WE GOT ISSUES: SLAYER: REPENTLESS

What follows, dear reader, is one random miscreant’s thoughts regarding the new comic book based on the music and the members of the massively popular thrash metal band SLAYER. Since this unique work of fiction is dangerously straddling two worlds notorious for strong opinions, constant infighting, and misanthropic tendencies, I felt that I should start off with a sort of clarification/mission statement about what you’re about to read, for everyone’s benefit — but mostly for mine. The goal here is to inform and entertain, without getting swatted and then stabbed in the face. Wish me luck!

What I’ve got to offer here is a good thirty years of experience as both a comic book fan and a metal fan. Have I read everything out there? No. Have I heard every SLAYER album? Not yet. But I feel qualified enough to write this fucker. It’s an online review, not an academic treatise; let’s not get hung up on the minutia, for that is the undoing of many a scene, and the great crasher of parties. Instead, let’s just take a glance at this peculiar beast, warts and all, and have a laugh along the way.

Still here? Outstanding.

So what exactly is the deal with this book? Strap in. Slayer: Repentless is a comic book miniseries based on a trilogy of music videos that are in turn based on the music from the album of the same name. It’s a Russian nesting doll of badassery, with each new outer skin adding a layer of narrative. What began (as so many great metal albums do) as a shrieking, convulsing sonic release valve soon took the shape of a story.

That story is of two brothers, Adrian and Wyatt, driven by the murder of their family into a life of hate among the American Nazi Party. Adrian eagerly rises among their ranks, while Wyatt, after losing an eye in a street fight, leaves them behind to start over in a small, secluded town, where he settles down with a black woman named Angel. Determined to punish his brother for what he sees as a twofold betrayal, Adrian tracks him down, and what follows is an escalating war of retribution, one which steadily adds soldiers to each side’s ranks until the entire town of Repentless is engulfed in gunfire and knee-deep in blood.

That’s essentially it. It’s a simple, familiar premise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s very true to the driving force of the band and the genre they operate within. Very primal and direct in message and execution, more show than tell, no time for extraneous bullshit. The final comic is lean and mean, three issues total, in and out. Sometimes you just need to vent, to watch the great antediluvian dance play out again, if for no other reason than to add your mark, to show that you too admit to possession of a bit of darkness, and acknowledge that it serves no constructive purpose.

The comic is very successful in this regard. Writer Jon Schnepp has wrapped an ablative sentiment in just enough structure to get the point across, and the art of Guiu Vilanova and Mauricio Wallace bring it all viscerally to life, if only long enough for it to get blown to Hell. Men are stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, riddled with bullets, and detonated into ragged, gory chunks in an economic sequence of panels streaked with red and splattered with ink. What this team accomplishes visually is truly impressive, emotionally gut-wrenching, and ultimately, metal as fuck.

There’s just the one aspect that I had an issue with. It’s something that, depending on your personal perspective, is actually endemic in metal music and culture, and thus perhaps not even problematic in this context. It may even work in the book’s favor. It’s certainly consistent. But for me, it broke my immersion and harshed my buzz. That aspect is the cheesy shoehorning in of song lyrics.

This is a licensed property, I get that. Even the band SLAYER is, in our cynically capitalist society, another slab of intellectual property, and you need that name recognition and fan service if you’re serving up a product with their name on it. But it’s gratuitous, even in something as over-the-top as this, and diminishes its effectiveness in favor of reminding you that this new album is out. The characters who had, up to a point, been fleshed out and developed are, by the end of the story, just spitting out what are clearly song lyrics, turning pathos into karaoke.

I do not know for sure whether this was the decision of the writer, the band, or some weasel of an A&R rep, but whomever insisted on giving it the green light should hang their head in shame. You had me hooked for dozens of pages, and then suddenly all I can think about is KISS, and their manufactured money machine, and how echoes of it have invaded the world of metal with a capital M (an M dripping with blood, emblazoned with a pentagram, and festooned with entrails, I might add), where shit is supposed to be too real and hard for nonsense like this. Each of the three chapters of this comic list the song lyrics; I do not need them in the dialogue, or in the boxes of narration. It’s overkill, and it’s threatening to turn all of my deadly serious into derply silly.

Despite the digression, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into here that makes it all worthwhile. Whether it’s the arresting art, the miles and miles of nihilistic attitude, or the fact that the creators take such a strong anti-Nazi stance, you come away from this uniquely SLAYER experience with a familiar post-show fatigue, an aggressive satisfaction that may not have made you any wiser, but it did help you get through one more day as a human being on this planet, and that’s something which becomes more of a battle with each passing day. We can use all the help we can get.

Jared Blumberg

Jared Blumberg

My personal idiom is simple: Comics in, comics out. You can see my reviews at oneofthemreaders.wordpress.com, find me signal boosting on Twitter @rabbit11comics, and behold my scribbles on Instagram via rabbit11comics.
Jared Blumberg
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