“Satania” is awesome in the old sense of the word. It brings awe to the reader to look upon these spectacular pages, chronicling a journey to a different type of hell, to gaze upon the intricately designed environments, to see the dazzling interplay of colors and to witness a rare understanding of how to portray of scale without losing the sense of the main characters. It’s a comics that is as beautiful to read as any that you care to name. if only the story was up to the standards of the art.
Written by Fabien Vehlmann
Illustrated and colored by Kerascoet
Translated by Joe Johanson
English Lettering by Ortho
Charlotte—aka Charlie—a pretty redhead, sets up an expedition to find her brother. The young scientist, who disappeared underground several months ago, claimed, to everyone’s astonishment, to be able to prove the existence of Hell by using Darwin’s theory of evolution. The little group, led by Charlie, plunge underground in his pursuit. The deeper they progress into the entrails of our planet, the more they enter another world that hides other forms of life heretofore never experienced. The discovery changes them gradually in a way they cannot at first perceive…
After what seems like an eternity the team that brought us the successful horror fable “Beautiful Darkness” (NBM, 2015) are reunited for this fantastic journey story that sees a redhead, an archeologist and a priest go to hell. The unique hook of the story is that hell here in neither metaphorical nor metaphysical, it’s a physical location buried deep within the burrows of the earth. Our protagonists, alongside several ancillary characters that exists mostly as cannon fodder for the harsh environment, find themselves lost in underground cavern. With nowhere to go but down they descend farther and farther until the darkness gives way to a light show and a whole series of lost worlds.
In terms of plot “Satania” is . . . strange. There seems to be very little continuation between story strands, new ideas that appear to be major plot point are introduced and then easily abandoned. Early on the team encounter a whole human city, located underground apparently for centuries; but after an unexplained natural disaster the city is abandoned. It’s never mentioned again and its vengeful occupants, a serious threat just scent pages ago, are never seen or mentioned again. If you’d strike down this entire chapter from the book I might never have noticed that something is wrong with the pacing of the story, nor that the character learned something that changed them in a meaningful manner.
The whole book is like that. At moments it seems to be trying for some sort of dream-logic, in which things are only semi-connected in an obscure way, but only hitting that mode half way; but often the characters are too rigid and logical in their behavior and the environment itself, though bizarre to the extreme, does follow a rather obvious pattern. It’s a story that tries to present illogicalness in a logic manner, which is rather counterproductive. The emotional journey of the characters is better served than the plot: Charlie’s insistence on finding her brother is presented as both literally and figuratively digging away from own emotional problems, which hunt in a way the demons below cannot. Likewise, Father Monsore’s inability to deal with the fantastic sights he’s exposed to, his insistence to bottle down everything, is presented in a thoughtful manner, what is first perceived as a smart and controlled individual turns out to be one in a deep state of suppression.
It would be easy to dismiss the book as a trashy adventure story with ideas above its station, giant spiders and horned beasts intermingled with Philosophy 101, where it not for the truly fantastic art by husband and wife team Kerascoet (Marie Pommepuy and S?bastien Cosset). They bring to the human characters a soft edge, a rounded line that makes them seem cartoonish adorable; which helps sell the sense of horror when they start encountering monsters and flaming pits. They have the ability to find the “beautiful” in almost everything they draw – even as the scenery becomes more and more terrifying it is almost seductively so; we are revolted and hypnotized at the same time.Continued below
But their true gifts, at least as they’re expressed in this book, are for use of color and of scale. The book begins in utter darkness, and as the story continues Kerascoet carve away at the dark, shaping at colors, evoking first regular dark, then natural illumination, fiery redness and end with bioluminescence. You can follow the plot of the story simply by seeing the color scheme on each page, the colors are a journey unto to themselves. here’s a particularly lovely two-page spread near the end that depicts a cave being washed away by a massive wave, it’s deceptively simple looking, blurred line and massive splashes of color, but is almost worth the price of the book by itself.
Speaking of size: The other thing this book does well is to sell the sense of scale involved. It’s not simply that monsters are big (and getting bigger as the story progresses), it’s how the whole environment feels massive, the size of objects and places becomes overwhelming. And yet Kerascoet manage to keep us aware of the location and state of the protagonists even as they pull the “camera” farther back to show us the various wonders and horrors of this new hell.
In that way “Satania” almost works better as a silent journey, without the texts to distract us we might farther enjoy the richness of this strange new world or be stopped by illogical plot point. It’s something that works not so much as a story, in the conventional sense, but more as an experience. You don’t know what you’ll found down there but you sure are curious.