Best Shots Advance Reviews: JUDAS #2, ATLAS & AXIS #1

Titan Comics January 2018 cover
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: Jakub Rebelka (BOOM! Studios)

Judas #2
Written by Jeff Loveness
Art by Jakub Rebelka
Lettering by Colin Bell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Judas #2 is a beautiful book that will likely be most compelling to those with the least attachment to its subject matter. The second issue of this four-issue miniseries drops Wednesday, and continues to portray Judas the Betrayer as a man betrayed by the machinations of the faith to which he attempted to devoted himself. Written by Jeff Loveness, Judas is a solidly executed tale with genuine punch. There’s something compelling to the idea that the worst villains of the Bible are pawns pushed to darkness by the inescapable hands of fate, but this is a well-worn path in the field of Christian literature (both fictional and historical).

The best way to enjoy Judas #2 is to divorce it from the religious and emotional connotations of the source material: Judas is a well-written and stunningly beautiful comic book, but not an earth-shattering new look at the underpinnings of an entire faith. Questioning Christians or non-theists with a curiosity for New Testament tales may take the most interest in Loveness’ portrayal of Lucifer and Judas as simply cogs in a grand machine. Devotees may take issue with the glossing over of the finer details of Judas’ story, particularly Biblical implications that he was both a thief and a liar as a disciple even before the thirty pieces of silver. With two issues left, this issue’s cliffhanger ending seems to leave scant room for these discrepancies to be resolved.

If you can set aside an urge to make immediate comparisons between Judas #2 and other Biblical literature, though, you’ll find a thoughtful exploration of the struggle between fate and free will. Against the bombastic backdrop of one of the best-known tales in human history are the quiet reflections of a man who thought he was doing his best, and finds himself struggling to come to terms with the idea that he is truly irredeemable. Loveness’ Judas, paired with the gorgeous illustrations of the exceptionally skilled Jakub Rebelka, is left to weigh his sincere regret against the knowledge that the man he devoted his life to knew before Judas did that Judas would have him assassinated. If someone knows the darkness in your heart before you do, and lives their life in wait of what you’ll do to them, then do you ever have a chance to avoid it?

Rebelka has a strong, expressive style that elevates the emotional beats of Loveness’ script, both in its moments of anguished reflection and bitter, raging anger. His moody colors give the book a haunting and unearthly atmosphere without relying on very literal depictions of fire and brimstone. The world he creates has a creeping sense of dread and loneliness punctuated with fleeting panels of intense action keep the rhythm of the book uneven in a way that suits its unhappy subject matter, and he depicts the supernatural beasts of the Bible with a deft hand that makes them outlandish but not cartoonish. Judas #2 is a reasonably good story, but Rebelka’s work makes it an absolutely beautiful book.

Credit: Titan Comics

Atlas and Axis #1
Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Pau
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The European comic book market has seen a few massive crossover hits in the United States over the years, from The Adventures of Tintin to Blacksad. Following in the tradition of the latter’s anthropomorphic animals, Titan Comics brings Spanish creator Pau’s Atlas and Axis (La Saga d’Atlas & Axis) to English-speaking audiences. Winner of a Grand Prix du Festivale d’Angouleme award, the delightful and surprisingly intense antics of these duo of dogs are sure to be a hit with the uninitiated.

It’s Asterix and Obelix for the animal set, as we open in the land of Pongeo, where the animals walk and talk just like regular human folk. The eponymous dogs are a pair of hapless scrappers who return to their village for a festival, only to find it ravaged by Vikings from the north. So the two set out to rescue the last of their friends and family, encountering more perils (and maybe even a lover) along the way. It’s adventure storytelling at its purest, which is an essential approach to such an idiosyncratic set of characters.

Despite the funny book setup, Pau’s world is a surprisingly dark one from the start. Bathing the first few pages with a dark red wash representing the blood of the Viking victims, Pau portrays the carnage from the point of view of a survivor. There are more bloody deaths peppered throughout the issue, but there’s a fair bit of onomatopoeic cartoon head-bumping as well. It’s this unlikely mix that keeps us expecting the unexpected throughout, and the hyperkinetic pacing separates these mutts from the rest of the pack.

Case in point are the dogs themselves, who still act like dogs despite the mix of adult scenarios. The duo will talk about sniffing butts, stop to urinate against a tree, or pick up an enemy’s scent from a steaming pile of their leavings. It’s the source of much of the issue’s comedy, mixing the typical European low-brow farce of toilet humor with random capers.

Prior to their translation, Pau’s art-led storytelling had already made these stories fairly accessible. Like the narrative, Pau’s cartooning rubber-bands its way across a tight succession of panels. At the same time, there’s a lovemaking scene (between Atlas and a similarly drawn female traveler) that doesn’t quite go fully into Fritz the Cat territory, but it does push the boundaries of anthropomorphism.

Distinguishing this from similarly cartoony tales are the beautifully rendered matte backgrounds, adding a more nuanced realism to the contrasting yet complimentary cartoon figures in the foreground. Pau’s color choices are a mostly simple combination of primary hues, with the red of Atlas’ cape always standing out against the blue/brown/green backdrop.

The only problem with this release of Atlas and Axis is the formatting. Titan Comics have taken the original 72-page albums and cut them in half for the American market. Given that the robust formatting of the European album offers way more bang for your buck than the U.S. floppies, this is a disappointing move. The story also frustratingly cuts off at an arbitrary point around the 36-page mark. Despite this, the story itself remains as strong as it did in its original format, and this release should ultimately earn these puppers a few more fans across the pond.

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