Whether or not you come from a conservative Christian upbringing like me, you probably know the story of Judas Iscariot—the man who betrayed Jesus for 30 silver shekels. Regardless of your religious background, you may have also questioned whether our paths are already chosen. Are we pawns in a chess game, moved by a methodical hand? Judas by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka takes on the story of the villain in the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” considering predestination and the implications of an omnipotent God who allows really crappy things to happen.
Loveness begins the four-part series with Judas questioning why Christ had chosen him to be the betrayer. As Judas drops the noose around his neck, he says, “I tried so hard… to believe. To be good… but you knew. From the beginning. I never had a chance.” As life leaves Judas, he arrives in Hell, where he eventually meets the source of the voice who spoke to him while he was alive and with Christ. It is Lucifer, the fallen angel, the devil. Lucifer encourages Judas to question the goodness of a man who could so easily condemn other people to an eternity in hell. Lucifer retells the stories of people like Pharoah, Lot’s wife, and Jezebel as all victims of a merciless God. He tells Judas that, “there is no escaping your story,” but then he offers Judas hope to “break the story.”
Loveness uses Bible verses and stories to create an alternative version of the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and with a twist that I was actually surprised by. While the added detail of a dead mother to Judas’s background did not give me more reason to sympathize with his plight, Loveness did successfully make Judas more of a human and less of a villain. Both Judas and Jesus become fully developed characters; while God, the Father remains a distant chess player and Lucifer is barely given enough credit for his ability to manipulate the “truth.”
Loveness has chosen ideal creative partners with illustrator Jakub Rebelka and letterer Colin Bell. Rebelka swaps the expected color palette, illustrating Judas’s memories of his life and his time with Christ in reds and browns, while hell is in cool shades of blues, teals, and greys. Rebelka gives Judas a medieval halo, but in solid black rather than gold, depicting his status as anti-saint. He brings to life the creatures of Ezekiel’s nightmares with their many eyes, wings, faces, and hands. Bell strategically uses font and color in the dialog boxes, recalling similar use of red font in Biblical texts to indicate the speech of Christ. Bell also depicts Lucifer’s insistence on his version of the story as truth with Lucifer’s dialog penned in white letters on black backgrounds. These and many more details combine to create a visual experience that complements the story without detracting from the dialogue and its heavy subject matter.
This comic will probably best be appreciated by older teens and adults who are familiar with the Biblical story or with philosophical conundrums in general. While Catholic or Protestant readers with traditional or conservative viewpoints might view this story as bordering on blasphemous, the comic merits a read from people of all faiths and backgrounds. It offers another opportunity to consider whether there is an omnipotent Being who dictates our behaviors and if that Being offers mercy and redemption.
By Jeff Loveness
Art by Jakub Rebelka
BOOM! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M