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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

Four Horsemen CoverThe 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.

Four_Horsemen_page11Look 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.

Story: 7.5
Art: It ranged 6 to 9

Jerry Nelson

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Our Underwear #3 – Boring Cover of the Week begins!

By John Velousis

On the Utility of Hatchets, or, Hall of Flame, or, I Bought It / I Break It, or, I Hurt Because I Love, or, My Wife Suggests I Use My Pseudonym

Part 1 – The Gathering Form

Before I start being mean about artists, I want to paraphrase a lovely musical question by The Pagans: What’s this shit called comic books? They’re these things with words and pictures that tell stories, sez I. People buy and sell them, yeah, but that is NOT what defines them. If some misguided narc of a mom throws out their kid’s comics and those get trash-picked by some other kid, clan of hobos, eagle-eyed hipster, whatever… no buying or selling there, see? But they’re still comics. Now, okay, maybe some comics by Jim Woodring or Jason don’t have words, and maybe some comics by Art Spiegelman or Dino Buzzati don’t tell stories as we ignorant masses understand them, but I’m blowing off such exceptions. That stuff’s outside the purview of my column, which is about superhero comics. Say, did you know that? Yeah, that’s what the column title is about, kind of. It has a few meanings, actually. Ponder that if you will, Sally-Bill, it don’t make no nohow to me any old way.

A standard to reach for
Tantalizing Stories #1 by Jim Woodring

Part 2 – Hoo Boy

Now I gotta get mushy for a paragraph, because I’m going to open up about comic books’ connection to my heart. I love comics. I think they constitute a fantastic artistic medium. I believe what the great Jack Kirby said: “You can do anything with words and pictures.” I believe it all the way. Comics, for me, are not a guilty pleasure – they’re a pleasure. Not when they suck, obviously, but I’m making sure I state here, in no uncertain terms, that this art form is not some kind of “low art” as opposed to just-plain-books, say. If you think that From Hell is inferior to The DaVinci Code because society has given the thumbs-up for THAT flavor of snobbery, then you can go shove a floy floy up your rusty dusty. For real, go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut, if you believe THAT wack shit. Hell, while I’m working up a nice froth, I ain’t no fucking GEEK either. I have EARNED the respect of the most jaded human beings on Earth – Chicago rock-and-roll musicians. What the fuck have YOU ever done, you theoretical pin-dicked straw man mutherfucker?

This is an idea
Animal Man #5 by Brian Bolland

Part 3 – Pretty rainbows! Unicorns! Yayyyyyy!

Hey now! I’ve taken some chill pills – it’s all aboveboard, I have a legal prescription. About time for me to get to the point, wouldn’t you say? Okay, here goes: Marvel Comics has had some really boring comic book covers lately – like, for the last two years at LEAST. I have seen it said that this is a matter of policy at Marvel Worldwide, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC. What boring, you may say, boring how, define my terms! I mean covers that say NOTHING NEW – that may, in fact convey as little information as possible while still actually having images. This offends my sensibilities. Why? What’s it to me? Well, a boring comic book cover is an inferior work of art. It is the work of an artist betraying his or her own talent, or being made to betray their talent. This is repugnant to me. An artist’s delight is to speak to the human soul. Yet at the House of ideas, artists have been doing WAY too much tapping the mic and saying, “Testing… testing…” over and over. These artists are being abased by their own hand, the instruments to their own humiliation.

This is technique
Amazing Spider-Man #655 by Marcos Martin

Part 4 – How do I know it’s a murder? Here’s the body. (It turns out I killed the Word-Count Fairy.)

Issue#9 of Iron Man 2.0 came out last Wednesday. The writer, Nick Spencer, is a fascinating new-ish talent. His series Morning Glories at Image is a consistently surprising mind-fuck, flecked with little bitty-bits of delight in nearly every marginal detail. It’s already a success by my lights whether or not he manages the seemingly impossible task of tying its psychotic world together. Also from Image, Infinite Vacation seems pretty fantastic – and its artist, Christian Ward, has the balls to insist that perfection simply cannot be rushed… meaning that it doesn’t come out super-often, but that’s another column.

Over at DC, Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is fresher than a blood-red tomato plucked off the vine and juicing into your mouth. From issue#3, here’s a picture that paints a thousand wails of torment and regret:

This is emotion
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 p.3 pan.1- Cafu, Bit, & Santiago Arcas

I’m not sure where this book falls in place with DC’s current shenanigans, but it’d be sad as shit if it were done.

And his story, Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week simply cupped my balls with vibrations of astonished delight. Really, truly, if you think I have ever said ANYTHING of value, believe me that you have GOT to get that Jimmy Olsen special. If you never read it, you simply won’t be as good at ANYTHING as everyone else – making pizza, fucking, sudoku. If I don’t see an explosion of Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week sales tomorrow that can be counted in integers, well, that’ll just be sad, I suppose.

Spencer’s Marvel output has been… less consistent. His Cloak & Dagger is better than anybody could have expected so far, and though I’ve not read it, fans are really slobbing his knob over Ultimate X-Men#1. BUT… his run on Secret Avengers wasn’t very good. Actually, I thought it was bad. And this gets us back to Iron Man 2.0

Iron Man 2.0 (I’m now done with the bold text for this dog) had a few things going against it from the get-go. First, there’s the NAME. One can understand why “War Machine” isn’t such a good name for a hero, but “Iron Man 2.0”? A little bit patronizing, isn’t it? The minds that came up with that – I DOUBT it was Spencer – are the same kind of minds that would’ve just called him “Black Iron Man” in the 1970s. I put about 2 seconds’ thought into it and thought of “Peacekeeper.” It’s politically correct, but is the name of a weapon. Bada-bing, bada-boom. I’m sure anybody could’ve come up with a better name just as easily… except there was this film franchise, you see, and money to be made…

The series itself started out reasonably promisingly – not as well as ANY of Spencer’s other projects, but compelling enough to continue reading. Issue 1, there’s a lovely technicolor fight involving Iron Man the First, War Machine, and an android duplicate of Blizzard, the supervillain who’s for dessert! Then some plot exposition and an odd last-page mystery reveal. Issue 2… not as interesting, but still the mystery deepens and our guy gets red-herringed into, aw snap, a nuke dropping on him. Issue 3 dials it back yet more, the bulk taken, first, by MANY silent panels of people worried about James “Rhodey” “War Machine” “Iron Man 2.0 Real Soon” Rhodes and his gay li’l been-nuked problem, then by him and Stark fetishizing a bunch of tech like Marion Cobretti polishing his steel barrel. They end up giving the new armor John Lynch’s left eye. These 3 issues all have art by some three-way combo of Barry kitson, Kano, and Carmine Di Giandomenico.

Yup, there he is.
IM 2.0 #1
A choo-choo's coming!
IM 2.0 #3 - Pretend these are all alligned, okay? Thanks!
Rubble. Wow.
IM 2.0 #2

Issue 4… is dire. It reads like filler. The inner illustrations are rife with splash pages that have no reason to exist at all. This guy with the first name that defines a real man tells is just like it is. The art tricycle has been replaced by Ariel Olivetti, who has a thankless task and earns some anti-thanks. I mean, yeah, “Double page spread: alienated kid alone on a school bleacher” doesn’t torch inspiration into ANYBODY’s head, but his rendering is devoid of ANY element of technique that could possibly create an effect – no internal framing, no creepy shading, no skewed perspective indicating psychosis – A STICK FIGURE would have had more dramatic effect than this blue-sky-sunny-day exercise in making two pages be filled. Whoa! Grass looks cloudy there – SPOOKY! Christ, TILT the fucking thing! The absolutely most disturbing thing about this picture is that it’s confusing WHY it’s so lame!

Some pair of fuckin' pages from Iron Man 2.0#4

Ahem. The issue seems like Spencer was told, “Kill time until Fear Itself.” Then, issues 5-7 are Fear itself crossover wankery. In #5, both Iron Man II and Iron Fist say the lines “I’ve seen my share of bad times[…] but THIS– THIS might be the worst I’ve ever seen.” Okay, I simply cannot continue this blow by blow of a comic book losing its sense of purpose more with every issue. Let me just jump to my guess WHY.

Wha-?! Something is HAPPENING on a cover? Fire the copy editor!
IM 2.0 #6
I'll pretend that can is Iron Man and my pistol has a scope. VROOM!
IM 2.0 #4

Iron Machine is so nice - he always faces me when I talk!

IM 2.0 #5

I am about to do a shitty, shitty thing. People do this thing all the time without understanding how lousy it is. It’s a low blow, this thing. If I am wrong, I’ll have done a vile thing. I am going to accuse a creator of cashing a check. A BUNCH of creators. Everybody named so far. I have to believe that all of these guys took the assignment WANTING to make something great, BUT Marvel had these things they needed done, and those things beget worse things, and the artists saw the way the wind blew. And they saw that it blew. And they said, “fuck it.” And it was bad. That’s the only explanation I can glean for the depressing dearth of inspiration on display. And oh my god what about the covers?

One punch really IS thrown in this issue.
IM 2.0 #8
See the yellow near the bar code? All the flame behind him's shooting out his ass.
IM 2.0 #7 -Olivetti


One time at band camp I shoved Tony and my ghost up my ass.

Salvador Larroca is credited on art for all of the covers, with Frank D’Armata given co-credit from issue 2 onward. Ariel Olivetti was omitted from credit as the actual cover artist for #7, and Marvel regretted that error. Look at those damned things. Can you imagine being 10 years old and trying to remember your favorite issue of Iron Man Junior (not likely, sure – this is purely a mental exercise,) and trying to recall its cover – which one of these generic 3/4 figure shots with Assistant Iron Man facing you was IT? Now, I’m quite fond of Salvador Larroca’s work on the interiors of Invincible Iron Man, but why the Hell didn’t he put any actual God damned IDEAS in any of these? Go back and look at that Spider-Man cover. Yeah, it’s unfair to compare ANYBODY to Marcos Martin, but shit, man, you are allowed to THINK about the cover before you start drawing it, aren’t you? These covers do not say ANYTHING. Why not draw one where he scratches his nuts? That would be new! Do some fucking thing I’ll remember! So. Iron Man 2.0 #9 is the winner of our first Boring Cover of the Week.

Can I see your license and registration please?
Iron Man 2.0 #8 by Larroca and D'Armata

But this series is the Albert Pujols of Bad Covers. So, since the rules are mine, I’m also electing the entire series to the Bad Cover Hall of Fame.

One should not aspire to be a drawer. One should aspire to be an artist.