By W. Maxwell Prince, John Amor, Ian Areola, and Kathryn Layno
Judas Iscariot: the worst of all betrayers. He who brought about the salvation of all mankind through the most unforgivable of acts, forever to be associated with all that is irredeemable and loathsome. For a mere thirty pieces of silver. In other words, Judas is the original sad bastard. But what if there’s more to the story? What if there’s more to Judas, more to “the word” itself and more to the lives we all lead? W. Maxwell Prince and John Armor explore this and more in Judas: The Last Days, a six-part story that follows the immortal Judas and his fellow unending Apostles through their impossibly long struggle to not only wait for the one who looks less likely to appear every day, but to live with themselves. Jesus, there’s a lot going on in this book.
Let’s address a few things right off the bat that the evocative title and subject no doubt might have raised some alarms. Yes, Prince and Amor are depicting several members of Christian theology in less than…let’s say “traditional” ways. Is it sacrilegious? No, not really, but obviously that’s a personal decision one can only judge for themselves. Prince isn’t making any statement on Christian doctrine per se, but rather frames the narrative with it so as to examine self-determination through a very familiar and well-established lens. Yes, Matthew is now a self-identifying “transvestite” pimp to demons and yes, James the Lesser confines himself in a flophouse desperately seeking a drug that could possibly make his immortal self a semblance of high. Paul is the President of the United States. The messiah himself is shown in many different lights, virtually all positive, but there is certainly a scene that would invoke the wrath of many a devout believer. And Judas? Well, Judas just wants to kill himself. So while all that might on the surface seem provocative and controversial simply for its own sake, they’re largely irrelevant because Judas: The Last Days is largely about stories. It’s about how we shape the story of our lives, how those stories are interpreted and repeated and how we let them control and define us. You can read your story as written or you can turn it upside down and let nature have its way with it, leaving behind only the pages that fight back against outside forces.
In a blasphemous nutshell, Prince is presenting the story of an immortal Judas in the modern age who after carrying the weight of being basically the worst guy ever on his shoulders for millennia, only wants to die. Except he can’t as the Messiah made he and all the other apostles immortal in order to continue to spread the word throughout time. Believing that everything he touches in his life turns to shit he seeks out Matthew, now going by Madelyn, and a dark adventure begins to unfold that culminates in an apocalypse. You know, like you do.
This is a difficult book to review, there’s a bevy of ideas being thrown out the reader and general sense of unease exists throughout. Structurally, Prince has three chapters progress with occasional flashbacks and then in chapter four takes us back to the events that occurred just prior to chapter one. It’s a justifiable shift as he introduces a certain author and a certain book just before doing so and the thematic ideas of the many facets to literature help support it, but it’s still slightly jarring. For much of the book events exists on a street-level scale and dip in and out of both mundane and fantastical flashbacks, but then things get ratcheted up extremely quickly in the third act to an apocalyptic size that feels a little unwarranted given that our characters go from standing in a hallway to being waist deep in literal hell-on-earth. Prince massages the tone of the book from bleak to quirky to action-packed and ultimately tranquil. Throughout it remains insightful to its larger goals even if it feels as though there are some slight bumps and dips in the road to get there. Matthew being a cross-dressing pimp (and specifically not portrayed as transgender, to be clear) is a bold choice, but one that frequently leans on stereotype (literally saying “To…Wong…Foo” as he shoots down a foe is perhaps a questionable choice). While the idea of mystical (spiritual? mythical?) creatures is introduced fairly early on, the onslaught of the impossible later on still feels to come somewhat out of nowhere (at least at first, it is given clearer explanation before too long). Prince ensures that it is always driving down the same path even as it changes gears.
Visually, John Amor does a phenomenal job rendering expressive characters and detailing backgrounds with a wonderful blend of illustrating and cartooning. Stylistically there’s a hint of Nick Pitarra to the figures, but Amor has a steadier and firmer line without becoming rigid. He’s tasked with designing creatures and elves and all manner of monstrosities and miracles throughout millennia and throughout realities. It’s a hearty task and one that Amor ably delivers on, while maintaining the often macabre tone. Judas’ despaired circles beneath his eyes, Paul’s wicked grin, James’ mad eyes and Madelyn’s calm smirk all wonderfully convey their personalities via Amor’s pencil and are consistently placed atop massive natural, and most definitely unnatural, vista landscapes. The choice to have these famed and, to some, revered figures all essentially be depicted as white/Caucasian is a curious choice considering their supposed Middle Eastern origins, but it is unknown if that was Amor or Prince choice alone. Amor allows for the big story beats to hit with appropriate impact by keeping the camera in tight (giving a cramped feeling to the library cavernous library or moribund flophouse) only to have it blast itself open with the reveal of demonic behemoths and felled metropolises.
Beyond just trying to match the dark tone of much of the book, Ian Areola’s colors are often far too dark. As in, it is a challenge to make out what is on the page in several instances which disrupts the narrative far more than it aids it unfortunately. Areola’s palette is actually quite eclectic often bathing entire sequences in hauntingly electric greens or purples or blues. There are rusted blood colored walls that add rich texture to a flophouse and a blacklit green glow to Madelyn’s harem that makes it look like either the most horrific or most perfect rave. For a book that frequently emits a glow of moody, spectral color, it’s a shame that there are parts that are lost in darkness.
There is simply a lot to unpack in these 150 pages and multiple readings are certainly encouraged. What is the role of the multiple visionary come crazy characters? Prophets, surely, but there’s more there. The idea of “the word” as a drug and the plethora of other imaginary drugs are fascinating. It may not always be smooth, but there’s a captivating aura to this book that refuses to let go of your imagination. It’s grounded then it’s ethereal. It’s dark and then it’s eminently hopeful. It’s part One Hundred Years of Solitude, part The Unwritten and one very tiny part Dogma. A story that triumphs the power of story, Judas: The Last Days is utterly fascinating and occasionally perplexing, but one well worth seeking out.