Review: Grimm Fairy Tales: Inferno trade paperback (Zenescope)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[Doug Glassman ('80s Marvel Rocks!) celebrates "Indie-pendence Month" with his July reviews ...]

I typically give the story behind the books and companies I cover during "Indie-pendence Month" and where the specific trade fits into their universe. This time, I honestly don’t care because I have no intention of ever picking up anything from Zenescope Entertainment again. I admit that I may have gone into Grimm Fairy Tales: Inferno with too high of hopes. The trade name and characters implied that there was some influence from the Divine Comedy and it sounded more interesting than any of their other books. There had to be some reason why Zenescope is so popular other than “Look! Boobs!”

I was so very, very wrong. Perhaps if you don’t know anything about Dante Alighieri and the Comedy you’ll enjoy this book more ... but between the clunky dialogue, awful characters, bizarre art choices, and numerous grammar errors, I doubt that will be the case.

The trade opens with a full page of black text in yellow boxes on top of a washed-out yellow drawing of “heroine” Mercy Dante. I glazed over most of this for two reasons: the font was rather hard to read and it summarizes stories collected in the trade itself. Also, the first line of the summary has a grammatical error, which last year made me close the digital trade file, go out to the store, and pick up Wasteland: Cities in Dust instead. However, there’s actually a good reason for the redundancy: if you actually read those two issues of the Grimm Fairy Tales series, you wouldn’t want to go ahead and read Inferno.

Mercy Dante is an awful protagonist, the kind of anti-hero where the writer misunderstands how to blur the lines of morality. Here’s a hint: killing a child in cold blood and then undoing it through time travel and suicide doesn’t improve your character. I haven’t been so disgusted with a protagonist since Deathstroke killed his team at the end of the first issue of his New 52 series; the prologue stories felt a lot like that story. Suicide (which is a trigger for me) plays a large part in the story, which also slowed down any desire to actually finish Inferno. I don’t even like reading good comics involving suicide, such as Locke and Key, so imagine how fun it was slogging through this book.

This is where any relationship the book has to the actual Divine Comedy starts to break down. I will give writer Ralph Tedesco credit for doing some sort of research on Dante’s portrayal of Hell; the seventh circle, where those who killed themselves are turned into thorny trees and attacked by harpies, is accurately represented. But most of the "Inferno" is skipped entirely. Given the opportunity to display some of the most inventive scenes of horror in classic literature, like the tornado filled with adulterers, the walled demonic city of Dis, and the flaming tombs of the heretics, we get ... an unfunny “comedic” scene in which Mercy offers her gun instead of a coin so Charon will cross the River Styx. It’s a boring choice of denizens of Hell, not made any better by it being the wrong river; Charon ferried Virgil and Dante across Acheron, not Styx.

Virgil does appear in Inferno. It’s a grand total of five pages, he doesn’t leave the first chambers of Hell, and he gives Mercy a watch that has some bearing on the climax that I can’t figure out. He’s also blind ... an attribute of Homer, not Virgil. There are few supporting characters at all; the closest is Sela Mathers, who starts out as an old woman before turning into the Baroness in the middle of turning a page. Much of the story is Mercy on her own searching for a lost soul who may be from a previous Grimm Fairy Tales story, but it’s never established. They also get that character’s name wrong at one point. The stories in the rear involve another running Grimm character, Belinda, who may be Sexy Satan (see below); she’s never brought up in Inferno.

Mercy’s entire journey through the Inferno is predicated on the idea that she’s in Limbo because she killed herself in place of a little girl she killed in an alternate timeline. I can’t even ... I’ll explain it in the comments section because it’s complicated, but basically, Tedesco has his parts of Hell confused and Alighieri’s morality doesn’t work that way. Not even the ending can save Inferno since it depicts the lowest levels of Hell as a burning city. The Hell of Dante is cold at its lowest levels. It’s one of his most intriguing and unique concepts; I was expecting the reveal that Satan is a sexy fallen angel in this book, but the absolute adaptational failure was just a disappointment. Everything concludes with Mercy agreeing to sell her soul to Sexy Satan in exchange for her sister’s soul, an ending I pretty much guessed from the start.

The artwork of Grimm Fairy Tales: Inferno like a gallery of Eschergirls submissions. Along with an abundance of “boobs and butt” poses, some of the faces made during dramatic scenes are downright goofy since Gabriel Rearte is clearly more concerned with creating cleavage than faces. All of the demons are similar-looking zombies. There are parts where it looks like they forgot to erase excess pencil lines or added shading in the wrong place. When there are comics with actual nudity along with good writing, from the funny (like XXXenophile) to the childhood-destroying (like Lost Girls), what’s the point of having poorly-written softcore? The only edgy thing here is the self-aggrandizing afterword in which Mercy Dante is proclaimed as the next great female anti-hero. Give me Gail Simone’s Red Sonja, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Ghost, or Edmondson and Noto’s Black Widow any day.

Next week, I’m looking at a comic by one man with a tenth of Zenescope’s resources and ten times their collective talent. See you then, "blockheads" (hint, hint).
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1 comment:

  1. So to explain the whole thing about suicide and Limbo… Tedesco clearly confused three different concepts. The first is the Vestibule, home to the uncommitted who are chased around and stung by wasps.

    Limbo, on the other hand, is the first circle of Hell and is the home of the virtuous pagans—people like Virgil, Plato and Orpheus. It’s a peaceful place but they’re stuck there because they existed before the birth of Christ. (The Jewish patriarchs lived there too until Christ rescued them in the Harrowing of Hell, one of the most overlooked parts of Easter Weekend.) It seems like they should be swapped, but Dante had a point to make about heathens, even the good ones.

    The third element is Purgatory, which is an entire other book by Alighieri. The fact that Mercy Dante committed suicide should overrule any redemption given to her by performing said act. She plausibly could have been moved to Purgatory, which would have involved fighting her way back down a giant mountain in what would have been an awesome scene in a better book. The demons from the opening chapters kind of suggest the Vestibule, and again, a giant wasp chase would have been cool to see instead of a bunch of sleazy guys sexually harassing and abusing a rather poorly-drawn woman.

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