The four gospels of the Bible's New Testament told the story of Jesus Christ - but a new BOOM! Studios miniseries is telling the story of his betrayer.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! alum Jeff Loveness has partnered with Namesake's Jakub Rebelka on this Elseworlds-style take on the story Judas Iscariot, the biblical traitor who gave Jesus over to the Romans. His place in biblical lore is heavily debated, and Loveness has a unique take on it - arguing that Iscariot sacrified just as Jesus did, but without the rewards reaped in Christ's passing.
Newsarama spoke with Loveness about this heavy subject - heavy especially for a self-described "L.A. comedy writer" - as he continues his career in comic books.
Newsarama: Jeff, how’d you come to wanting to do a story about Judas Iscariot?
Jeff Loveness: I was raised very religious and I always felt sorry for Judas. Satan enters him. Jesus knew the prophecy about him. Jesus even told Judas to his face to betray him. It all seemed beyond Judas. He was this zealous man who committed himself to this calling... only to find himself the villain of that calling. It is deeply tragic, but we write him off as an evil side-character.
I wanted a story that started where Judas’ story usually ends. He’s wracked with guilt and hangs himself, and wakes up in Hell... only to go on an odyssey through life and death as he grapples with being an instrument of fate. In a way, he and Jesus both had to sacrifice themselves. Only at least Jesus got to be praised and glorified by billions of people. Judas became the villain of history. I wanted to see how he would deal with the immense guilt of it all... but also, Judas himself feels betrayed by Jesus. Judas got set up and no one, not even the most loving, forgiving figure in the history of the world, tried to save him or forgive him. That is deeply sad to me and I wanted to give Judas his own personal story of redemption... or maybe even revenge.
Nrama: Judas has been written about from several angles - what were your referential texts when coming to understand it all before you began writing?
Loveness: The bulk of my research comes from the four canonical Gospels, so I could invert the story everyone knows. It’s been so much fun to show a B-side to all of that. I read the Gnostic Gospel of Judas for fun, but my story goes in a different direction from that. It’s worth the read, though! That’s a pretty fun DC Elseworlds take.
Nrama: The choice of an artist for this seems especially important, and you have Jakub Rebelka. How’d you and BOOM! go about finding the ‘right’ person for this - and what made Jakub it?
Loveness: BOOM! brought Jakub and a few other artists in with samples, and it was pretty clear right away that Jakub was the guy. He’s brought such an eerie, striking, gorgeous, creepy Byzantine fresco look to this story. His Hell actually kinda seems like a place I wanna visit. I couldn’t be more blown away with what he’s doing.
There’s a deep bench of fantasy and wild mythological imagery in the Bible. Angels and demons and four-headed Beasts and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It’s fun to physicalize all that. You’re gonna see some crazy stuff. I’m a big fan of four-headed Beasts.
Nrama: How would you describe Judas?
Loveness: I love the epic, heroic Christian archetype of “Wandering, homeless men with staffs.” Everyone from Moses to Christ to St. Francis to Pilgrim’s Progress. Flawed, broken men, pressing on through the storm... reaching out to find grace and understanding, knowing they might come up short. There’s something so evocative and engaging about that. When you boil it down, that is every adventure story, isn’t it? We’re all just weak, weary pilgrims, grasping in the dark, afraid, but pressing on anyway. I wanted to put Judas, the most unlikely Bible character possible, into that role. I wanted to see if there was a way to become a Saint even in the midst of Hell.
When we meet him, Judas is full of guilt and rage, and he will continue that way for a while. But his journey through Hell will bring him face to face with the dilemma of the Christian faith. He’ll challenge it, expose the hypocrisies, try to burn it down, and find something better... or find something pure and human within the story he finds himself trapped in. It’s been such a challenging, personal deep dive of a story for me. I’ve been a comedy writer for seven years now, so it’s always fun to swing big with a departure like this.
Nrama: And what is Hell like here?
Loveness: From the get-go, Jakub and I wanted to lose the stereotypical images of Hell - fire, brimstone, lots of red - and go with a colder, lonelier approach. To be in Hell is to truly be alone. You are at the end of hope. The end of potential. There is nowhere to go. You cannot die. Only hurt and yearn.
It’s been fun to see Jakub run wild with it. I sent over some Hieronymus Bosch paintings and William Blake stuff for fun inspiration, but Jakub has made such a chilling, terrifying original place. I can’t wait for you guys to see it all.
Nrama: You grew up in a religious family - how religious would you say you are now, spiritually-speaking?
Loveness: I was Protestant. One of those weird, Southern-based Protestant denominations that didn’t allow instruments in church because they distracted God or something. “Church of Christ” was the official parlance. No dancing or alcohol either. I’m very fun.
I would not call myself a Christian now, but I still deeply love the imagery and narrative of the Bible. It is achingly beautiful. Everything from the King James language to the story structure to the archetypes and themes that are still bedrocks of every Western-style story we tell today. The Bible is an incredible work. And Jesus is such a revolutionary hero. To create an epic hero based on love and self-sacrifice is still so brilliant. Hercules and Gilgamesh and others like them are always so harsh, violent, selfish, and brutal. I like a hero who would rather take a beating and show compassion toward his enemies. That is so much more interesting and beautiful to me.
But the world is large and full of varieties of experiences. William Shakespeare put it best: “There is more in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” I guess I’d call myself an agnostic. If this was 1545, I guess I’d be burned for saying that. I like humanity. The world gets too hung up on debating religion, and doesn’t spend enough time helping people. I’d rather do that.
I don’t want to get all too sanctimonious, or “L.A. comedy writer” on everybody, but personally, I find it deeply sad that so many Christians today have lost sight of what makes Christianity so timeless and special. And I’m beyond disgusted with how so many Christians have saddled up to Donald Trump... who is, honestly, like a Bible villain come to life. He’s not even a “Real” Bible villain. He’s like a “Rich Man” Jesus would make up in a story to explain how terrible greed is. I really don’t understand how you can call yourself a Christian and support what’s happening in America today. But that’s just me. Hmm... I guess that was pretty sanctimonious and L.A. comedy writer-ish... but... I dunno. Trump sucks.
Anyway, my comic about a heroic Judas Iscariot comes out right around Christmas. That’ll be fun to talk about with my Trump-loving family. I’m sure they’ll be fine with it.
Nrama: So, what are your big goals with Judas?
Loveness: I wanted to stretch myself as a writer. I wanted to take a new, sympathetic approach to a character we all think we know. I wanted to explore the Christian themes of destiny, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice, and only through a guy we usually never attribute those traits to.
I just finished the final script, so you’ll have to let me know how it all shakes out when you read it. Please don’t tell my mom or youth pastor I wrote a comic about Judas.