Billy Tucci's 'A Child Is Born': Graphic Novel Treats the Nativity as a Real-Life Superhero Origin Story

If comic book artists were rock stars, Billy Tucci would be more of a Yo-Yo Ma – a man whose talents would be recognized immediately by those fortunate enough to discover him.

I first met Tucci, an award-winning illustrator and graphic novel writer, at San Diego’s massive Comic-Con International in 2010. Tucci was intently drawing away in his display booth seated next to an aged but unbowed veteran of WWII’s famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

On closer inspection, I saw that that Billy was personalizing a panel connected with his then-current offering, “Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion.” This illustrated novel was a beautifully rendered fusion of the fictional Sgt. Rock combat hero with a historically accurate account of the 141st Regiment’s rapid advance into German lines only to be cut off in the rugged Vosges Mountains region.

Running low on food and ammunition and with casualties running high, the divisional commander made the decision to break the German siege of the 141st by sending in the 442nd. The 14,000 men who would serve in the 442nd, a regiment of Japanese-Americans recruited out of internment camps, earned 21 Medals of Honor, more than 9,000 Purple Hearts, and more than 18,000 medals overall – the greatest number of decorations for any unit of its size and duration of combat service.

Tucci has an eye for detail and, in the case of his military-themed work, this detail is fortified by personal service in the Special Forces as an enlisted man in the 1990s.

I saw Tucci again last weekend at the Austin Comic-Con, where his latest work caught my eye because it was so decidedly out of his usual superhero, military, beautiful fantasy samurai/geisha woman pinup genre: a graphic novel about, as Tucci said, “The greatest superhero of all time.” “Billy Tucci’s A Child is Born” is indeed about the greatest of superheroes; great because he is real, immortal, and to this day is so relevant that the modern world marks time by the date he was born: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

A Child is Born” follows the birth of Jesus through 25 pages of 84 magnificently illustrated panels based on the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-7 serves as the books preface, foretelling the birth of the Savior who “…will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

True to a traditional telling of the Christmas story, “A Child is Born” adds a modern astronomical element as well, offering a scientific explanation for the “star” seen by the Magi. We see the Magi referring to a triple conjunction of the planet Jupiter with the star Regulus in the constellation the Lion – representing the Kings of Kings of the House of Judah.

In the afterword we learn that Rick Larson, a lawyer, had become “obsessed” with figuring out the puzzle of the Christmas star that signaled Christ’s birth. Acquiring an astronomical software program, Larson ran it back about 2,000 years and “uncovered a celestial poem so beautifully written it changed (his) life forever.” Larson produced the DVD “The Star of Bethlehem,” which Tucci used to incorporate the extra-Biblical but historically-accurate account of the rare astronomical activity that would have drawn the attention of the Magi.

Published by Apostle Arts, “Billy Tucci’s A Child is Born” saw its first printing this month, just in time for Christmas. It marks the artistic end of a trying year for Tucci, who saw victory declared in his wife’s battle with breast cancer. As Tucci explained why he was creating a book without the usual “cowls and capes” to his oldest son, “Jesus is a superhero, William – the greatest superhero ever to walk the earth!”

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