The first issue of immense religious horror comic Escape from Jesus Island takes pages from The Island of Dr. Moreau, Scooby Doo, and classic horror movies mixed with a dose of hidden Christian references. (Always check the backgrounds of the panels; I’m just saying.) It wasn’t quite what I expected from the teaser description, but it sets the stage for a dark, disturbing ride examining the ethics of cloning, the role of organized religion in modern society, and how the Vatican works as a government entity as much as a religious one, blended with a hearty plot of pure terror.
Escape from Jesus Island #1 begins with a group of five dedicated STAB (Stop Treating Animals Badly) activists landing at the Malsum Island Research Facility, one of many labs owned by pet cloning company ReGen Corp. These five youngsters hold the flames of righteousness in their hearts as they disembark their boat, the Scuba Dew, with plans to free the helpless animals being tormented by the cruel corporation; however, Malsum Island’s true purpose for ReGen isn’t as straightforward as pet cloning or animal testing, and only the truly virtuous will survive.
My only complaint with the plot of issue one is that it felt like a very dark Scooby Doo episode up until the final pages. I expected more scheming and machinations from the Vatican out of the gate, instead of waiting until the final pages. I realized that writer Shawn French is primarily creating a horror tale, and while I didn’t entirely buy into the first installment, there’s plenty of creepy to go around! I also got a certain visceral pleasure in seeing the Fred/Daphne-type members of the party fall to a bad fate, since they always struck me as rather vapid in the cartoon.
The other slight confusion I had with the opening pages was the list of cast members given before the story. Perhaps the creative team has created a short or longer film of the story (or intends to) or supporters of the project provider character design inspiration for artist Mortimer Glum. The little disclaimer blurb underneath the “cast list” claims otherwise, but you have to wonder given how realistic the STAB crew appeared.
Glum’s artwork falls into the eerie, almost 3D-rendered style that I personally find very unsettling, which is almost certainly the intent with EFJI! The watercolor-like backgrounds lend a dreamy, nightmare quality to the setting, as well, which had me blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. I don’t know whether Glum or letterer Peeter Parkker is responsible for the messages hidden on the walls throughout the issue, but they hint strongly at the truth of the Malsum Island Research Facility. It may only be obvious once the truth is revealed.
Overall, Escape from Jesus Island #1 is a great start, but I think there is plenty of room for the story to grow. The Vatican is just getting involved, the face of ReGen’s dubiously moral spokeswoman hasn’t been shown, and Jesus hasn’t made a physical appearance yet! I look forward to seeing where the creators direct their beloved work, and when I need a good helping of disturbing and gory, I know who to go to!
4 Foreshadowing Messages on the Walls out of 5