by William Messner-Loebs and Sam Kieth
Piranha Press (DC Comics), 1989
Isn’t it weird how sometimes perfectly good comics can somehow completely slip through the cracks?
We’ve reached an era where it feels like eventually every comic ever published will be reprinted, possibly in a hardcover omnibus format. The two issues of Epicurus were apparently reprinted in 2003, but it never registered on my radar in either iteration before now.
The story is a satire of philosopher-obsessed Athens in the era of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates when there are so many philosophers around they’re like mosquitoes to the general populace. Each has their own contradictions and neuroses, and only the newly arrived Epicurus seems to be able to see through the idiocy. Then Epicurus is charged by the goddess Demeter to rescue her daughter from Hades.
My poor description is not doing this book any favors. The satire-focused first half is very funny. Epicurus is a great stand-in for Messner-Loebs as he questions not only the specifics of individual philosophies, but also the whole point of philosophy itself. Bright-eyed young Plato tries to formulate the allegory of the cave and comes off sounding like an idiot every time. No one wants to listen to him, but none of them have anything interesting to say either. The philosophers share a universal arrogance — there is no self-awareness, though in some sense, that’s what they’re all looking for!
Which is why I found the underworld business less interesting. I don’t know, maybe the satire couldn’t be sustained much longer than what it was, and the descent into hell is interesting in its own right, but it’s just in a different mode.
The art by Sam Kieth is spectacular. His current art is scratchy beyond normal tolerance levels. Here, it’s remarkably tight and cartoony/rubbery at the same time — we tend to forget what a good artist he was at the height of his powers. And we forget how overwhelmingly he was influenced by Bernie Wrightson. The layouts are completely bonkers, with Kieth seemingly fitting together every random shape imaginable into panel arrangements that are somehow always easily readable, even in two-page spreads. Some beautiful effects are created with the pre-computer coloring.
I hate to end this on a bad note, but Messner-Loebs has been in financial trouble in recent years, and Sam Kieth’s art seems to be getting worse every time I look at it. This is such a good comic, I don’t know what went wrong. I was just as guilty of missing out on this comic as everyone else — twice!
Kumar Sivasubramanian is the writer of Weird Crime Theater.