Some creators are meant to make myth. They're supposed to stride into humanity's shared stream of meaning and re-interpret the flow. Or boil it into something elemental.
Comics legend Walt Simonson is one of those people. Yes, his acclaimed work on Thor and Orion had the advantage of dealing with deities in the leading role. But his work on titles like Manhunter also shows his skill at making more grounded stories sing in a different way.
The actual story of The Judas Coin didn't hold many surprises for me. The hardcover graphic novel starts in biblical times, showing Judas Iscariot getting paid for his infamous betrayal and then trying to throw the money back at those who paid him. One coin gets picked up by a hapless citizen who meets an untimely end. This kind of tale—where a cursed artifact ruins the lives of those who've touched it over the course of centuries—has been a genre staple for a long, long time. But it's the way that Simonson tells it, with all his hallmark tics intact that excites me.
The energy of Simonson's line hasn't diminished at all in the 30+ years he's been drawing. His pages hold tall skyscraper panels, with the action shot from below to make the reader feel like they've stumbled into something Wagnerian. Characters' faces tell little stories all unto themselves, with a haunted past and a tense present-day in their expressions. His design sense and composition invokes scale and detail in equal measure and always give your eye something to trace down into the fibers of the page.
Look at the cover. What looks like a composite image at first breaks down cleanly on closer inspection, letting you know that stories are happening in multiple eras before you read anything else about the book. And his trademark use of outlandish sound effects as visual elements somehow manages to both deflate overly serious moments or make everyday occurrences seem full of portent.
What you get in the loosely connected short stories is essentially a micro-history of comics and the genres that have been popular in the artform's American lifespan. Sword-and-sandal gladiator stories, cowboy adventure, pirate derring-do and cape-and-cowl superheroics all show up here.
Simonson mines DC Comics' library of heroes and villains for characters in each genre and mixes up his artistic or writing approaches for each. His art may not immediately make you think of Jack Kirby but Simonson is clearly in the lineage of the great comics master, whose career took him through romance, boys'-adventure, superhero and nearly every other genre comics has touched. I was really worried that Simonson would show me that his edge had dulled in The Judas Coin. Instead, the bearded cartoonist demonstrates what it's like to be able to wield finely honed chops in a multiplicity of ways.