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Review time! with The Judas Coin

Two words: “Walter” and “Simonson.” Review: DONE!

Okay, so maybe we need a little more than that. The Judas Coin is (bizarrely) published by DC, written and drawn by Walter Simonson, colored by Lovern Kindzierski, and lettered by John Workman. It will cost you $22.99, and it’s worth every penny (or Tyrian shekel, as the case may be). (I write “bizarrely” because although DC does graphic novels, they usually do Vertigo ones, and this one must have been approved solely because even DiDio isn’t stupid enough to say, “A Walt Simonson graphic novel starring some cool characters we have? No, I think I’ll pass on that.”)

The Golden Gladiator!

The Viking Prince!

The premise of this story is simple: one of the coins paid to Judas to betray some liberal anarchist punk named Hay-zus passes through history, and as it has a curse on it, no good can come to those who possess it! So Simonson simply plucks characters from the long, long history of DC, puts them in proximity to the coin, and lets the mayhem commence! It’s a fairly short book – there’s a 4-page prologue, and then chapters of 13, 15, 17, 9, 15,and 16 pages, giving us 89 pages of text, but because Simonson has been doing comics for quite some time and he’s, you know, kind of good at it, he knows how to maximize his space, and the book feels more dense than a lot of comics twice as long. He gives us a story about the Roman emperor Vespasian and his bodyguard, Marcus the Golden Gladiator (first appearance: 1955), heading to Germany to form an alliance with the tribes across the Rhine in A.D. 70 and finding … treachery! (As far as I could find, Vespasian never went near Germany, but that’s not too important – he certainly could have gone, right?) Then we head to A.D. 1000, where Jon Rikkson, the Viking Prince (first appearance: 1955), sails to a strange land full of giants, where he discovers … treachery! In 1720, Captain Fear (first appearance: 1972) is – you guessed it – treacherously deprived of command, but the presence of the Judas coin enables him to thwart the mutineers rather cleverly. We move to Tombstone, AZ, in 1881, where Bat Lash (first appearance: 1968) is playing cards and getting into trouble, but the coin allows him to slip out of it and escape. In “the present,” Two-Face (first appearance: 1942) tries to steal the coin, but quickly figures out that it might not be smart to hang onto it, and he gets rid of it in a typically diabolical manner. Finally, we head to the future, where in 2087, Manhunter 2070 (first appearance: 1970) hunts down some thieves who just happen to have the coin in their possession, and he also figures out that it’s not a very good thing to have. He tries to get rid of it, but Simonson ends the book rather bleakly, implying that such evil can never be destroyed. Dang, that sucks.

Captain Fear!

Bat Lash!

Simonson does a nice job with each story, managing to keep the general theme – treachery and deceit – but tell several different kinds of stories and show different characters reacting to their situations. Marcus is deadly serious in his duty, Jon is a fine warrior, Captain Fear is far too clever for the other pirates, Bat Lash is a ladies’ man and a better grifter than the others he plays cards with, Two-Face shows why he was such a good lawyer, and Manhunter 2070 is relentless in his pursuit of the thieves. Each deals with the coin in their own way, showing how they view the world and how they use their strengths to get out of trouble. None of the stories are too deep, but they are very entertaining, and Simonson knows how to create characters and a good plot quickly. The book zips along, and you might have to stop yourself to appreciate the artwork.

Two-Face!

Because you really should appreciate the artwork. It’s tremendous and deserves to be looked at for a long time. The book is slightly larger than your normal comic, so Simonson’s artwork is bigger, which makes it at least 10% more awesome (that’s just SCIENCE!). He doesn’t alter his style too much – you can still tell it’s Simonson, of course – but the Golden Gladiator section is a bit more low-key, for instance, while the Viking Prince section looks like lost pages of Thor, with giant anachronistic Viking ships and armor that no human would be able to wear because the helmets would be too fucking heavy. But it looks great, so there’s that. Simonson does some beautiful stuff with layouts and borders, too, making this story much more mythic and epic than we might expect (again, these are Vikings in the DCU, so there’s no reason to think they won’t encounter giants and other strange things). The Captain Fear story is a bit more straight-forward, giving Simonson a chance to draw 18th-century ships cannonading each other. Kindzierski colors the Bat Lash story a bit lighter than the others, giving it a dusty, daguerreotype look to it, which is fitting. For the Batman and Two-Face story, Simonson turns the book on its side and creates it like several newspaper strips, and gives it to us in glorious black and white (with one exception for blood, which is red). In the Manhunter story, he decides to draw manga, because why the hell not? Are you going to tell Walt Simonson he can’t draw manga? One thing Simonson does really well is use the complete page, so while the art is packed with detail, it never looks cluttered, and his storytelling is as strong as ever. He uses rectangular borders for the most part, which makes it even more dynamic when he breaks that pattern. In the future, his layouts become much more chaotic, which keeps with the tone of the story but remains easy to read. Kindzierski’s colors are fantastic, and as always, Workman’s lettering complements Simonson’s artwork very nicely – Workman’s letters feel more muscular than many of his peers’, and Simonson’s bold art needs lettering like it.

Manhunter 2070!

The Judas Coin is an entertaining story made much better by the excellent art. I Strongly Recommend it just for the artwork, and it’s nice that the writing is, if not quite as good as the art, still impressive. I’ve mentioned before that I would love if the Big Two did more graphic novels with their characters, and it’s nice that we’re getting some. It’s even nicer when they’re as good as this is!

18 Comments

Dear God, do I need to read more Walt Simonson work.

This looks phenomenal. Glad to hear that it is as good as it looks.

This was a fantastic graphic novel. Thanks for reviewing it. I heard that it slipped under the radar of a lot of people who might have been interested in it. Hopefully a blog post on CBR will bring some more attention to it.

By the way, here’s a link to a write-up I did of The Judas Coin on my blog last month:

http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/comic-book-reviews-the-judas-coin-by-walter-simonson/

Thanks for taking a look!

But…but…

those coins are around the neck of the Phantom Stranger now! Doesn’t Simonson read DiDio’s work?!!! C’mon!!!!

Yes, I’ve bought Phantom Stranger 0 and 1. And no, it’s not EXPLICIT that he’s Judas, but c’mon.

Anyway, this looks cool, and as the big box bookstore (yes, THE) has a buy 2 get 1 DC GN free, I’ve been trying to figure out what else to get with this one.

With my luck, they’re ending that sale by the time I get there….

Get Architecture and Mortality if you don’t have it; twice the Captain Fear in one trip to the store!

This was an amazing story from a master story teller ! The use of news headlines in the Two Face portion of the story was pure genius, and added a great deal of context to the tale without being obtrusive
Oh, and the Viking Prince story was a great blend of mythology and heroic saga type stories. It reminded of Michael Moorcock’s stuff

I have also been re-reading Simonson’s run on Orion and recommend that for all lovers of the New Gods, cosmic storytelling, Kirby and – to cut a long post short – great comics !!!

And then Matter-Eater Lad (first appearance: 1962) ate the coins. But the next morning, when he stumbled to the bathroom … treachery!

I really enjoyed this GN. Although, while I’m happy for a taller book that gives me more Simonson art, it’s just too tall to fit on my normal height bookshelves. Like by a quarter inch. So it needs to go on one of the shelves for oversize books, where it just looks small in comparison.

I just read Simonson’s run on Orion this past summer for the first time. It almost made it on to my top 10 runs list for this current vote. Really enjoyed it. I also own his entire Thor run, but have only read the first few issues so far. I really need to correct that.

Geeze, I just used the word “really” 3 times in a 2 paragraph post. That’s just sloppy writing. I just hate when I do something like that.

Ben: Cool review. Thanks for the link!

Becca: Yeah, I already own it. It’s quite good!

buttler: Oh, so much treachery!

Brett and Jazzbo: Yeah, Orion is really good. So, of course, DC hasn’t collected the entire thing yet!

Jazzbo, I just really think that’s a pedantic rule about writing for which there’s no good reason. Really, there’s just no reason you can’t use the same words repeatedly in sentence writing. I really just wish that people who use reason can understand that there is still good writing with repetition.

Travis, I really wish I knew for what reason you wrote that, but I just don’t.

And to get back on topic…

Greg – I found all but 2 or 3 issues of Orion in bargain bins for 50 cents or less each. The last few I needed I bought off Newkadia for pretty cheap. Probably put the whole run together for 15 or 16 bucks. It seems pretty easy to find in back issues, if you’re so inclined.

Bargain bins are really just one reason I really have just too many comics to read. Really.

OK, I’ll stop now.

But yeah, I got a good portion of the Orion series in cheapo bins, and I need to go diving for more (and there are SOOO many series I say that about).

However, that other Fourth World related series, Takion, probably deserves to be in the cheapo bins.

I think, in your 2 word review, you left out the “motherfuckin’” in the middle.

Here’s an odd question: Is John Workman a real guy? I mean, it’s not Simonson under an alias, is it? They go together like peanut butter and jelly, tho.

I think I’ll add “treachery!” to the end of all my posts, now. Thanks, buttler!

Treachery!

I actually just read this last week, and greatly enjoyed it. I think I would have liked it even better though if it were longer. There’s certainly no decompression or wasted space here, but it does feel a bit like some potential was left on the table. I mean, this story could have been HUGE. It really could have been epic, with longer chapters, more characters, more time periods. It could have also incorporated Jason Blood, Vandal Savage, Rip Hunter, Sgt. Rock… I mean, why stop at 6? This almost feels like a great pilot episode that demands a full season to explore it’s characters and themes. Maybe if it sells well, we’ll get a sequel. That’d be fucking cool.

But those quibbles aside, I do like it and recommend it. And damn, Walt Simonson. Damn. Boy’s good.

Also, this review marks the first time I’ve ever seen the word cannonading, so that’s cool. EDUCATION!

One minor quibble, I was a little confused by the art over who was who in the Golden Gladiator story but I look forward to rereading it

Jazzbo: Oh, I own all the issues of Orion (I wrote about it as a Comic You Should Own), but I imagine that as cheap as the issues are, a lot of people would buy it in trade because who knows if you can find all the single issues. But DC hates money, I guess!

Third Man: Sure, I would have loved this to be longer, but I imagine Simonson’s fairly pricey, so DC had to draw the line somewhere!

Ninjazilla: Marcus has gray hair and Vespasian has brown hair. I hope that helps!

This looks goddamn spectacular, and I hate myself for not owning it yet.

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