BOOM! Studios deserves a medal for the sheer risk involved in putting together a book as religiously niche and intellectually controversial as Judas. This collected volume takes us on an emotional rollercoaster that is as fast and loopy as the last time someone tried to actually preach a sermon to me. I would call the story “Biblical Fiction;” however, you might call it something else entirely based on your own set of religious entanglements. Judas, the villain of the scriptures, turns out to be the ripest of narrative apples hanging from the Bible tree. You might say, in a world where dullness is the highest form of treachery, Judas does NOT betray YOU.
Jeff Loveness is not just the proud owner of the coolest name award, he also wrote this story. In the preface, Jeff mentions that Judas came to him in a dream, which is exactly where I expect this kind of story to live. The concept of Hell is very dreamlike in my imagination, and it is also where this story takes place, almost entirely. Judas is sent to Hell after betraying Jesus and spends a great deal of time with Satan/Lucifer. Loveness then carefully examines the idea of Judas Iscariot altogether and poses an alternate conception of his dynamic function within the Bibleverse (trying to make this a thing).
If knowing the “Jesus story” is your ticket to ride, then the conceit and execution is the nice meal you get in the dining car. Emotionally, Judas surprised me. I was not ready to face the questions the book posed, and because of this, I was affected deeply by the way it handled a criminally misunderstood character in the Bible. Essentially, the book asks the question, “If God is in control, then why do bad things happen?” How this relates to Judas is, plainly, why him? Why did it have to be Judas who betrayed Jesus? Why did it have to be anyone, for that matter?
The book answers this question, and when it did, waterfalls shot from my eyeballs.
Personally, I was raised on this stuff. Growing up in the “Bible Belt” was a constant barrage of morally charged religious tales. Most of them read like mythic parables, not unlike something featuring Zeus or Paul Bunyan; however, the way Loveness personalizes Judas Iscariot makes the whole thing so painfully real that you are forced to answer for him, his crimes, and how it all played out. Just like any great writer, Loveness makes you empathize with the un-empathetic. After this, I found myself with thoughts like, “Maybe Lucifer ain’t that bad of a guy…maybe he’s just misunderstood?”
What is even more impressive about Judas is that it remains carefully faithful to the source material. I found very little wrong with this story from a dogmatic stance. One might say, well isn’t this blasphemous? The answer is, no. It takes the existing work and expounds upon it, improving parts that demand further explanation and making my reading of the Bible better for it. It’s what all great Historical Fiction attempts to do, but often falls short of.
Jacob Rebelka is tasked with the unquestionably perilous goal of capturing a version of Hell that the human brain can somewhat comprehend on a page of comic book paper. His images are grand and dark, full of terror and deeply unsettling. Or, for the layman, Rebelka’s art is really good. There is enough concept art in this collected edition to blow your brain’s whistle for days, but I still long for more. I want to see all of Rebelka’s drafts he made before landing on these specific set of images. The idea of Hell is so plump with interpretation, I am sure the process of nailing down a look was interesting, if not difficult.
If you were raised religious or continue to be religious, then I believe Judas has something to offer you. I am the former, and this book truly spoke to me. I love a good “re-examination piece,” and Judas re-examines the hell out of Hell. If you have never been exposed to any Judeo-Christian mythology, then you will likely still get something out of this book. Great stories still work, no matter the culture. When grace/kindness is the prevailing message, the human in you will always grab on for the ride, no matter how unfamiliar it might feel.
Creative Team: Jeff Loveness (writer), Jacob Rebelka (art)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
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