HER INFERNAL DESCENT #1 / Writers: Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson / Artist: Kyle Charles / Colorist: Dee Cunniffe / Letterer: Ryan Ferrier / Cover Artists: Kyle Charles & Jordan Boyd / Publisher: Aftershock Comics / Published: April 18th, 2018
Her Infernal Descent is one of my anticipated 2018 series. At the time of writing this review, I am putting a bow on six years of a combined English/Creative Writing/Cultural Theory degree. Popular culture and the effect it has on society is the main focus of my education, so a comic reimagining the Divine Comedy in the present day, filled with popular culture figures, sounds right up my alley. HID also reimagines Dante as a grieving mother and replaces Virgil with William Blake. Personally, I would have gone with John Milton, the blind author of Paradise Lost, but I digress. I write my reviews in a way that tries to emphasize that they are direct conversation with the popular culture
Her Infernal Descent #1 comes from top tier publisher, Aftershock Comics, and co-creators Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, and Kyle Charles–a Canadian trifecta of talent, containing a member of Canada’s First Nations. They are also joined by colorist Dee Cunniffe and letterer Ryan Ferrier. The first issue is a slow burn as our protagonist spends an undefined amount of time in mourning before William Blake beckons her to the nine circles of Hell to save her loved ones. A strong narration keeps this prologue going strong. Her home is described as a sand trap that meets an a archaeological site, where the memories unbury themselves and drag her down. How Kyle Charles realizes this visually is brilliant, and his art is filled with a grittiness that would feel right at home along the Black Mask Studios canon. However, it is Dee Cunniffe who really excels in these early scenes. Often times our protagonist is the only acute source of color in rooms with faded palettes, and at other times, the radiant sunlight from outside is held back against the drab colors of her home and windows. Cunniffe fills this books with a multitude of melancholic shades, such as moody purples, vacant blues, and a dull gray.
While we barely reach any of the actual levels of Hell, we spend a decent amount of time in purgatory. When our protagonist finally escapes her home, she enters into a vivid yellow light that seems tinted in hope… until we realize this is merely the afterglow of the fires of Hell. As the world begins to unravel around our protagonist, Kyle Charles’ art really comes to life. Charles does some creative work with the paneling of the pages, bringing them to the forefront as the details within the panels warp. There is a very surrealist feel to the whole thing that I love. The art is accompanied by great rhymes from Blake which leaves me with a curiosity about how Nadler and Thompson script the series. There is also a presence of technology in purgatory with which the story never really engaged, but it left me wanting more.
Her Infernal Descent #1 contains a brief sequence with Charon before we finally enter into Limbo, the first circle of Hell. The river Styx is beautifully realized by the artistic team, and Charon’s ferrying of Blake and our protagonist is a visual highlight in a book littered with them. Charon himself seems as if he strolled out of God of War and into this series; he looms over our characters with a peculiar gaze.
The popular culture figures start coming out of the woodwork in Her Infernal Descent #1 once Limbo is reached, starting with foundational figures of the English literature canon. Authors like Socrates, Edgar Allan Poe, and Plato make on-the-nose references to their most famous works, allowing for quick deduction of their identity. I am not an expert in the English canon, so I appreciated these nods that were easy to decipher. Unfortunately, for many there were no hints. I think I deciphered the musician, Prince, among the crowds because of his infamous attire, but there are at least five speaking roles I could not identify. I wish the series had picked one method or the other when it came to the amount of work needed to decipher popular culture figures. John Milton makes a quick appearance, only increasing my longing for a John Milton led adventure. For those unfamiliar, Milton wrote a version of the Bible (Paradise Lost) that more or less sided with Lucifer and his fallen angels. To have Milton be the guide into the Inferno could have involved a more mixed sense of morality than what this first issue presents.
All the figures in this comic are well visualized, especially our two leads. Our protagonist looks nothing like the lead of a visual-based popular culture story. She is small, with a weight on her shoulders that constantly leaves her hunched. Every-time we switch angles, we see her unruly tangle of hair in some new way. The art condenses down to emphasis dramatic features on her. By comparison, Blake is devoid of emotion. His features are distorted by a supernatural glow. The stark white of Blake against the colored glow of our protagonist gives nearly every page a nice touch of contrast.
Her Infernal Descent #1 is not the comic I hoped for, but it’s a good start to a miniseries that re-imagines the Divine Comedy. I wish I cared a little more about our protagonist, but she’s given a strong narrative voice and is accompanied by the brilliant rhymes of William Blake. The artistic team of Kyle Charles and Dee Cunniffe is the selling point of this first issue, and they’re worth the price of admission alone. Let’s hope for more modern pop culture figures, more dramatic sound effects that allow Ryan Ferrier a chance to shine, and more development of our protagonist in coming issues.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5 Forgotten Popular Culture Figures