By Cameron Hatheway
"Do you want to take a life?
Do you want to cross that line?
'Cause it's a long way back from Hell
And you don't want to go with me!" – Glenn Danzig, Long Way Back From Hell
Let's face it, the apocalypse is going to happen eventually. Either Warren Ellis is going to run out of booze and cigarettes and get his hands on a nuke or Alan Moore is going to summon a fire demon to wipeout humanity, starting with DC's offices in New York, but in the end the excrement is going to hit the fan and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are going to escape from Hell and have their way with us fleshy bags of misery occupying this plane of existence.
I apologize for this grim reality check, and realize that you the (now) depressed readers need an upper to get through the rest of your mundane lives. As fate would have it, Titan Comics is releasing the complete series of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Michael Mendheim and the brilliant Simon Bisley in a beautiful hardcover at the end of the month.
Now in all reality, this comic should never have seen the light of day. But like a fetus refusing to be aborted, it survived thanks to a constant supply of love from both Mendheim and Bisley. It started out as an idea for a video game, but in May of 2003 the 3DO company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Production stopped on the game and the core team was laid off. Instead of letting a great idea die, Mendheim decided to go the graphic novel route instead and brought on Mike Kennedy and Sean Jaffe to help with the story, and colorist Chad Fidler to bring Bisley's illustrations to life. Then disaster struck again.
In 2008, a deal was struck with Vogster Entertainment LLC to start development on the videogame. Stan Winston had expressed interest in the concept and had taken it upon himself to elaborate on the character designs and even create prototype action figures. They were making progress on the project, until financial hardship caused Vogster to shut down their external game divisions. Without the videogame, the existing graphic novel deal fell apart. By late 2009 it seemed like neither the game, nor book would ever see the light of day. Thankfully, the graphic novel finally found a home at Heavy Metal magazine and the first arc was published in 2011.
The story follows Adam Cahill, direct descendant of King Solomon and deadly warrior of the Brothers of the Order of Solomon. Cahill protects two of the seven Seals that contain the Horsemen in Hell. If all seven Seals are collected and broken, the Four Horsemen are then able to ride forth from Hell and wreak havoc on Earth. Also, he resembles Misfits singer Glenn Danzig in his prime, which is what inspired me to start the article with a few of his lyrics. Dark forces are at work, however, with Grand Visier of the Nicolatian Cult, Andrej Belarios, seeking out those who protect the Seals and killing them off one by one. Belarios' primary goal is to initiate the Apocalypse, and quickly collects enough of the Seals to let the wild rumpus begin. Step one: break the Seal. Step two: have a wild satanic orgy. Step three: repeat six more times.
It is a very well thought-out story, rich with mythology and intriguing characters who end up getting recruited by Cahill in purgatory to take on Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine. The three soldiers Cahill seeks out are battling their own inner demons, and each has the untapped power to defeat the horseman they're most similar to.
While the story is really enjoyable, the main reason to pick up the book is the art by Bisley throughout. His art alone is well-worth the $24.99 price tag. With his signature Frank Frazetta-on-crack style, he instantly transports the reader into the darkest depths of Hell, making forgotten nightmares from collective childhoods come to life one monstrosity at a time. Bisley's take on Pestilence and Famine are particularly gruesome, with Pestilence's decaying skin and Famine's chest-mouth with fangs and top hat. If IDW are looking for their next Artist's Edition nominee, I'd highly recommend Bisley's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
After reading the graphic novel, I couldn't really see it as a video game, the thing it originally strived to become. In the back of the book however, there is plenty of concept art for the video game and production stills for those wondering what route they were taking it. If they attempted to make it one again (third time's the charm), the final product would be incredibly horrifying and gruesome, probably causing gamers to soil themselves every level. A collaboration with Depends might be necessary, with every disc including a coupon for a box of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse themed diapers—truly a collector's item!
In the end, it's extremely rewarding to know that the little comic that could, did. Mendheim and Bisley defied all odds, went to Hell and back again, and were finally able to share the fruits of their labors with readers worldwide. It's a long way back from Hell, and you do want to go with them.
For those going to Comic-Con, Titan Comics will be at booth #5537 and they will be debuting this more than Apocalyptic volume!
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Titan Comics)
Written by Michael Mendheim, Mike Kennedy, Sean Jaffe
Art by Simon Bisley
256 pages, $24.99