The middle volume of Dante Aligheri’s trilogy of Inferno, (or Hell), has served as bane to college students and inspiration to countless artists in the 700 years since first written, becoming background and foreground to numerous tales and journeys, on screen and on page, most recently in the form of DaVinci Code author Dan Brown’s Inferno. Now, writer Ron Bassilian is taking a shot at this epic work in his own Inferno Los Angeles, aided ably by the deft artwork of artist Jim Wheelock.
Acting as narrator for his own work, Bassilian takes us through his journey from wide-eyed, enthusiastic youth to jaded, middle-age, crushed by the weight of empty dreams, unfulfilled promise, and lost love. He finds himself returning to the placeof his greatest happiness, the campus of UCLA.
There, he is visited by Dante Aligheri, who volunteers to act as guide on his journey, becoming Vergil to Ron’s new Dante, and leads him down into the depths of Hell, entered through the steam tunnels that run under Westwood.
But, once below, all traces of Westwood and the city above are lost . . . or are they? Ron’s journey through Hell is replete with modern references, and his updates are often wickedly satirical, commenting slyly on just how much and how little has changed since Dante first wrote his tale. But, Bassilian never loses sight of what his understanding of Hell is to him, personally. Part philosophical treatise and part confessional, he is well aware of the weight of the task he’s taken on.
“In light of my experiences, I find this is a story that needs to be told, in a world that’s become far too blind. Dante wrote the Inferno not to relish in gruesome torments and monsters like so much of our pop culture, but as an understanding of what can drag us down. It’s a story of sorrow, of pity, but, ultimately, of clear insight through the worst the world has to offer, and of liberation from it. And, it’s so much more than that.”
Bassilian’s story is well served by the talents of artist Jim Wheelock. Awash in sepia, with splashes of other colors for accents in the different circles, his illustrations are evocative of Gustave Dore woodcuts, crossed with vintage comic book illustration. Combined, these evoke a curiously lush and antique feel to this modern retelling, while Wheelock’s stark, solid lines bring out the depth of this journey, moving from tiny panels to page-twisting, vertigo-causing full-page shifts in perspective, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.
Is this for everyone? Probably not. It’s a dense, wordy work, and a passing knowledge of the source will serve anyone who wants to glean all the references that Bassilian has crammed into his adaptation. Plus, mature situations by the very nature of the journey make this an adults-only work. But, if you like your comics challenging and personal, Inferno Los Angeles will make an interesting night’s read.
VERDICT: 3 ½ out of 5 Coins for the Ferryman