Saints is the companion to Boxers and covers the other side of the Boxer Rebellion, that of Christians, especially Chinese Christians. We see this side of the rebellion through the life of “Four Girl”, so called because she was the 4th daughter of her mother and her grandfather refused to name her so the family just stuck to calling her “Four Girl”, which becomes more cruel when you learn 4 sounds similar to death in Chinese, and is thus often associated with it (see TV Tropes: 4 is death). “Four Girl”‘s life is not a pleasant one as she tries to make her family proud of her but only seems to cause more trouble, eventually accepting her “role” as a “devil”. It is this desire to “accept her devilish nature” that leads to her first learning about Christianity, as seeks to be a “secondary devil” (what Christians are referred to as throughout Boxers and Saints). However she is soon greeted by visions of Joan of Arc at various points throughout Joan’s life. Inspired in part by these visions, “Four Girl” takes an honest interest in Christianity, eventually even converting and adopting the name Vibiana and trying to figure out how best to serve God while the Boxer Rebellion begins and Christians are being killed for their faith. The art deserves another special mention as Saints is colored in a more monotone way, with everything but Joan of Arc and the things she interacts with (e.g. medieval knights), colored in shades gray, with Joan of Arc colored in gold. All in all Saints tells the other side of the Boxer Rebellion with moral complexity and also closes the book on the story of Boxers while weaving its own tale of hope, triumph, and tragedy. In short it is well worth your time. Now on to the spoilers!
** HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! **
Vibiana dies. I’m marking it as a spoiler though, it really shouldn’t be. What’s to be expected of a main character who was born on the 4th day of the 4th month as the 4th daughter in a culture where 4 is commonly associated with death, then takes the name of a martyr in a story where the most prominent recurring visuals are of a national hero who was killed before she was 20, and the method of death of THE self sacrificing icon of western civilization? I bring up her death so bluntly because that’s one of the more interesting things. Over the course of the story Vibiana comes to the conclusion that she’s meant to be a maiden warrior who will protect Christians from The Boxers, like Joan of Arc liberated France from the English. Her ultimate goal is to protect people, but she finds herself at the mercy of Little Bao, the protagonist of Boxers, demanding that she recant her faith. With death staring her down she has a vision of Jesus and teaches Bao the Lord’s Prayer before he kills her. Then in the epilogue, we see that Bao is still alive after the ending to Boxers, and as he’s confronted with certainly being killed, he starts saying the Lord’s Prayer, saving him from a foreign soldier’s bullet, but costing him his pride. I bring up this simply because like all the irony present, but also because it provides a karmic ending to Boxers that is both definitive and satisfying.
One of the things I liked most about Saints was how it dealt with faith. Throughout the story Vibiana is confronted with events, visions, sayings, and other things that she’s largely left to figure out on her own. In doing so she puts faith not just in God, but also herself, as she must trust herself to interpret the symbols given to her and then execute God’s will. Too often “God works in mysterious ways” is offered up as some sort of explanation, excuse, or rebuttal but in Saints its explored and used, which I feel is a far more effective use of the idea. At the very least its nice to see faith, especially Christian faith, handled in a nuanced and complex way with few definite answers when a whole industry has grown up doing the exact opposite.
That’s pretty much it for now. I want to come back to this because I feel this isn’t all that good, so comments are definitely welcome.