November 29th 2010

Dante’s Inferno

Review by Mervyn Charles

Well this is a new idea, a graphic novel based on a video games interpretation of an epic poem by a fourteenth century Italian poet. What next, a graphic novel dealing with the complexities and moral issues of Worms 2: Armageddon?

Anyway, in this reimagining of the epic poem we find our hero, Dante Alighieri, cast as a Crusader returning from the Holy Land to find that his fiancée Beatrice has not only been murdered but has also been cast into Hell as the result of a bet with Lucifer. Naturally, our brave holy warrior must do what he does best, slaughter lots of baddies while he journeys through Hell looking to free the soul of his beloved. Oh, and along the way he has to face up to the sins he has committed in his life, while Beatrice gets to see that her Dante isn’t the pure soul she took him to be before he upped and went on the Crusades.

In keeping with the original poem, Dante has to journey through the nine layers of Hell, encountering historical figures like the Roman poet Virgil, Richard the Lionheart and Cleopatra and Mark Anthony along the way. However many of these encounters, especially our hero’s encounter with his parents, come across as laboured. In part this is because this graphic novel moves along at quite a pace and there does not seem to be the time or inclination to develop these encounters. As a result the characters are flat, the dialogue does not flow or captivate the reader and Dante comes across as little more than a killing machine right out of a video game.

And herein is the biggest flaw of this reimagining of Dante’s Inferno. The graphic novel is more reminiscent of a video game than an actual graphic novel. It is all about defeating one boss after another then moving on to the next level than about any real storytelling, or the reimagining of an existing classic in this case. As a result, story and character development are sacrificed on the altar of combat.

Stylistically, the art has similarities to Dave McKean’s artwork from the 1988 Black Orchid mini series from DC.

However, in this case central characters are bold and defined while background scenes and incidentals are blurred, vague and have an almost otherworldly feel to them. While this fits well with the image they are trying to portray of Hell as a land of ill-defined and ever-shifting parameters, the background art is too vague for the reader to get a clear feel for what is happening in each frame. It therefore makes the graphic novel hard to follow, especially when so many of the frames depict scenes of combat. To overcome this, there is an extensive use of narrative but since when are graphic novels driven by narrative?

Overall, Dante’s Inferno comes across as a case of style winning out over substance. It looks amazing for the most part but it also loses the reader in other parts and resorts to repetitive narrative far too often. Also, it is very predictable.

Personally, I ended up with the feeling that I had just played a video game whilst in God Mode.

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