(Book review) Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography

Reviewed byJoshua Henreckson, a professional writing major at Taylor University.



Title: Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography

Author: Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino

Publisher: Plough Publishing House

Publication Date: October 9, 2017


Length160 pages


In many ways, Renegade is not what you’d expect. It’s a biography, but told in graphic novel format. It’s the story of Martin Luther, but it focuses nearly as much on social and political upheaval after the Reformation as it does on familiar stories of Luther’s time as a guilt-stricken monk or the nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It’s a book aimed decidedly at a Christian audience, but which does not shy away from frightening and violent imagery or mild swearing.

So, does this unique graphic novel hold up?

In one sense, at least, it does. Renegade makes Luther’s story easy to engage with. If the two artists and writers’ goal was to give a brief, entertaining overview of his life, they have mostly succeeded. The book is competently, if a bit simplistically, laid out, and the panels are not usually overcluttered with exposition. The book’s dimensions are fairly large, which gives the art plenty of space to breathe. Renegade feels weighty in your hands, but is relatively quick to read once you start turning pages.

Unfortunately, the briefness of the story sometimes feels more like a concession to the format than a conscious stylistic choice. Renegade’s most glaring weakness is its pacing. Some events in Luther’s life are covered in adequate detail whereas others are glossed over incredibly quickly. The most jarring example is the story of his relationship and marriage to Katharina von Bora. The two are seen together for the first time a mere four pages before they are married, which would be forgivable if three of those pages didn’t focus on Luther rejecting her advances.

Another important example comes near the end of the book. Here, the creators commendably portray the anti-Semitic attitudes that Luther displayed at the end of his life. Unfortunately, the issue is inserted into the story bluntly and with little context or explanation, only to be dropped soon after as the story shifts focus to Luther’s death. Readers unfamiliar with Luther’s life and beliefs will likely feel blindsided and may have difficulty discerning whether Luther’s rhetoric is being condemned or glossed over.

Renegade’s chief selling point is its art direction. Some readers may be put off by the somewhat unconventional style. The art is also somewhat inconsistent, with some panels seemingly having had more effort put into them than others. That said, Renegade has a few truly striking pages and experiments with various styles and color palettes to keep the book engaging throughout. The art is significantly stronger in dark, dreamlike, violent, or dramatic moments than in the more mundane moments of Luther’s life.

Renegade is a confusing work. It reaches ambitiously for a unique style and delivery, but often falls flat on its face in the attempt. It’s certainly not for everyone. That said, it has an undeniable charm that will appeal to a niche of readers. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation so recently past, it may find its place onto some of those readers’ shelves.


Rating (1 to 5)

3 out of 5 stars

Suggested Audience

Young adults and adults

Christian Impact

Renegade is the story of Martin Luther, the fathers of the Protestant Reformation. It focuses on the religious struggles of his time, how he reacted to them throughout his life, and how the influence of his theological ideas changed the world around him. The book is sprinkled with biblical references that informed the doctrines that Luther would make into the cornerstones of the Reformation.

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About Evangelical Church Library Association

The Evangelical Church Library Association, founded in 1970, is a fellowship of Christian churches, schools, and individuals.

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