Review - The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Helldiver: Book One

2012 is a banner year for the apocalyptic folks. The Mayan calendar ends and, with it, supposedly the entire world. Whether or not that actually plays out as "foretold" remains to be seen. Still a good year for that type of thing and Heavy Metal is all over it with The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Helldiver: Book One.

The title is written by Michael Mendheim, Mike Kennedy and Sean Jaffee and illustrated by Simon Bisley (colors by Chad Fidler).

Adam Cahill is one of a rare handful of warriors whose bloodline asks one thing: that he guard the Seven Holy Seals that contain the End of Days. It's a tall order to be sure, but Adam seems to be more than willing to take up the task. Cahill travels to hell, New York City, the Vatican and just about everywhere else in between to maintain the responsibility of his lineage.

It's through all this travel that Cahill learns more of the cult he's up against, who's somehow managed to get their hands on four of the seven seals. This is a cult that's--ahem--hellbent on releasing the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, which means Cahill could use some help. While in hell he's tasked with finding three corrupt souls (chosen by Divinity) to aid him in his quest. And that's how he becomes a Helldiver.

What Mendheim, Kennedy and Jaffee have created here is very complex. At first glance your first thought is that the story may be heavy-handed with the religion, but actually it's quite balanced. This isn't a book that's saying the end is nigh and you should find a higher power. It's saying that there are forces at play that we may not fully be aware of that call for tactics that seem outlandish.

One of the best things the book has going for it is Cahill's characterization. He's just a man who never chose to be a Helldiver. He never chose to guard the seals. He just wants to live his life. He's a hero who's had this thrust upon him, yet his reaction is human.

Cahill starts off as just a man who knows of his lineage and reluctantly accepts it. He knows he's more or less always on call when it comes to the seals when, at the end of the day, he really just wants to be at home with his family. It's a very nice touch with him as a character. He doesn't want to be fighting the demons of hell like maybe Constantine, Ghost Rider or Spawn.

When he does find his way to hell he taps into a rage that's been there all along. It's scary to think that Cahill's family kept his emotions in check. After the tragedy in the first book you have to wonder what his enemies have really unleashed.

Bisley's art is simply amazing. There's really no other way to describe it. It's almost as if the pages are drenched in ink that's evil. There are some sweeping depictions of hell and really great depictions of demons and the like. Cahill himself is shown as a badass that holds his own, which works really well within the story.

The art here could easily have become overwhelmingly vile, but Bisley showed welcome restraint. He didn't let the art run away and take over as the focus of the book, as the story is great. Bisley manages to take a book about hell and death and not make it overtly gory. Sure there's blood and violence, but it's not splattered on every page like an episode of Spartacus. He uses it to great effect.

There are some panels that seem awful crowded and it's not that their necessarily bad, but there's a lot going on in them where it becomes difficult to get a sense of what's truly happening at first glance. There's also an abundance of "blams" throughout the book, though I wonder how many different sound effects you can honestly have for gunfire. The art is topnotch throughout though.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Helldiver: Book One is really a great start to the saga. It's not a book that screams Satan or death metal. On the contrary, it's a book that presents a religious conflict and a wayward soul caught in the middle of it. It's not an original theme for sure, but the writers here have done a great job making it feel original.

The book has an incredibly deep story that you'll probably have to read twice to fully understand and that's not a bad thing. There's even certain letters that are red (compared to others in black) that no doubt spell out some code. The story is very much more than just blood and guts. It's about a man being forced to save the world even if his life has fallen to pieces.

And that's a story that's fascinating regardless of the religious context.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Helldiver: Book One is in stores April 13.