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Apocamon: The Final Judgement by Patrick Farley

New Testament APOCAMON: The Final Judgement, a Flash-based webcomic written and drawn by Patrick Farley of e-sheep fame, is kind of tough to describe.

So let's start with the basics.

I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language -- and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.

- Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine

There are two episodes, "EPISODE 1: THE SEVEN SEALS" and "EPISODE 2: THE SEVEN TRUMPETS" released back in May of 2001.

Episode 1 opens with John (just "John") living a lousy life on Earth as a Christian in the Roman Empire, on the island of Patmos, in the year 90 A.D. He prays and is visited by One Like Unto The Son Of Man, who grabs him by the hood of his robe and drops him in Heaven. Once there, DRONE-ANGEL 23-17-AB7A shows him around, then sets him down in front of God ("FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY, PLEASE DON'T STARE DIRECTLY INTO THE FACE OF GOD, OKAY?"). At that point, Heaven gives him a full-demonstration vision of the Apocalypse of the future (apparently as it is actually happening in our "present").

And John, a good and dutiful prophet, writes it all down.

So, on one level we have a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations.

On another level, though, it's much weirder. The art is derived straight from Manga , a particular style of comic art developed in Japan and noted for, among many things, its "cuteness." The monsters of Heaven and Hell are adorable and occasionally make cute little noises, which makes the havoc and destruction they wreak all the more disconcerting.

In fact, on the main APOCAMON page, there's a pull-down menu for WHO'S THAT APOCAMON? - "Confused by all the Apocalypse Monsters? Consult the handy Apocadex to learn more about them!" Pick a pull-down monster and you get a separate window with recipe-style cards, each of which has a description on the left (Type, Height, Weight, Stats) and a picture on the right.

Have I mentioned the Pokemon tie-in yet? The 'CuteManga'-style, the Apocadex distillation of the creatures of heaven and hell, the set up for a great battle... Farley is echoing the cult of the pocket monster (in which people, mostly kids, capture and train creatures to fight each other in order to gain points and standing – the Pokemon craze has spawned a cartoon, games in many different genres, movies, and a toy empire) with terrifying accuracy.

But he's also updating the cult for adults; between the grim subject matter, the rampant swearing, a rape which takes place off-screen in the gutter between panels (and in the gutter of our minds), the huge and graphically depicted death toll, and the deeply ironic presentation of the dorks who get to go to Heaven, Farley is talking to a confused grown-up population of believers, doubters, and everyone in between.

The APOCAMON webpage also has a link to the original text of the Book of Revelation (New International Version) at the Bible Gateway. Since Farley quotes large portions of it verbatim, it serves as a useful reference.

Both of the Episodes require Flash and open into a separate window. (There is a small test animation on the screen running a flashing "666" where Farley has helpfully noted "If thou seeest not the animation below, thy browser lacketh the necessary Flash 5 plugin.") There's a dramatic choral piece on loop at the title page of each episode, but the comics are otherwise without sound.

The Flash style allows for some good animation – watching the Lion of the Tribe of Judah turn into the Lamb "looking as if it had been slain... he had seven horns and seven eyes" so that it could open the "the Scroll" was particularly entertaining. It also moves faster than most comics, allowing for a very smooth viewing experience.

On the downside, links can't be provided to any particular example of work. The episodes are constructed as a single Flash file, thus making it impossible to reference or hyperlink any pages within a given episode. Moreover, the pages are not numbered, so although I took note of which page had what on it as I was preparing this review, telling you that the Lamb does (what looks to me like) the snoopy dance on page 47 of Episode 1 doesn't help you any. And, of course, it means that a reader can't easily take a break and come back to the point where she stopped.

As for the comic itself, the art is intriguing. Farley fakes CuteManga well, for something that does not appear to be his primary illustration style. Some of his humans are a little off proportionally, and John's hair randomly changes color every so often, but the beasts of Heaven and Hell are well-conceived and beautifully rendered. The breaking of the first four seals (in Episode 1) which each shift to show their respective Horseman of the Apocalypse ("Plague," "War," "Famine," and "Death") are especially well depicted. Farley has created disturbing visions of the horsemen that have all the familiar elements, but are unique to the style he created for this work.

The Four Angels at the Four Corners of the Earth, governed by the Angel Ascending From The East, are strangely beautiful, which is a jarring contrast to their bloodthirsty natures. The scene is tranquil, the words violent.

The third page of Episode 2, where the seven angels with the seven trumpets are depicted flanking God on his jasper throne, is fantastically colorful but still grim and eerily weird – in part because all of Farley's angels have a traditional ghost-like appearance, with minimal features and a bottom that drifts into a sort of tail, like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The writing is good, and evocative of the dark future he is presenting. Although Farley's characters speak mainly in colloquial English, he weaves the Revelations' narrative through it skillfully, minimizing the more dramatic flourishes and concentrating on the narration of actions. The juxtaposition of crude commentary by various characters with the formal drama of Revelations made me laugh.

I highly recommend APOCAMON as a strange, beautiful, disturbing look at religion, greed, science, and the world as it might be if the Bible were in all ways literally true. However, it's not known if or when we can expect Episode 3. Many of the creatures profiled in the Apocadex are not in Episodes 1 and 2 and Farley's only halfway through the Book of Revelation. With the promise of a new episode at the end of Episode 2 (and on the e-sheep.com main page), APOCAMON is not complete. That doesn't mean it's not worth reading, but don't get too excited waiting for a new update.

And if you find yourself humming “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” until you’re out of breath, it’s not the oxygen deprivation causing hallucinations – Apocamon really IS that wonderfully weird.