Advance Review: Kill Six Billion Demons
By Tom Parkinson-Morgan (a.k.a. Abbadon)
It might be easier to try to explain what Kill Six Billion Demons isn’t rather than what it is. Far from a rote ‘stranger-in-a-strange land’ adventure, it is not a shallow, hold-you-by-the-hand narrative that plods its way through from one monster to the next. Nor is it a mash-up built on an elevator pitch foundation of ‘this meets that.’ No, Kill Six Billion Demons is devilishly rich in its ability to enchant and mesmerize. There will be points where you will feel absolutely lost as to what is happening and you will thoroughly not care because the desire to glean anything more about this reality is insatiable. Gleefully dancing around conventional genres while managing to incorporate the tastiest morsels of wonder from most, Abbadon has crafted not just an entire world, but an entire realm of imagination run magically amok. It is one of the rare reads when you felicitously have no idea what will be unleashed next with the flip of the page, but you know that it could be virtually anything. A visual fantasy in every sense of the word, Kill Six Billion Demons is mysticism writ large.
Started in 2013 as a webcomic, this first volume from Image Comics sees the story’s debut in print and its 92 story pages amount to the first chapter of the insanity. As such, it is structurally tight and by the time it reaches its conclusion the sense that what has just unfolded, a densely operatic experience already, was only the beginning. After being enraptured in the sheer sense of its being, the end of Chapter One feels like an entire lifetime has passed and only now are we ready for the hero’s journey. In brief: Allison is transported to the center of the Omniverse, Throne, with a very valuable and very powerful artifact stuck in her head. She meets 82 White Chain Born In Emptiness To Subdue Evil, or just 82 for short, who is an angel that will abide absolutely no shit from anyone. Craziness ensues and then more craziness ensues from that to make the first batch of craziness look like tea time. There’s an undeniable similarity to the works of Miyazaki in terms of a wondrous journey, Abaddon sets his sights more on the relentless velocity of kung-fu films than on thematic commentary even though both thoroughly engross the reader in a fully developed reality to get lost in. It’s also like twenty million times more metal.
Bolstering it all is a near-religion that’s comprised of facets from Hinduism, Taoism, Babylonia, and, surprisingly, 36 Lessons of Vivec from the Elder Scrolls video game Morrowind. It is beyond fascinating to piece together the mythical history of gods and monsters, their philosophical tenets and their violence, and the 777,777 realities that span the diameter of their center. Abbadon intersperses text pieces, Psalms as they’re acknowledged as, that read like an ancient texts from the likes of Tao Te Ching or the Upanishads. Do you have to read them? No, but it’s another layer of depth that shapes the tonal aesthetic that’s likely to pay-off for those willing to really dive all in.
With near reckless abandon, Abbadon throws you into the world of Throne, the city at the center of all creation that’s now inhabited by literal demons, genderqueer martial arts angels, monstrosities, and curiosities of all sorts. It is a place of beauty and a place of grotesqueries. The giant empty husks of long dead gods serve as transport and housing. Giant chimera cats with golden masks and flames for faces run brothels. Spider-legged devils with goggled eyes kill scores with paper soldiers. When paired with Abaddon’s loose but meticulous pencils, it’s beyond immersive. There are vast establishing shots from far perspectives that serve as tremendous reveals and are intricately mapped. The full view of Throne is something that absolutely begs to be poured over a dozen times as does the cutaway of tower of terror that is Hell 71.
That’s the trick of Abbadon’s art; it’s loose pencil work that simultaneously manages to render an unimaginable amount of intricate detail. There’s a welcoming roundness to his figures, a comforting open lined style that deftly balances softness with tremendous heft. It’s remarkably tactile and adds the believability to the absolutely impossible. 82 is unmistakably made of stone, but moves with an elegant swiftness. Hulking gods plod like oxen as millennia of wear and emptiness echoes in their form. The various inhabitants of Throne adorn themselves is smooth fabrics or worn, glacial masks, and are as diverse a set of creatures one could imagine from the ethereal to the bestial. Abbadon’s design sense is far and away the most impressive aspect to this work from the architecture to the weaponry to the costuming. This is a world that works and Abbadon knows how it all works through his depiction of it, even if as the reader you will often feel that you’d need to dedicate a lifetime of study to truly grasp it all.
A particularly effective color palette injects an abundance of energy and mood to the art. It’s smoothly blended and utilizes some smart pairing of complementary colors like violets and limes or ocean blues and rusted oranges. The awareness of lighting adds a ton of dimension to the inks and really unites the entire visual package into an otherworldly affair. With the slick lettering to boot, replete with fantastic hand drawn sound effects and original language character throughout, its only occasional misstep is errantly placed balloon tails that make it unclear who is speaking.
Admittedly, the opening is an awkward and intentionally clumsy scene that will make you re-check the cover to make sure you’re reading the right book. The only true stumble Kill Six Billion Demons has is an unfortunate one right at the beginning. Abbadon immediately introduces Allison Ruth, a post-grad student who has literally scheduled losing her virginity, and it is an uncomfortable introduction to say the least as her boyfriend is, in a word, a creep. If not for the intervention of, well, total insanity from another dimension. This is an odd choice by Abbadon, to introduce what will be our protagonist in a manner that paints her as vulnerable as it does and as a near victim. While he highlights her nervous fastidiousness, a trait that isn’t really made apparent until much later when we see that Allison herself schedule the rendezvous to lose her virginity, it’s a difficult transition into the realm of fantasy when we very nearly just bore witness to something as real-world heavy and dire as date-rape. We don’t know how that scene would have played out had it not been for the appearance of a mysterious, fantastical figure, it’s certainly insinuated. Later on we are given a better picture of Allison as a person and her world and her roommates’ views on her boyfriend, etc., but going in knowing none of that makes for a bumpy first three pages. It is, inarguably, the first and only time that you are not thoroughly enchanted by the beautiful madness on every page that follows.
In the third entry of Abbadon’s supplemental parables Psalms, titled “The Grand Enemy Called I”, the wise and grand exalted YISUN explains,
“I told you of this and, believing it, it was so. In truth, it is whichever you prefer. In truth, there is no plum at all, just as there is no YISUN. A plum has no shape, form, or color at all, in truth, but are all things I find pleasing about it. A plum has no taste at all for it has no flesh or substance, but I find its sweetness intoxicating. A plum is a thing that does not exist. But it is my favorite fruit.”
In the next entry, YISUN again happily admits to being “A fine liar.” If Kill Six Billion Demons is in itself a beautiful lie, a journey and reality which does not exist and yet can still be read and understood, then Abbadon himself, the creator at the center of this nonexistent omniverse, is the finest of liars. Submit yourself to the tranquil ataxia of this work and the joy that can be found in not knowing what wonder will appear with the next flip of the page.
Kill Six Billion Demons will be released on September 7th, 2016 from Image Comics