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HER INFERNAL DESCENT #1 of 5 (Aftershock Comics, April 18 2018 release date) Writers:  Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson.  Artist:  Kyle Charles.  Colorist:  Dee Cunniffe.  Letterer:  Ryan Ferrier.  Rating: 12+

       Writers Nadler and Thompson will guide us though a detailed journey into Hell in the pages of the HER INFERNAL DESCENT mini-series, using Dante’s Inferno as criterion. That’s both ambitious and bold!

     Dante’s Inferno is the opening part of 14th Century epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.  It details the journey of Dante through hell with the ancient Roman poet Virgil as guide.  Dante explores the nine concentric circles of torment (as alluded to on Issue #1’s cover) that comprise the depths of Hell. 

 Co-writer Lonnie Nadler expanded on the concept during an earlier interview on the Comics Crusaders website:  “We really took a deep dive into Dante’s work and thought about how we could make this hellish landscape of sin relevant in a world where traditional, biblical sins have become commonplace.”  The interview goes on to hint at some of the things they intend to incorporate in their modern update of Dante’s Inferno: social media, online dating, sexuality, politics, religion, and self-gratification to name just a few. Seems to me to be very appropriate stand-ins for the original nine circles (Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery). It will be interesting to see how these fit in and compare. 

Issue #1 begins by introducing us to the main character, an elderly woman (not identified by name) distraught over the unexplained loss of her family. She struggles to cope and continue on with her life. Her lonely home reflects her mood: dead plants on a table cluttered by mail, papers, unfinished novels, notebooks, and cards of condolence. The kitchen is a total mess, littered with half-eaten meals and unwashed dishes.  The front room is nearly filled to capacity with moving boxes. The art, perfectly detailed in nine-panel pages, tells us all we need to know with very few captions.  She’s lost without her family. 

     As she climbs the ladder into an attic full of memories, we get a glimpse of the images going through her mind. Apparently, she’s missing a husband, twin boys, and an infant. Her husband appears to be middle-aged, much younger than she appears.  Has their absence aged her that quickly?  And what is the vision of the witch from The Wizard of Oz doing inside her thoughts?

Waiting for her in the attic is the ghost of English Romantic period poet and artist William Blake (Songs of Innocence), who speaks only in rhymes and makes her an offer: journey through Hell’s nine circles and be re-united with her family. It doesn’t take long before she accepts, a doorway materializes, and she and Blake step through it. 

  Strange colors and sights outline their forward progress, with odd twisted homes that appear inspired by graphic artist M.C. Escher and three-dimensional pathways. The woman comments upon the weird, surreal surroundings and Blake responds: “Dear, this is merely the beginning. The walls between worlds are now thinning.”

   So begins a long journey to the first circle, Limbo, including a boat ride with a grim and grumpy Charon, Death’s ferryman of legend. But not before the woman sees a vision of a van backing out of a driveway with a family inside (that vaguely resembles her own) and traveling off into the distance before she can catch up to them.  (Is this hinting at the event that led to their absence, a possible auto accident or catastrophe they encountered?) 

Limbo is inhabited by the souls of ancient philosophers and authors (Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Poe, Shakespeare, Milton).  Perhaps their vanity has kept them frozen in place there as they pepper the woman with questions, wondering if their works are still being studied. The woman with no name loses Blake along the way and comes face to face with Judge K  as the book ends.

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STORY: Ambitious, captivating, and erudite. Above average in its theme and scope. I’m just having a little trouble completely empathizing with the main character. Perhaps a name and a clear idea of how she lost her family will help to bolster that. 2.5 POINTS

ART: Great layouts by Charles. The use of nine panel pages followed by five panoramic panel pages allows the story to show, not tell, what a surreal setting this occurs in. Facial expressions are very revealing on all the characters. The colors and choices of hues by Cunniffe help create the otherworldly atmosphere.  2.5 POINTS

COVER: Pull the reader in and give a great indication of what the contents hold in store.  2 POINTS

READ AGAIN? You need more than one reading to catch all the pop culture characters references dropped into the story.  Jimi Hendrix shows up in Limbo, quoting an appropriate line from Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower.  1 POINT.

RECOMMEND? Absolutely.  I think this is only going to get better. We can always use more literary writers in comics to join the elite company of Moore, Gaiman, Milligan, Carey and others.  1 POINT.

TOTAL RATING: 9 POINTS. As near perfect as it gets. Don’t pass it up. 

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