In the Book of Revelation 6:1-8, it is said that God has a scroll in his right hand that is covered in seven seals. When broken by the Lamb of God, the first four seals release the four horsemen of the apocalypse: pestilence, war, famine, and death.
The story, in its most basic form, is one we’ve heard before: the apocalypse is coming, and its four horsemen have been released to rain havoc and destruction upon the Earth. The fleshed-out tale is, however, quite different.
In Simon Bisley and Michael Mendheim’s graphic novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the seals are broken not by the Lamb of God, but by a group of heretics that call themselves the Nicolaitans. These seals are not located on a scroll but are instead protected by the members of the Order of Solomon. Under the orders of a demon, the Nicolaitans go on a murderous rampage, killing all holders of the seals in order to steal them, break them, and release the four horsemen to rage across the Earth.
In order to stop the Nicolaitans, protagonist Adam Cahill accepts a divine order, kills himself, and travels to Limbo. Once there, he is tasked with finding the three sinners who can combat the horsemen with him to stop them from getting to Earth: an addict, a madman, and a deceiver. This proves more difficult than expected, since not only do these people not realize they are dead, but they are reluctant to fight a foe so powerful when losing means their existence can be erased permanently. However, the promise of redemption is one that all the souls in Limbo have been waiting for, and it proves too tempting to resist.
What follows is a ragtag bunch of misfits bands together to save the day trope, but it is wonderful in its depth. Aside from Cahill, the chosen ones are not fighters. They are not heroes. They are flawed, awful people who fight and fail and learn. They make mistakes and have regrets. They care about themselves. They care about each other. They are human, and they have demons, both literal and figurative, that they need to fight. This, we can relate to, even if we can’t relate to the actual struggles the characters have.
While some of their leaps of logic don’t make sense, the sinners do strive to become people worthy of the redemption Cahill offers them. Along with a group of Limbo inhabitants, they battle for the future of Earth, Limbo, and themselves. It may be just one battle in the war between good and evil, but it is one you don’t want to miss.
Now, for the art. Bisley is well-known and respected for his work on titles like the 2000AD anthology series, Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham, and Lobo, for which his art is the definitive style for the character. While many would hesitate to describe the artwork in this graphic novel as beautiful, that doesn’t make it any less so. It only took me the first chapter cover to be hooked into the story based on the art alone. Each character is uniquely crafted and the settings are drawn with a detail that is staggering.
Since this is a story about the apocalypse and demons and all the bad parts of humanity and faith, it is an understatement to say that the art is gory and explicit. However, it is also a story of redemption, and if anyone needs proof of a more traditional kind of beauty, they can look to the chapter covers, the scenes between Cahill and his child, or any of the panels featuring stained glass, which are magnificent in their depth and attention to detail.
The coloring is also spectacular. A large part of the story takes place in Limbo and is depicted as you would probably imagine the Christian Hell: fire, brimstone, lots of reds and oranges and yellows. However, Chad Fidler uses a full spectrum of colors and dramatic lights and shadows to set the tone and feeling for the story. The colors beautifully enhance Bisley’s illustrations and draw you further into the world he and Mendheim have created.
An added bonus to this omnibus addition is the inclusion of production materials from throughout the novel’s history: concept art from the comic and scrapped video games, a walk-through of the stages the comic went through from script layout to final color, and a prompt to find hidden pictures and messages throughout the book. As someone who is not too familiar with how video games and comics get made, I found the comments explaining the art and processes to be insightful and informative. It gave me a more well-rounded picture of what the creators went through to get this story made.
For old fans, Mendheim’s forward and the bonus material promise a new reading experience. For new readers, a rich use of Christian mythology, beautiful art, and great storytelling are sure to pull you in and wrap you up in this tale of a battle between good, or at least humans, and evil.