“I am God. This is not fiction. You will believe.”
God has come to Earth. And he is not pleased.
Or such is the bold, ambitious setup of Next Testament, one of three Clive Barker-associated titles currently put out by BOOM! Studios, the other two being Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Bestiary. Neither of the latter two titles are actually written by Barker but Next Testament is unique in that it is—or rather it is co-written by Barker and Mark Miller (not to be confused with Mark Millar of Kick-Ass fame).
I wrote in my last review of Titan Comics’ Death Sentence how that title has made me want to resume reading comics on a regular basis, and since I prefer reading a single title at a time via these kinds of bound volumes, Next Testament seemed like a good one to try next since (a) I will read anything by Clive Barker and (b) I will read anything audacious enough to depict God as a central character.
God in this story isn’t an abstract, formless kind of god. He is a living, sentient being with an individual personality and likes and dislikes, kind of like the proverbial man in a white beard except that it isn’t. But he isn’t the man-god that Jesus is believed to have beeen in Christian theology either. He is the Abrahamic God of the Old Testament in humanoid form (and speaking of Jesus we don’t get to see him yet but there’s a different and quite entertaining “explanation” for him given here).
The fact that this god is the Abrahamic God is key because Next Testament is a work of horror (just as certain scenes in the Old Testament could be argued as being such were it not for their religious context). There are no philosophical paradoxes here, no ecclesiastical polemics that seek to justify God and his mysterious ways as written about in the Old Testament. No, he is presented here in all his fickle, vain, wrathful and possibly psychopathic glory with no apologies— he is the ultimate horror movie monster.
In the way of synopsis, Julian Desmond is a wealthy aristocrat known to all around him as a worldly man with no interest in the mystical. But when he suddenly and mysteriously abandons everything to go on a feverish walkabout in the desert, his son Tristan and his fiance are compelled to investigate. Meanwhile, Julian finds God, literally, and once the Almighty enters the picture all hell breaks loose, as they say, for while this may be God the creator of the world, he is also at the same time Satan the tormentor of humanity, sadist extraordinaire.
I used to be a serious fan of horror; now I’d call myself a casual fan. But even back when I was a serious fan I didn’t watch and read horror for the reason that it scared me good. I liked it for other reasons having to do with symbolism, psychology and myth. The occasional movie (the British horror film The Descent being an example) did manage to frighten me but when it came to horror novels and comics, almost never.
Next Testament, on the other hand, had a couple of moments that were genuinely unsettling. Maybe I’m just getting old and more susceptible, or maybe it was because a key scene exploits one of my biggest phobias, but in any event I actually did not want to turn the page at one point. Oh, but I did because I cannot resist the lure of a good tale and that’s exactly what this is.
Many Western comic artists’s work nowadays is influenced by manga to various degrees, but I wouldn’t call Haemi Jang’s art manga-influenced so much as manga itself (albeit one of the more subtle, realistic styles of it). This shouldn’t come as a surprise since Jang is a Korean manhwa artist (manhwa being the Korean term for “comics” just like manga means the same in Japanese). Her style is a visual aesthetic that I haven’t seen paired with Clive Barker fiction before and therefore took me some getting used to at first. Depending on the scene, character and action, it is by turns very effective and at other times less so. One of her more effective scenes is the scene mentioned above that strikes at the heart of one of my phobias, and the skillful way she constructs it over the course of several panels heightens the terror of an inherently horrifying situation.
Jang’s lighting, costuming, the overall look and feel of her style, will be familiar to readers of Asian gothic horror, particularly the scenes in the Desmond estate in which the thick use of shadows and the color black in general is offset by the kaleidoscopic, rainbow-like appearance of Wick (the name that God in this story goes by). Personally, I wasn’t too crazy about Wick’s look, though on the other hand when he starts doing the Jason Voorhees thing it does add to the creepiness factor somewhat.
Next Testament, Vol. 1, collects monthly issues #1-8 and while there’s some serious crazy s**t in here, it takes the entirety of the volume to truly set the stage for the apocalyptic mayhem that’s yet to come.
And you can bet I’ll be there when it does.