If God is all-powerful, why did He create a world where people suffer? It’s one of the most commonly asked questions by challengers of Christianity, and Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka tackle it head-on in Judas (Boom! Studios), a four-issue miniseries exploring the relationship between Jesus Christ and his duplicitous disciple. The book wraps up just in time for Easter, and the creative team delivers a heartfelt exploration of faith, friendship, and forgiveness that turns Judas Iscariot into the savior of not only the Messiah, but all the damned souls of Hell. Artists have been fascinated by Judas’ plight for centuries, and Loveness and Rebelka put their own spin on the character by focusing on what happens after he hangs himself for betraying his friend. This act lands him in hell, where he joins other Bible villains like Moses’ Pharaoh, Goliath, and Jezebel, but instead of an afterlife of torment, Judas evolves into a saintly figure of the underworld.
In a twist that will piss off a lot of die-hard Christians, Judas also sends Jesus Christ to hell after he is crucified, where he loses his divine strength and is overtaken by the sins he died to absolve. The first two issues are a fairly standard recap of Bible events with some added fantasy elements, but once Judas and Jesus reunite, the narrative becomes deeper, stranger, and more provocative. At the core of this relationship is Judas’ resentment that Jesus knew about his inevitable betrayal and never tried to stop it, and Loveness brings up some very interesting points about predestination, Godly action, and trying to understand the motivations of a supreme Creator.
Loveness uses scripture as the starting point, and he folds in Bible verses that inform the action as well as the emotional content. Demon descriptions are pulled from the book of Revelations, Judas recalls his mother singing Psalm 23 to him as a child, and in one of the most powerful moments of the story, a verse from the book of John is printed in white text on a two-page spread of solid black. Lettering plays an important role in the storytelling, and Colin Bell uses various typefaces for different effects. When Jesus is stripped of his power, the red text of his dialogue fades to black, and the clean round borders of his word balloons become wavering lines to reflect this major change.
The thick inks and vibrant coloring of Rebelka’s artwork are reminiscent of stained glass, making him an ideal artist for a story rooted in Christian mythology. Judas has a black halo around his head, a simple graphic element that foreshadows where he’ll end up by the story’s conclusions while also separating him from traditional saintly imagery. Red and blue contrast is an integral visual element, and the landscape of hell is a chilly blue that is cut by the blood red of sin. This color contrast is used to devastating effect when Jesus is forced to endure the sins of all mankind, a sequence that dramatically changes the layout and rendering for a barrage of abstract visuals that accentuate the horror of Lucifer’s domain. As terrifying as it all is, there’s no shortage of beauty in Judas, and when Jesus eventually breaks free for his resurrection, Rebelka depicts his ascent with radiant imagery that illuminates a new path for the titular hero.