Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Satania’, out now from NBM Publishing.
By Arpad Okay. Is Satania a slow burn horror tale, a trip to the world’s core, a treatise on human nature, on nature itself? Yes. Exploring the depths under our world leads our heroine, Charlie, and her team deeper than almost anyone on the surface has dreamed of. Through the cracks in the earth, backwards in time, into a psychedelic mirror of the human body, to a place where all morals have melted away.
Satania is about entropy, the spirit in contest against circumstance. The scientists, philosophers, and family who embarked on this journey into Hell all de-evolve in their own ways. Those who stick to their convictions waste away morally (and physically). The ones who bend with reality end up committing murder or self-sacrifice. The survivors are the ones who let their morals slip away and give into their passions. The purity and power of curiosity is what keeps Charlie alive when all the other lights go out.
Fabien Vehlmann’s disturbing story is amplified by the childish, Moomin-esque artwork of Kerascoët. There’s a picture book, innocent Yoshitomo Nara air to the characters whom have traveled into the living heart of darkness. They work together well, Vehlmann and Kerascoët, because the Hell of Satania is a reflection of the child’s world: an intermingling of innocence and cruelty, pulling the wings off a butterfly.
Yet Vehlmann puts to bed the idea that this immaturity ends with adulthood. A blind eye is turned to the facts that contradict our beliefs, the illusion we wish we lived in remains intact, and a path opens to ego, to danger, and in Satania, to murder.
Charlie struggles with men imposing childishness on her. Being spoken down to, men putting themselves in charge of her body to protect her, and fawning over her as if it’s magic that a woman can be resilient. Charlie puts an elbow squarely in the side of each man who blocks her path to rescuing her lost brother (the real reason this expedition was undertaken in the first place) and in the end is one of the last ones left.
Satania is just as much about nature unraveling as humanity. Beneath the caves we are hesitant to plumb lies a dense metropolis hewn from the rock, a modernist utopia as seen by antiquated eyes and rendered like Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Art Deco block buildings as wide as they are tall, and a cacophony of stairs, bridges, and plazas, crisscrossed with strings of electric lights. Beneath the city, crystal caverns give way to a ceiling of vermilion vegetation resembling the dermis ripped away to subcutaneous fat, and a long drop into a sea of lava.
Traverse the world of red on the stomach of a giant sloth and things get even more bizarre: A rainbow of melting tropical fruit and rotting husk caverns. The wondrous creatures of Hieronymus Bosch give way to Cambrian attack plants and quasi-amoebas. Star-faced Lovecraftian beasts that want to eat you. The amplified illusion that our heroes are on a Fantastic Voyage rather than a Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Which is one of the core parallels in Satania: how much madness, murder, and horror can you blame on circumstance? The people on the surface want to eat you, too. As time recedes and life becomes survival, Father Monsore bemoans the erosion of Reason, that life has become impulse. What folly it is to believe that man is outside the circuit of nature! As if the world is all by accident and only man’s plans are structure. The truth: both humanity and nature have darkness within them.
Vehlmann and Kerascoët have their characters undergo endless suffering so that the reader can philosophize on innocence. Their stories aren’t without morals — they smash the moral compass. Charlie, flawed, perfect, dooms the men around her and indulges in forbidden fuit, never lies about who she is or what she intends, never masks her needs to attain them. She is the hero of Satania, a book that pulls the beam from scale, topples nature and purity. Charlie finds the silver lining in Hell: wherever you go, there you are.
Written by Fabien Vehlmann.
Art by Kerascoët.
Letters by Ortho.
Translated by Joe Johnson.