Clive Barker returns to the world of comics with his first original series, co-written with Mark Alan Miller and illustrated by Haemi Jang with colors in the second half of the series by Vladimir Popov. Next Testament concerns the awakening of Wick, a being who claims to be the original God from the Old Testament, who has been sealed away for millennia because of his selfish and maniacal ways. His second coming does not bode well for humanity.
Our own David Brooke reviewed this series in single issues when they were originally released, so please do check those out for a more laser-focused view on the individual installments. For this, I’ll be taking a look at the story as a whole, which begins with quite a bit of promise and just sort of peters out at the end.
The first half of the book is a blasphemous rollercoaster ride, packed with dark humor and philosophical musings on the nature of faith vs. truth. Julian, the man who finds and releases Wick, falls madly in love with the old god, swearing devotion in the face of utter depravity. It’s a classic Clive Barker conceit, with a character trading their sanity and safety in return for pleasure and fulfillment. However, Julian’s story is handled very differently than that of, say, Frank from Hellraiser. We get the sense that he was completely swept away by the idea of being able to believe in something.
The artwork is incredible, with the colors rendering Wick into an illustrated man of ever-shifting colors and his “miracles,” be they instantaneous transport or (in several instances) the vicious bifurcation of human bodies, become rainbow explosions of wonder and viscera. It’s as repulsive as it is incredible to look at.
Where this book falters is in the development of its ancillary characters. Sure, some of the folks we meet over the course of the story are set up merely to be fodder for gory destruction. However, the book has an uneven approach when deciding who we’re supposed to care about.
We’re introduced to a character who is devout in their faith and treats our main characters with kindness. They are given a name and murdered merely a few pages later. Meanwhile, there’s a female character to whom Wick seems to take a liking, but she’s never given a name and is eventually discarded, even though it felt like something new was being explored through her. The book plays at giving her agency before simply making her a sexual hanger-on. It feels like something is missing, in a way.
The resolution of the story, which I won’t spoil here, likewise feels undercooked. Perhaps the advent of a deus ex machina is kind of the point here, considering how often we find ourselves praying for salvation in our darkest moments, but it does feel like the characters involved aren’t quite explained as well as they could be. It’s also a bummer for such a cerebral series to devolve into a bit of a superhero battle.
Still, for all of these characters who feel like mere sketches, we are given quite a bit more to chew on when it comes to the lead villain and his closest disciple. Julian in particular has a fantastic arc of falling deeply in love and awe with Wick, only to find how repulsive the deity is once he really gets on a roll. Wick on the other hand, seems very single-minded in his pursuit of destruction and fear, only occasionally questioning his value in very telling moments of silence.
This is where the book soars. Though the apocalyptic violence is definitely a selling point, it’s the moments when the story allows our characters to question their beliefs that Next Testament really works. From Julian questioning his devotion to Wick, to Wick questioning whether or not he needs to be worshipped and trying to understand his place in our Bible, to our romantic leads questioning their chances of survival (but never their love for one another), this book thrives on crises of faith in all the forms they can take.
It’s those scenes that make this collection worth checking out, along with the exquisite artwork. For all of its flaws, The Next Testament is a fearless and singular work.
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