Quite the visually striking cover isn’t it? I mean really study it. All of the book’s six major stories are represented. The pages within are lovely as well but it’s the concept of this book that impressed me the most because it’s so ambitious. The Judas Coin follows one of the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus and how it played a role in the DC universe. It’s a heavy undertaking, but the book itself is only 96 pages! Even if this were a typical novel and not a comic, 96 pages still doesn’t do a story spanning 2000 years justice.
In case you haven’t heard of Walter Simonson, the man is a comic book legend who is far more famous for being an artist than a writer. He’s probably most popular for his work on Thor (he’s even popped back up recently to do a few covers from what I understand) but he’s also drawn for Manhunter, The Metal Men, The Fantastic Four, and, of course, Batman. Here, he does everything but the coloring and the lettering. It’s a stunning book and most of the praise you hear about it will likely be about the art. Simonson and colorist Lovern Kindzierski utelize a variety of different styles that make the book stand out from anything else you’re going to read this month. The story, however although one of the coolest concepts I’ve heard of in quite some time, is not so well executed.
The story of Judas’ coin begins with a bang. When we see Judas discard the coin we follow it from person to person to person. There are no speech bubbles and the prose are limited. I found the opening pages to be the most captivating of the entire book and I can’t help but think that the entire story could have been told far better in visuals alone. Seeing how something as small as a coin travels across entire continents and brings ruin to the life of everyone who touches it? Come on,that’s a cool story. BUT as soon as the coin is passed for the 3rd time the narrative jumps forward 40 years or so. The most fascinating aspect of the whole book vanishes in only 4 pages.
The rest of tale is divided into 6 chapters that take place at 6 vastly different points in history with little to absolutely no explanation as to how the coin got there. Each chapters feature a DC character who fits that era best. 73 A.D. is the Golden Gladiator, 1000 A.D. is The Viking Prince, 1720 A.D. is Captain Fear, 1881 is Bat Lash, PRESENT is Batman, and 2087 is Manhunter 2070’s adventure. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know diddly squat about Golden Gladiator, Viking Prince, Captain Fear, or Manhunter 2070. I imagine if I didn’t know who Batman was then his section would be difficult to get invested in but since I’m well aware, I followed fine and cared about Batman and Two-Face because I’m familiar with them. Everyone else? Not so much.
The Golden Gladiator
It’s safe to assume that the Judas Coin passed from person to person just like any other bad penny so its 40 years or so journey through history isn’t a distraction at this point (but I still would’ve rather seen it play out from person to person through those 40 years). However, after an introduction that focused entirely on the coin I spent the whole chapter wondering what was happening with the MacGuffin and couldn’t get invested in the roman legionaries and their search for rebels in Germania. Still, it’s one of the better stories in the book and when it was over I wanted more.
The Viking Prince
I have no idea how the coin got here. The story takes a huge leap forward 927 years and we’re following vikings on a trip to The New World where they run into a tribe of natives (or perhaps other vikings) and a giant. The giant caught me a bit off guard, but I guess if we’re mixing The Bible with recorded history and DC Universe history then I guess giants will happen. They were in the bible too but I thought that the great flood (which would’ve came way, way, way before this) had wiped out all the giants. Anyway, this was the worst chapter. This viking guy shows up in America, fights a giant, finds the Judas coin, and then goes home. I had a hard time caring about what was going on.
I have no idea how the coin got from the viking story to the pirate story. None. The reader is expected to fill in the blanks of the past 720 years. It would have been nice to see how exactly the coin made it here! This chapter flies by and I never got a feeling for Captain Fear’s character at all. Worst was the narrative structure which moves to a flashback 4 pages in without any notice to the reader that that’s what is happening. Any sort of time stamp or change in color palette would have been a nice hint so I could keep up, but there was nothing. I flipped back and forth and re-read a few panels trying to figure out what was going on. It was confusing and the story of a pirate mutiny should have been more interesting than this.
Bat Lash has more personality than any other character in the book. Even Batman and Two-Face are less developed. I wish his section had gone on longer because it was cool to see this rogue outsmart all these other wild west characters of Tombstone but 1881 is given just as much attention as any other era– not enough. And again I have no clue how the coin reached the American West from the Spanish Main, the reader is expected to fill in the blanks. But what’s the point in focusing on these esoteric DC characters if they aren’t given enough pages for the reader to care about them or at least get to know who they are and what they stand for?
This one surprised me. Not because the coin’s entry into Batman’s world made some sense, but because the presentation of the story is so striking. To read the Batman chapter you must hold the book horizontally (or would it be vertically? Turn it 90 degrees. There.) and let it fold out like a newspaper– the Gotham Gazette heading is even at the top of the page and the whole thing is in stark black and white (which is a great look for Batman comics). The PRESENT tale reads like a Silver Age Batman story for the most part but slips up occasionally with jarring lines like “Bite me, Jerkwad. Now kiss your ass goodbye.” so I’m not sure what sort of tone Simonson was going for here. Behind each panel you’ll see newspaper clippings– read them. One part in particular makes no sense without reading those snippets and even then it’s kind of a stretch. How Two-Face exits the story is what had me scratching my head the most though.
This was a trippy little story. We jump ahead to the year 2087 without any idea how the coin ended up where it did and at the rate it wrecks lives I’m surprised humanity made it to the year 2087. We’re in space and the art style takes another unique and highly colorful turn. Everything looks right out of a Japanese anime. From the sharply pointed hair styles to the mousy faces on all the ladies. Each page is a cluster of robots, rocket ships, and Kirby Krackle. It was kind of hard to follow what was going on. I mean it was just a few pages ago that I was in the wild west and now I’m in some psychedelic space adventure in which everyone is shouting and if I flip the pages too fast I will have a seizure. By this point I had given up on the story and was just there to admire the artwork and there’s definitely a lot to admire. When I say it’s a cluster of robots, rocket ships, and Kirby Krackle, I’m not exaggerating. You’ll lose a few minutes studying all the things crammed onto every page.
So does it end in a satisfying way? Not really. At a certain point it became clear that the coin and its journey was secondary and this was just an excuse to see Simonson draw 6 classic DC heroes and the worlds they inhabit. If you’re here for the art, it’s enjoyable but the story is way, way too rushed.
There’s a 4 page sketch gallery at the rear and although it only has a few lines worth of commentary by Simonson, something is better than nothing. I wish more DC books would have creator commentary at the back. Simonson is a legend and I wish he would have spoken more in the bonus material about his process or how the idea for The Judas Coin came about.
This 96 page hardcover is definitely not worth the $22.99 cover price. That’s kind of outrageous in my opinion and if you can only buy books at your local comic shop or book store then you may be better off waiting for a TPB version. Amazon is offering it for $12.64 which makes a lot more sense. $12.64 seems like a way more appropriate price for the amount of content you’re getting.
If you would like to see some brand new art from one of the medium’s greatest graphic artists then by all means pick this up for the Amazon price. But if you’re coming for a story you’ll be disappointed by the hurried pace, flat characterization, and lack of focus on the coin itself.