On the surface, Rob Vollmar and M.P. Mann’s Inanna’s Tears (Archaia) is an engaging period drama, set almost as far back in recorded history as one can go, as the means by which history gets recorded are just being invented in the course of the story. More specifically? The city of Sumer within the Middle East’s fertile crescent, some 5,000 years ago.
The known world seems built around the city, while the city seems built around the temple, and the temple is built around the goddess Inanna. She is represented by her earthly consort, a sort of high priest, who names his own successor at the end of his life.
The last high priest chooses Entika, a young woman, to succeed him as Inanna’s consort and mouthpiece, which stresses her relationship with fellow temple servant Anarin and aspects of city government, while emboldening a wicked leader of the people who live outside the city’s gates.
On the surface, it works quite well.
The location in time, even more so than in space, lends the entire affair an aura of the exotic, and Vollmar and Mann seem to have quite carefully built this world, relying on the historical record and imaginative extrapolation to fill in the many blanks. It looks and feels accurate, even if there’s no way to know for sure.
Vollmar’s plotting is complicated and intense, full of high, dramatic emotions and events: Religious ecstasy, political intrigue, heresy, war, unrequited love, unconsummated religious sex, assassination, man-made disaster, natural (or supernatural…?) disaster. Mann’s art is lovely, walking to the very border between representational and abstract, without ever crossing the line. It’s art that looks simple, but reads complex, with its content subtlely folded into few lines.
There’s a lot more going on below the surface, though.
Certainly there’s an obvious undercurrent regarding sex and gender; what is appropriate for a man and for a woman, in the eyes of gods and other men and women.
And there’s a rather oblique message regarding faith. The bad guy no longer believes in the gods, which gives him a fearlessness and power to act, but because Sumer is a god-based society, he must co-opt a faith, and foment a religious conflict and try to invent a religious resolution in order to rule.
Those who do believe find themselves severely tested, as their goddess doesn’t seem to have anything to do with them (Somewhat fascinatingly, it seems it’s easier to believe that a god speaks directly to someone else than it is to believe that the divine can speak directly to oneself).
Of greater interest, at least for our purposes of looking at this story as a comic work rather than just an oral or written or prose story-story, is that among the many changes erupting in the society presented here is the invention of the written world.
At the time of the book’s beginning, markings and words exist, but not to the extent that they can capture things like stories or poems or prayers, that they can replicate the sort of communication that humans are capable of with their voices. Written words are, at that point, things used for accounting records.
One of the main characters figures out a way to transform those written words into the sort we’re familiar with using now, and it’s a big, new idea that is presented as just as frightening and potentially transformative as anything else in the story. Later, the bad guy wants to use this new power to legitimatize his takeover. He wants his story told.
Vollmar and Mann are, of course, telling a story themselves, and a comics story, with it’s words and pictures, and pictures that are read like implied words, is a much closer form of written communication than modern, English and Western prose can ever be to what the Sumerians and the civilizations that quickly followed them had.
The goddess’ representative on earth thinks such communication is an evil, and the goddess herself seemingly sides against the use of story as weapon or history-corrector, so much so that the creators seem to side with the wicked, and implicate their readers in the crime.
In that respect, Inanna’s Tears isn’t just a tragedy or high drama, but a mythological story of one of humanity’s many falls—from a pre-literate state of semi-perfection, to our current state. Life is so much harder and more uncertain, it seems, but, on the other hand, now he have words and stories to tell each other, including the mans to communicate how things might have been before our ability to communicate in that matter.
That’s a lot of heavy stuff to think about, just below the surface. It’s the mark of a great book, one that gets richer and more rewarding the longer you engage it.