A Chilling Tale of Invoking the Demonic
Clive Barker is perhaps one of the most well-known horror writers of this generation, known best for his popular Hellraiser series, widely regarded as one of the most terrifying horror series of the late 1980’s. Barker has never been one to shy away from controversial topics of horror, often featuring S+M and unrelenting scenes of surreal violence. In his comic narrative Down Satan, he turns his attention firmly to the theological and the silent nature of deity, a trait which drives one of his devoted followers quite insane.
We open with a series of panels set in a scrap yard, in the hours of the night which are so dark that even shadows begin to birth shadows, a man is skewering cockroaches and we glimpse the creatures agonizing wriggling death agonies by a single lit candle placed somewhat dangerously in a cardboard box. It is becoming clear that this is some sort of strange ritual, a car with dazzlingly bright headlights ascends through the yard. To our surprise, the figure performing acts of cruelty towards the insect world is dressed in a business suit, far from the Hobo or diseased tramp we would suspect belonging to those hands in the first scene. Figures emerge from the car and a cry is heard “Warren Dickerson, in the name of God the Father you are under arrest!”
Dickerson was the vice president of a corporation whose chairman – Gregorius finds himself in the middle of a crisis of faith, a ‘dark night of the soul’, recalling how, before his ascent to wealth, he had found much contentment in his Catholic faith. He flounders and like so many of the faithful despairs at the lack of communication between the creator and the creation. Dickerson appears at his CEO’s side and suggests that if God will not come to him through acts of faith, he may well come to Gregorius during acts of sheer blasphemy. Arrange a meeting with the Devil and should not God surely appear to save Gregorius’s immortal soul? To this end Gregorius hatches a diabolical plan, he decides to build a hell on Earth to entice the Devil to a new liar and so begins one of the most intriguing plots in any Horror Comic story.
We then follow Gregorius’s pursuit of building the perfect inferno, a labyrinth constructed from all the hell’s conceived of in the human mind, the Hell of Dante Alighieri, the hell’s of Bosch and Ruben’s and those constructed in the field of psychoanalysis mixed with the cruellest exposition of torture ever documented throughout humanities history. Gregorius finds help by raiding the insane asylums for talented artists and finds an architect there who was willing to design a blasphemous, cruel experience – an externalization of the cruel savagery of man which according to many theological myths the Devil incites in humankind.
Eventually, the work is complete, Gregorius’s friends and colleagues believe that he is mad, but he is assured of his success, which is all that matters to him at this stage, the camera pulls back to a Sundown in the remote African desert where he has chosen to build his new Hell. We see a jagged tower ascending to the dark sky, reddening as if bleeding as it’s tip threatens injury to the heavens.
Gregorius takes residence in this unholy monolith and waits patiently for the hoofed feet of the Devil to manifest, and he doesn’t have to wait long…
This is when the storytelling genius of Barker really begins to shape the narrative in earnest, this is a classic ‘bump in the night’ tale that we all know from campfires of Halloweens past and from sleepovers – told in hushed tones to the sight of torchlight or the burning embers of a once blazing fire. Gregorius hears noises echoing through the building, he vacates his throne and begins to wander through the innards of this demonic construction. As he does so, we the reader begin to get glimpses of the depth of the depravity which Gregorius was prepared to go through in order to achieve his aims – we see bodies and desiccated corpses skewered and hung around the walls, rotting bodies piled on top of each other, their death agonies carved onto their faces by the brutality wielded by unknown forces. After all, as far as the reader knows Gregorius is the only individual present, his workers had escaped long ago.
Barker leaves the context of this story open, is this a story about theology? About a man’s intense, disappointed search for God twisting and instead becoming a search for the Devil instead? or are they really one and the same thing? Or perhaps it’s a story about a man driven to madness by obsession? It’s ultimately for you the reader to discover for yourself. It is an intriguing, well written and illustrated story, which haunts you after the last page has been turned, it, indeed, leaves you questioning the nature of evil and where the dividing lines between the divine and demonic begin and end.
This story has long been hinted as being another project that Barker would like to see turned into a cinematic piece, if correctly adapted, this could return Clive Barker back to form as one of the foremost Horror writers of the last three decades.
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