From the minds of Jeff Loveness (Nova, World Reader) and Jakub Rebelka (Namesake) comes ‘Judas’, a comic daring to explore the legitimacy and hypocrisy of Christianity, or at least, the ‘greatest story ever told’ that was born of it.
I know, that’s some pretty heavy material right at the start; Boom! Studios likens the mini-series to books like ‘Preacher’ or ‘The Goddamned’ in their previews, but honestly, I feel that ‘Judas’ is truly standing out on its own. It doesn’t present any complex, mysterious narrative that weaves into characters discovering their supernatural powers or unearthing secret organizations and cults. This book in only its first issue cuts through the bullshit and tells you exactly what it wants: that maybe Judas was screwed over in a big way. Maybe his destiny was always to be given hope by Christ, chosen to inevitably betray him, so that blame of the sin would eternally rest on his shoulders, and in translation, on humanity’s shoulders.
It’s quite a thought, isn’t it? To feel you’ve been duped by your faith, taken advantage of by those who know you’ve placed great trust in them. ‘Judas’ begins at the moment of our titular character’s apparent, guilt-ridden suicide, and places him in a cold, unforgiving landscape: hell itself. But while you’d be lead to think that this issue is him navigating through such a terrible place, it’s really navigating his thoughts and memories, his doubts and his questions.
As someone who was raised in the strange repressions of the Catholic church and over time moved away from its community and teachings, this comic has resonated with me in a huge way, not just for the utter painterly craft that Polish artist Jakub Rebelka uses to create mosaics and icons out of comic panels, though he renders those is an incredibly expert way. Just look at the very first thing you see after opening the cover of the issue:
Though beautifully told in this way with largely cool tonality and even scenes of blatantly fake warmth in relation to Jesus and his travels, a great deal of credit must be given to just how little verbiage is used across the issue, and yet how impactful the message is to readers. Even pages that are dotted with boxes of narrative, they each contain a maximum of maybe ten words, and then, as if drawn into the panels as much as the characters and landscape, there lies biblical verse taunting you and Judas like a spell.
The exploration of free will and determinism is also a fascinating debate to take on in comic form, and having that visual evidence for either argument is truly compelling. Even though this story seems to serve Jesus and his heavenly father as a borderline antagonist, the depiction and rendition by Rebelka is still rather sweet. He is given kind eyes and a level of detail, while his apostles appear as simplified entities. And then in Hell, there is also several served examples of a simply structured place, mountainous but dark and isolated, but then there are panels of sudden, frenzied violence and nightmarish monsters. So many nice juxtapositions which compel, of course, the argument in slight favor to our ‘protagonist’ Judas, and yet….you’re left with just a little bit of doubt and wonder. Perhaps because we’ve been so conditioned, at least followers or escapees of Christianity, to see only the light without question? Or was Judas the key to redemption and forgiveness instead of Jesus?
This tag-team of Loveness and Rebelka is just perfect in every way, and with so much ground covered in just one issue, I can understand and feel greatly excited for future issues to come. The ads I’ve seen for this book can be slightly misleading in what to expect of the story, but truly, this is a handsome comic with depth that appears as if from thin air. If you enjoy philosophy, the study of religion or mythology, this should be a must-read for you.
Too long, didn’t read? I rate Judas #1 at 9/10 stars!
Honorable mentions: Coyotes #1, The Wicked + the Divine Christmas Annual, and Mister Miracle #5.