The Harrowing of Hell by Evan Dahm
Iron Circus Comics (August 2020)
128 pages, $15 hardcover
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
In Christian theology, The Harrowing of Hell is the story of Jesus Christ descending into Hell after his crucifixion and rising, triumphant, three days later on Easter. Evan Dahm has taken this story, as well as some details from apocryphal gospels, and created a very dark graphic novel that, while still religiously based, is sure to appeal to horror readers as well.
Dahn’s adaption of this classic story is really poignant. He deals with the crucifixion, as well as the descent of Jesus Christ into Hell, and interlaces those experiences with various flashbacks from Christ’s life before the crucifixion. The narrative here works well, and even those completely unfamiliar with the Bible or its stories will be able to understand the tale. Dahn, however, is not afraid to use his art and his imagery to deviate from the narratives when he sees fit. Jesus, in this story, frees the souls of the damned, and they immediately become amorphous creatures that seem to be all limbs and mouth and teeth. They turn on Him and plague Him, forcing Him deeper and deeper through the layers of Hell.
To accentuate this horror, Dahn uses minimal colors. His palette is only three colors — black, white, and red — and he uses the red to striking effect. He cuts deep shadows with thick, black strokes, and then uses the red as a wash, which serves to almost create a negative space where the figure of Jesus is depicted on the page in bright white. However, during the flashback scenes on Earth, most of the palette is black and white, and the red is used only to highlight. Not only is this a very solid narrative device, letting readers know when things have happened and where they are, but it also really shows off Dahm’s talents as an artist.
Some readers may be put off by the religious nature of this story. There are many horror narratives about the devil and demonic possession, but rarely do they feature Jesus Christ as the protagonist. This may be too much religion for some readers, but Dahm himself argues that he’s not trying to tell the truth about Jesus or advocate religious claims. He is interested in the stories of ancient writings and traditions and what they reveal. This book seems to be an attempt to capture some of those stories in a really effective, graphic format.
The Harrowing of Hell by Evan Dahm is a gruesome book about a man’s descent into Hell, and readers of horror graphic novels will enjoy its story and artistry immensely.