Judas 1:4 Review; The Sound and The Silence
Published by BOOM! Studios
The Light of the World betrayed and murdered with a kiss and a payment of silver. For his sins, Judas Iscariot receives the “second death”, damnation – that consignment to a realm of “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the sexually immoral, those who practice magical arts, the idolaters and all liars…” (Revelation 21:8). While The Lamb is resurrected and becomes the living logos of Divine redemption for all humankind. Or so you’ve been told. Writer Jeff Loveness (Nova, Groot) and artist Jakub Rebelka (Namesake) present a poignant and stunning take on this Biblical story.
In today’s comic market the recontextualizing of mythical and religious characters and stories is all too common. With the most common approach being a sort of Freaky Friday conceptual switcheroo and “what if” scenario. What if Cain was Conan the Barbarian? The Goddamned. What if Homer’s The Odyssey was gender swapped psychedelic scifi? ODY-C. What if Lucifer abandoned his post and owned a bar? Lucifer. Which isn’t to diminish the quality of these books, all of which are outstanding and well worth buying.
While a setting or aesthetic shift can explore interesting areas and yield genius, it also has the potential of missing something that I think we lack in the world of comics – confrontational philosophical critique. All apologies to the works of creators like Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Hawkins and others who have presented critical interrogations of social, historical and religious institutions. But Loveness and Rebelka seem to be doing something a bit different here in Judas that cuts right to the bone.
In this first issue we see the events of Judas and Jesus played out fairly faithfully to the Biblical text, with some added backstory and internal monologue for Judas. However, this is not an updated riff on the story. This isn’t what if Jesus and Judas were corporate execs and God was an omnipotent computer AI. This isn’t the story of the betrayal presented as a mafia crime noir. And in keeping with the actual setting and chain of events (“actual” as in how the Bible presents the story) the resonance of the story is immediate and the critical voice is palpable. This is a book that can’t be ignored or pigeonholed due to genre conventions.
Loveness using an elegant and minimalist approach puts us right into the POV of Judas and in doing so raises numerous questions regarding free will, destiny and evil. Granted, these questions in relation to the story of Judas have been talked about and debated for centuries but to my knowledge it has never been presented in a comic book in this way. And it’s incredibly effective.
Despite Loveness’s relatively sparse approach he manages to weave the story through several complicated philosophical issues while always maintaining an eye on Judas’s humanity. And just as we think we know what is going on in this story, things change drastically and the entire book becomes recontexuatlized by the final panel.
Rebelka’s art is simply stunning. Employing a painting style that is reminiscent of several eras of Christian art from early Roman murals to images that hint towards European Medieval art. Rebelka gives each panel, thus each moment, a sense of importance and depth. While Rebelka’s general approach is beautiful, like Loveness’s writing, he never loses track of Judas’s humanity – which is depicted in simple yet effective ways. At times the depictions in this book could be described as “iconic” but there is never any mystery as to what is going on in Judas’s heart. The hurt, the confusion, the doubt. It’s all there. As opposed to how Rebelka has chosen to depict Jesus as seemingly emotionless. An unapproachable enigma. Alien. Other.
Judas is mysterious and tragic and will leave you asking yourself if you would do anything different if you were in Judas’s shoes.
Straightforward writing that belies a complex tale of human emotion given depth by gorgeous artwork.