Advanced Review: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Helldiver Book One – Death Is Just The Beginning
Written by: Michael Mendheim, Mike Kennedy and Sean Jaffee
Art by: Simon Bisley
Colors by: Chad Fidler
Additional Art by: Hoel Boucquemont, Vince Proce
Cover by: Ivan Khivrenko
Published by: Heavy Metal
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a surprisingly smart story about religious factions battling over the seals to usher in the Apocalypse. This book is fast-paced and high concept like a big-budget Hollywood film. The Seventh Sign, Stigmata and the DaVinci Code all spring to mind. This comic starts off on the right foot with a mysterious and rather gruesome suicide in a church. That grabbed me right away. From there plot unravels in an engaging and fast paced manner.
Professor (or is it Rabbi?) Adam Cahill is warrior from a religious sect in charge of protecting the Seven Holy Seals. Break the seals , and it’s the end of the world as we know it. We are introduced to him through his daily life in teaching at B’nai Jeshrun Hebrew School in Chicago. The theme of redemption is brought up in class discussion and immediately I knew what this book was going to be about. “That’s where each soul is confronted with his or her sins, and how they respond to this reflection is the difference between salvation and damnation.” This of course makes perfect sense for a book called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Then he goes home to his family and has dinner with his wife and child, showing that he might be a warrior and professor, but he’s also a family man too. Later on this is leveraged into some primal emotions when his family is under threat.
We get down to the nitty gritty when Adam is sent away to help defend some of the Seals at the Church of Trinity in Kiev from fanatical cultists. He’s too late. They find one of their priest crucified to blood drawn pentagram with his guts hanging out and they jacked one of the Seven Holy Seals (they have 4 now). The cultists are still there and Cahill freaks the fuck out on them. Cue bezerker rage. Cue bloodbath. Cue important exposition. From here I let the publishers blurb summarize: “… ageless forces have conspired toward a prophetic event foretold by numerous cultures and multiple religions, and when that cryptic date arrives, they strike against the order without mercy! Adam’s world is shattered, his family murdered, and he is sent spiraling into Hell itself. There, he must find three corrupt souls, chosen by Divinity, to join him in battle against the legendary Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These broken individuals must band together to not only save their own souls but decide the fate of Humanity.”
So yeah, Cahill becomes a Helldiver, which from what I can tell is like the Punisher, Hellblazer and Ghost Rider rolled into one. I can’t help but have a chuckle and think about “Holy Diver” by Dio whenever I see the word Helldiver. The reveal of divine intervention was a bit silly to me as well. That’s just something that I personally struggle with in almost any religious story involving the voice of God. As an agnostic leaning liberal I tend to find all such reference to the the direct hand and voice of God incredulous. My baggage is my baggage I know. It’s just one of those things. I do like that Cahill response is very human and complex. He reluctant at first, and it’s completely understandable. Becoming a Helldiver means giving up your soul and you place in heaven, but fighting for a higher cause. It’s just the sort of lofty plot point and character developement needed to sell the idea of the Apocalypse. There’s also some other religious viewpoints about the end of the world that are explored as well, so it doesn’t feel single-minded. Judaism, Christianity and Satanism all have a role thus far.
There’s some kind of code that’s happening in the dialogue and narration. Every few pages or so a number or letter is highlighted in red. I’m no cryptographer, so I couldn’t tell you what the hidden message is, but I’m guess it has something to with the theme of redemption, or hidden law from the Torah. It’s just evidence of another complex layer of intrigue that’s subtly infused into this endgames tale. I find it refreshing because while I drawn this title with the promise of Bisley vision of the Apocalypse, I thought it was going to be a fairly trivial story, and it’s anything but that.
Look we all know Simon Bisley’s art stands tall. It’s herculean Frazzetta on steroids with the showmanship of a WWE cage match. Hulking bodybuilders with rope-y veins and psychotic eyes locked in mortal combat and drenched in a thick spray inky blood and brightly oil-painted ice cream colors. He made Slaine, Lobo, Doom Patrol, Fakk2 and Judge Dread pop with violence and glory. Simon’s gone on to work on album covers, magazines and movie posters.
He’s been on and off the comic scene these last few years, but has returned with a vengeance in The Four Horsemen. Here he shows some restraint, poise and temperament. Unfortunately there’s also a down-side to this as well. There are some panels that feel cramped and hampered by shot-scale choices and composition. But that’s most the more “normal” talking heads set-up scenes. Which, let’s face it, has never been Bisley’s strong suit. He’s best suited for epic battles and bone-crushing splash pages. Also, for some reason he draws eye’s too big on long and mid-shots and makes it almost manga-esque at times. That contrasts starkly with his penchant for detailed renderings. Cahill as a Helldriver is not the most original design from Bisely. He’s basically Lobo with straight hair and a trench coat with two swords strapped to his back. It’s look badass, but he looks like Lobo. There’s also an orgy scene that I would had liked to have scene with a bigger panel. I mean what’s the point of including a satanic orgy ritual if you draw it on one small panel. I remember the B&W book Faust from the late 80′s and 90′s by David Quinn and Tim Vigil. Issue #5 has a crazy violent blood orgy scene that was a double page spread that left a lasting impact on me to this day. I feel if you are going to go all-out, do it big. I mean this book is published by Heavy Metal, I don’t think anyone will bat an eyelash.
There is also some panels that are not Bisley in this book. Joel Boucquemont, Vince Proce, Ivan Khivrenko contributes some rather death-metal looking hellscapes, which kind of throw me out of the Bisley world for a bit. Some of the coloring is over saturated and photoshopped textured. But then again it seems the whole book has a bit of photoshop grunge textures on the borders and bleeds. A quick flip through the book and it looks like you have some very dirty and violent stained glass. It fits the subject matter, so I don’t actually mind it much, but I think it could be pulled back just a touch to a subtler and less distracting effect. Ultimately the story telling is good and easy to follow, so it’s easy to forgive anything that isn’t super polished.
The true pay-off is towards the end of the book where the art picks up considerably. Bisley is channeling Ivan Albright, Hieronymus Bosch, and WarHammer Games in his vision of hell. There’s some stark industrial wastelands, twenty-eyed demons trapped in dungeons, skinless victims hammered into architecture, and a big-titted succubus to rule them all. Breast implants in hell? Makes sense to me. And finally one of the Horsemen is revealed. That fucker is a doozy. He’s like Lock-Jaw from He-man crossed with Oderus-urungus from Gwar. And he’s sporting a BFG gattling gun on armored horseback. So now you have to pick up the second and third book. How can you not! I need to see the rest of the horsemen designs by Bisely and I most definitely need to see the raze the planet in an Armageddon holy war. Hopefully we’ll see some more consistency with the art in following issues.
The Four Horsemen is a solid story “golden fleece” type story about redemption, duty and faith, mixed with a rite of passage journey, and probably some other shit that is over my head. The set-up is solid and the beginning of the second act sold me on the rest of books. The art was a little all-over place but it ended strong. I have no doubt that the following volumes will surge with that burly signature Heavy Metal style we all know and love. If you are into sprawling good vs. evil epic stories of biblical proportions, then this book is for you.
Art: It ranged 6 to 9
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