Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire
Lake of Fire graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Image Comics - 978-1-5343-0049-1
  • Release date: 2017
  • UPC: 9781534300491
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

This medieval adventure is filled with flawed characters, flawed in not only a very human way, but in ways that are specific to 1220 AD in France. Nathan Fairbairn uses just enough history to enrich the narrative, using the current events as the backdrop and fulcrum to a great story. An alien spacecraft crash lands in a remote village in the French Pyrenees, releasing a horde of predator bug-like aliens on the unwitting population. Our team of misfits arrives searching for heretics to burn only to be met with tall tales of demons and a lake of fire. The “lake of fire” is a reference to the Book of Revelations and the fire and brimstone of hell awaiting heretics. What follows is a riveting, action-packed drama depicting how the beliefs of each misfit are challenged, how the village rallies and falters and what motivates people to step up and face mortal danger. Fairbairn provides a story arc challenging every character’s worldview and watching them wrestle with this challenge lends them a great deal of humanity and credibility.

The main heretic is a young woman. A combination of her proscribed heresy and a precocious knowledge of how the world works lends her the courage to speak truth to power and shout that the Emperor has no clothes. There were many factions and heresies in Medieval France, but Fairbairn dodges a bullet by avoiding bogging down the action with turgid, complicated explanations of her particular heresy. We get just enough to keep the story moving and see both why she believes and why the Catholic Church would find it threatening. In a similar way, the aliens are never fully explained, leaving the reader as confused as our band of misfits. Certainly, there are cues modern consumers of sci-fi will notice, but this only serves to focus the story as we root for each Templar, each villager and our now favourite heretic.

Artist Matt Smith rises to the challenge of illustrating a complex basket of facial expressions: moral outrage, self-righteousness, embarrassing cowardice, doubt in the face of the unknown, grief and even being left speechless. The combination of the story and the art leaves you wholly absorbed in what is unfolding. There is even some comic relief as the Lord overseeing the siege of a castle carefully selects the group to include everyone he wants to be rid of by sending them on a fool’s errand. As their journey starts, it’s clear none of our misfit heroes want to be there and only the cynical, seasoned reluctant Templar leader understands the Lord simply wanted to be rid of them.

A final praise would be to confirm Lake of Fire reads well a second and even third time, with adequate intervals waiting for the next read on the bookshelf of a decent collection.