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Words by Mike Carey - Art by Michael Gaydos - Published by Titan Books - First published 2003 - Originally published as Inferno 1-5
Before Mike Carey started his work on Lucifer (the version of Satan loosely based on the Christian viewpoint who famously resigns his rule of Hell in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman) and Hellblazer, he served his comics apprenticeship penning Inferno. Unsurprisingly, based on what we know of Carey now, this is also set in Hell, but it's a different Hell. In this Hell, the dead are deposited in a desert and forced to find their way to an infinite city, where they spend the rest of eternity scratching together a basic existence under the watchful eye of Lord Baal, a cool and nonchalent Satan replacement. There's no fire, brimstone or demons in this version of Hell, just an endless existence as a minion amongst the rest of Earth's least undesirables.
The story follows the progress of John Travis, brutally murdered on earth and finding himself lost outside the gates of Hell, until Nostradamus and a few other select denizens of the eternal city show up to help him out. It's at this point that John Travis starts to realise that he had something of a history before he was born on Earth and that this isn't his first visit to the underworld.
The basic premise is clever enough - we find out about Travis's shadowy past as he finds it out for himself, following clues that his former self left so he could follow a well-hidden trail back to his original identity. With a few twists and turns on the way, the book is well plotted and paced, but feels a little lacking in originality, following as it does in the footsteps of modern quasi-Christian works like The Sandman, Hellblazer and Preacher.
The black and white art of Michael Gaydos is full of bold, scratchy lines, heavily inked for maximum contrast. The style is reminiscent of Eddie Campbell's basic style mixed with Frank Miller's dedication to the contrast between light and shadow, making an interesting and unique mix.
So while there's perhaps more interesting interpretations of Hell available, some of which have been further fleshed out by Carey himself, this is certainly an interesting diversion, especially for those specifically interested in following the complete works of either Carey, Gaydos or Hell itself.
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