In a world where the main protagonist of Zack Snyder’s horrid Man Of Steel can snap an enemies neck with only the merest of regrets, Satan’s Soldier – the red suited and becaped ubermensch at the centre of Tom Scioli‘s hyper violent web comic -makes total sense. This is super-heroics without ethics or qualms. All thoughts of making the world a better place are subsumed by an adolescent lust for destruction and violence. It shines a light on the dark heart at the centre of the superhero myth, as well as fandom itself.
Tom Scioli – probably best known for his American Barbarian series – is something of a superhero connoisseur. A recent article on the Comics Alliance website regarding the influence of Jack Kirby showed a deep love and understanding of that particular titan’s influence and technique, and all this knowledge is brought to bear on Satan’s Soldier. The hyper stylised poses, galaxy threatening fight scenes and apocalyptic pronouncements are all present and correct but curdled and subverted. While Scioli’s glorious use of colour (quite possibly some of the best colouring on any strip, anywhere right now) softens and mutes Kirby’s blocky certainty into something more psychedelic and ambivalent; more appropriate for the moral blankness at the heart of the strip.
Satan’s Soldier is not the first comic to ask the question, ‘what if Superman was a bastard?’ (For a more prosaic exploration of the theme check out Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable.) But it is the first to do so via an interrogation of the superhero comic itself and of what that particular form of heroics represents to its audience. This is Superman as a fanatic’s dream: unstoppable, childish and utterly corrupt. The reader is left with the unsettling sense that this would be the end result, were your average cape-comic nerd given the opportunities granted by unlimited strength, flight, invulnerability and heat vision: an untameable, childish rampage. In one give-away scene, our (anti) hero, having crippled an opponent by breaking his back on a mountain, shuts a pencil between his battered foe’s teeth and grunts, “You want to be a superhero? Draw a comic.”
All this is highlighted by Scioli’s stunning draughtsmanship, which skips between faux-naïve doodling and powerful, well paced fight scenes at will, as well as his hilarious, heartless use of minimal dialogue (“What? You’ve never seen a superhero drown his babies before?”). The sense of possibility in Satan’s Soldier is dizzying, especially when Scioli starts introducing other characters into the stew. Any comic featuring a British man-of-mystery called Union Jack The Ripper is worth a look, and his Kirby-esque cosmic god analogues – named Cosmoses and Black Sabbyth – are a total hoot, whether or not you’re familiar with the source material they’re draw from.
On the face of it, Satan’s Soldier is good, nasty fun. It’s anarchic approach brings a similar freshness to super heroics that Ben Marra‘s work has brought to action comics, and one can’t help but wish the artists and writers at Marvel and DC would take some notice of its free-wheeling, gleeful approach. However, scratch the surface and a darker, less playful edge is visible. At heart Satan’s Soldier is a commentary on what can happen when childish dreams come true, and a demonstration of the results of great power without great responsibility. **