and its corresponding page reference. I went through it book by book and the only book that was not covered is Song of Songs. That is amazing, fantastic, incredible!
And More Than The Bible
The Action Bible does not only give a good coverage of the Bible, they even went beyond the Bible.
I was delighted to read the story titled, “Years of Waiting: Between the Old Testament and the New Testament”. The opening sentence to this story is:
The land of Judah is still under the rule of the Persians when Alexander, the young king of Macedonia, sets out to conquer the world, riding his famous horse, Bucephalus, he leads his army against the countries of the mighty Persian Empire. One after another, they fall.
Here we read about Alexander the Great’s approach to Jerusalem, the Maccabee revolt and the rise of Herod. The inter-testamental period is not covered in other bible books. I know because I have a few. So it’s a nice addition.
In a few situations, they add to the Bible story. Imagining moments that are not explicitly in it. For example, there is a scene where Daniel sits together with his three friends. One asks, “Why are we studying the Babylonian history, their gods and astrology? We don’t believe in any of it.”
Daniel answers, “For better or for worse, this is the culture we live in. It’s good to understand their ways, just not to follow them.”
That is a commentary. Is it in the Bible? No. Is it helpful? Yes, it can be.
So there we have it. The Action Bible picks up many of the familiar Bible story, covers every book except for Song of Songs and occasionally, adds elements like the intertestament period, the death of Paul and some light applications.
Enough about the text. In comics, there are two parts. The words and the art. Let’s now move to the art.
The Art, What More Can You Ask For?
You get what you would expect from an artist who has worked for DC and Marvel. Good quality stuff. But I know art is subjective, some would love it more than others.
For me, all I ask is that the art properly and clearly convey the story in the Bible. And it does.
The storyboarding is clear. He draws simple facial expressions and gestures that set the tone and move the story along. People look sad and happy when they are supposed to be sad and happy.
Then, there are the parts of the Bible which are notoriously difficult to imagine, much less draw. The prophecies of Daniel, the vision of Ezekiel and apocalyptic writings in Revelation for example.
Truthfully, I was a little bit underwhelmed by Cariello’s portrayal of these scenes but after some reflection, I realised that I am looking at something that is meant to be much larger than life. When I read these passages I am supposed to shake and tremble with fear and confusion, and I should not fault him if I do not.
In terms of illustrations, I like Samson’s story. His battle armed with a donkey’s jawbone and enemies flying off the page is like a page from the Incredible Hulk.
Another one I liked was Blind Bartimaeus. He hears Jesus calling. He leaps from the ground and runs like the Flash.
Give you one more of my favourites: it is the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel. We see an ancient battlefield of dry bones. God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to them, Ezekiel. Tell them that I will knit them back together again.”
A box above Ezekiel reads, “Feeling a bit silly, Ezekiel obeys.”
Ezekiel speaks, “Bones! Hear the word of the Lord! He will bring you back to life!”
We see the bones moving, tendons and flesh appear and skin covers the body. This scene made me ponder more than I expected it to probably because I never visualised it happening in my head. Now that I have seen it visualised, I am amazed at it.
And amazed because I know what that passage means for Christians today. Actually, there were more than a few occasions where I put the comic down just to think about the story. Wow. This is what the Bible says.
The Action Bible’s Nemesis
If the Action Bible is a superhero, then let me tell you of the imposter. The Bizzaro to Superman, the ManBat to Batman, the Venom to Spiderman, no… a better example would be that time when Dr. Octopus took over Peter Parker’s body and became Spiderman. You can read that in the Superior Spiderman comics. Okay, back to imposter Bible comics.
What toy evokes childhood fun and innocence? Can you think of any toy better than Lego? Now, what if you see on the shelf a two volume hardcover titled “Lego Bible”? It uses Lego figurines to tell the Bible stories. It has obvious appeal right? Better or the same level as the Action Bible right?
The Lego Bible is not what you think it is.
It does not build up the Christian faith, it attempts to show how ridiculous and violent the Bible is.
You have pictures of Lego figurines beheading other Lego figurines with blood spraying out of their necks. Supposedly the author wants to tell the Bible as it is but it is not. And if you pause just for a moment and read the reviews in Amazon, you will be horrified.
In pointing out the Lego Bible’s deceitful nature, I remind us that we should not take for granted the illustrators, storytellers and publishers who give us books, picture books, to read to our children that build their faith. Also, we must always be vigilant. Lego is not always a go. Villains do not always look like monsters.
Physical Beats Electronic and Not Just For Children
Couple more things before I end the episode. I am reading the Logos version of the Action Bible, which is the cheapest of all the options.
I said this in the beginning and I’ll say it again, if you are standing in front of a bookshelf wondering whether to get this for children, get it. A paperback or hardcover comic is much better than an electronic version. Trust me. I have spent many years huddled with a comic, reading and re-reading it. I love it when I see my children reading although it is occasionally frustrating when we try to call them to dinner. “Wait mom, dad, I just want to finish this page.”
Don’t get the electronic version. I don’t know how it works in the Kindle or pdf versions but I can tell you that double page spreads don’t work well in Logos. You are supposed to flip the page and be treated to a panoramic scene. You are not supposed to scroll down and figure out, “Oh… wait, this picture is cut off… oh this is the left page… cause when I scroll down, I get the right page… so all I got to do is merge the left page and the right page in my mind…” That doesn’t give the same effect.
I have said that comic book bibles have obvious appeal to their target readers. Children. Preteens. But it is also appealing to adults. Especially those who are new to the faith. We live in a society where we cannot assume people know who is Adam, Moses or David. They don’t know the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Give a new believer a comic book and they will catch up as fast as Quicksilver. Get the main redemptive story right and every sermon and bible study will make sense.
In conclusion, the Bible we hold so dear is a treasure, more precious than gold, more precious the first Action Comic. The Action Bible, is not the full Bible, but it introduces children and adults to our treasure, and we pray that it marks the beginning of many newcomers in their Christian journey.
This is a Reading and Readers review of the Action Bible by Sergio Cariello. 832 pages, published by David C. Cook in September 2020. Available in hardcover for USD18.79 and in Kindle for USD9.99 in Amazon. It’s available in September from Faithlife for the low, low, price of USD4.99.
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