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Comic Book / A Contract with God

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A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories (1978) is the first Graphic Novel written by Will Eisner, who also wrote The Spirit in 1940s. Although it popularized the concept and term "graphic novel", it is not so much a novel as a collection of short stories, each with a different cast of characters but each dealing with the inhabitants of a tenement in Dropsie Avenue.

The stories are "A Contract with God", "The Street Singer", "The Super" and "Cookalein".


A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Scugg's death became tragic from both the accusation of being a child molester despite being seduced by Rosie and losing his dog from her involvement.
  • The Alcoholic: The titular character from The Street Singer is one.
  • Bargain with Heaven: Zig-Zagged. In his youth, during the persecution of jews in Tsarist Russia, the main character of the titular story, Frimme Hersh, writes down a contract with God on a stone tablet. In his later life in America he respects the terms of the contract scrupulously and he lives an happy life. However, when he rescinds it, he is even more successful by mundane standards, but he is unhappy. He finally tries to recant.
  • Creepy Child: Rosie, a child seductress who arranges to benefit from Scugg's proclivities and death. She also poisons his dog for no reason.
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  • Crisis of Faith: In the titular story Frimme Hersh, a pious man who lived all his life in accordance with the laws of God, loses his faith when Rachele, his adopted daughter, dies.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The death of his beloved daughter Rachele serves as one for Frimme Hersh.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: At the end of A Contract With God Dropsie Avenue is destroyed by a furious fire, that starts on the roof of one of the buildings and spares only Frimme Hersh's old tenement, where a just man (or, more precisely, a just kid) is apparently living. According to the Book of Genesis, something like that happened to two infamous cities which called the wrath of God upon themselves.
  • Driven to Suicide: Scugg.
  • Egocentrically Religious: Frimme Hersh.
  • Even Jerkass Has Loved Ones: Scugg and his dog, the latter's death from Rosie's poison did not bode well for the former.
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  • Faith–Heel Turn: Played Straight with Frimme Hersh, who turns into a dishonest real estate speculator when his adopted daughter suddenly dies. Ultimately Subverted, as he seems to feel genuine remorse for having abandoned his faith and finally tries to conclude a new pact with God.
  • Fille Fatale: Rosie, who is prepubescent, uses her sexuality to manipulate Scugg. She gets away with it.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Frimme Hersh dies of a heart attack just after he created a new contract with God.
  • Hypocrite: When Frimme Hersh tells the story of his contract with God to the elders of the synagogue and asks them to draw a new one, their perplexed and horrified looks show that they immediately realize how blasphemous is his request. Later they discuss the request and one of them lampshades that they would violate the law of God by abiding to Hersh's request. But they decide that they are just abbreviating the law. It is implied that the reason is that Hersh has promised to donate to the synagogue the tenement at 55 Dropsie Avenue if they procure him a new contract with God.
  • Gold Digger: Goldie and Benny is this trope, though the latter is a male example. When Benny discovered that Goldie was this rather than a wealthy person, he raped her out of frustration.
  • Jerkass: Scugg from The Super, both antisemitic and uncaring towards the tenements of Dropsie Avenue.
  • Karma Houdini: Rosie. Our last glimpse of her shows her calmly counting out money after manipulating and arranging the death of Scugg.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Played brilliantly in the titular story. On the surface, it may seem a religious cautionary tale about the foolishness of trying to force God's hand, complete of the protagonist being struck dead after having tempted God a final time and of a rain of fire falling on a guilty community. However, God is never seen nor heard and the entire story may just be the delusion of a man devastated by grief and obsessed with religion.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Frimme Hersh never seems to realize that pretending to bind God's will on equal terms with a human being is a blasphemy according to his own religion.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Each of the four stories could count as this to some extent (as Denny O'Neil notes in his introduction in the DC Comics edition, the book doesn't really have "good" or "bad" guys), but The Street Singer probably takes the cake, as it's the shortest and has the least room to sketch out any kind of arc or resolution. Long story short: the titular street-singer, for all his alcoholic wife-beating tendencies, does genuinely want to improve his family's lot and takes the diva's offer to mentor him into stardom seriously. Unfortunately, he forgot to write her address down, and in a neighborhood like the Bronx every alley looks the same...
  • Shiksa Goddess: Frimme Hersh, though a subversion since he abandoned his religion, took a gentile mistress. Willie's father has an adulterous relationship with one too.
  • Took A Level In Jerk Ass: Frimme Hersh abandoned his faith and became a real estate tycoon after losing his adopted daughter.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Despite being 10 years old, Rosie knew about Scugg's sexual interest and even seduced him for money. Also she murdered his dog with poison.
  • Younger Than He Looks: Willie is fifteen years old but his older appearance caused him to be seduced by a woman who is the wife of Irving Minks, the boss of his father Sam.
  • You Have to Have Jews: Like Will Eisner, the setting of the stories is in Bronx Jewish neighborhoods.


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