Reviewer’s Rating: ★
“Heavy Metal” has managed to stick around for 35 years now, probably due to the timeless appeal of warrior women wielding more weapons than clothing. Unsurprisingly, these salacious assets made for the dry storytelling of two terrible films. The good news for “Heavy Metal” fans, and bad news for everyone else, is that the new three-part graphic novel series by veteran comic artist Simon Bisley and writer Michael Mendheim proves that the franchise isn’t planning to pollute their breast and beast-filled world with three-dimensional characters anytime soon.
“Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Hell Diver” features a long-standing war between two secret religious societies. The Order of Solomon are entrusted with safeguarding seven seals that, if captured by the evil Nicolation organization, would be used to bring about Armageddon.
After an attack on several Order of Solomon agents leaves the group on the defensive, their top operative, a husband and father named Adam Cahill, soon becomes the only one capable of saving the world from the evil organization’s apocalyptic plans. He will have to enter hell and find the corrupted souls who embody the Four Horsemen and stop them from being used by the Nicolations.
The tone of gritty self-serious gloom is too heavy to give the scenes of ridiculous ultra violence the mirth the story so desperately needs to survive. The characters are cardboard cutouts from the back of a comic book store, desperately trying to look cool. Adam’s wife and daughter clearly exist in the story solely to be endangered, and even the leader of the Nicolation group gets no characterization at all other than a penchant for f-bombs and what appears to be a group of voices in his head telling him what to do.
Why the group wants to summon the Horsemen of the Apocalypse is not explained, but I’d be willing to bet it’s because of the general evilness evoked by their blood-soaked pentagrams and the sacrifices of busty young cult members.
The only character with any characterization at all is Adam, but the incongruence of his parts makes him feel like the Frankenstein’s monster of a preteen mind who wants his hero to be a chain-smoking, demon-slaying, Sunday school teacher/secret assassin who wears black nail polish and sports tiny skulls on the pommels of his swords. The writer can’t even decide what faith Adam subscribes to, as he is seen wearing a yarmulke in one scene and talking to a crucifix and reciting the Lord’s prayer in another.
The crowning moment of ridiculousness happens in a tiny panel off to the corner that shows Adam driving a suped-up hot rod that leaves a trail of fire behind it. Why an agent of an ancient secret society would drive something that would catch the attention of every demon, assassin and traffic cop on the planet is beyond me. If Adam lived in one of the fantasy landscapes from the “Heavy Metal” films and everyone rode dragons to work, then it wouldn’t be so out of place. This comic tries to shove the over-the-top elements “Heavy Metal” is famous for into the modern-day world, but doesn’t bother to make sense of it all.
Granted, no one picks up a comic book published by Heavy Metal looking for realism. However, even the vital emotional moments that are necessary to make us care about Adam’s plight are bungled by poor choices from an artist who should know better. The worst offender is the scene when Adam realizes the Nicolation assassins have discovered where he lives. He kicks down the door and we are treated to a full page spread of firing guns, exploding heads and the battered body of his wife surrounded by knife-wielding maniacs. There’s no look of horror on his face as his eyes meet hers, no split second panel allowing the recognition of what’s happened to fuel the rage that powers the excessive violence of the scene. When he finally does take a moment to tend to his wife, it’s in a long shot that is also crowded with severed heads, limbs, and unidentifiable gore.
A later scene in which Adam travels through a “Patho Reactive Plane,” which is essentially the manifestations of fear inside a drug addict’s mind, is a missed opportunity to delve into some complex psychological territory. Instead, we are treated to hanged corpses and impaled heads. It’s gory to the point of black comedy and does nothing to flesh out the character.
Other than the artist’s tendency to push too many elements into one panel, the art is pretty effective. The gritty hatch marks and strong lighting works well with the over-the-top style one would expect from a “Heavy Metal” book. The real problem is the half-baked attempt to root this gory madness in the real world, which ends up robbing the book of the campy fun that is as integral to “Heavy Metal” as bikini armor. This is one trip to hell that is better off being avoided.