“And the text goes on to say… After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said, ‘may the day of my birth not be included among the days of the year.’ You see, Job, as he experienced his trials and tribulations, had one major question, and that question is, ‘Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul?'”
George Parker, Lynette Story, Winston Fontenot and a girl known only as Jade are bitter souls. Their lives are unending misery. George is a crackhead, Lynette a grifter, Winston a corrupt policeman, Jade a professional in the sex trade. One man, Pastor Secord, saves all four of these people. He gives them powers, amazing superheroic powers. But more than that, he helps these people redeem their lives, regrow their souls, and fill their days with passion and selflessness and the fight to eradicate mystical evil from the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Light is given to their lives, and each of the four heroes begin to grow individuals and as a team. They fight vampires and mystical axe-murderers and skeletons and other nasty mystical menaces until the final chapter of this story, when they realize the true depth of the evil that exists in the world.
Of Bitter Souls is an ambitious and very interesting character study crossed with a straightforward and exciting super-hero comic. The characters are heroes, larger than life, but it’s a tribute to the quality of Satterlee’s writing that I found myself completely caught up in the characters in this story more than their heroic adventures. Though it’s impossible to separate one from the other, really: chapter two ends in a wonderful scene where George gets ghosts to leave a house that they had been haunting simply by talking with them. It’s a satisfying scene on several levels. Of course, a scene like this cuts against the grain of most heroic adventures. It also produces a wonderful scene where the other members of the team sit around bored waiting for a resolution. But more than that, the scene shows that George has grown as a person, has found some wisdom as he has pursued his new life.
What’s really satisfying is the humanity of these character in OBSs. The characters’ reactions seem to flow from their personalities rather than the need to advance a story. In one chapter, Lynette falls off the wagon and starts grifting again. Lynette even uses her power to turn back time to help her win thousands of dollars at a casino. However, when Lynette confronts her friends, she suddenly realizes how stupid she had been, and how much she had changed away from her old ways. Without a second thought, Lynette realizes that she betrayed herself, and turns her back forever from her grifter ways.
The most interesting character in the book for me is Jade, who takes the name Magz (short for Magdalena). Magz had been living a completely empty life, one in which she hated every minute of what had happened to her. When she meets Secord, it truly was like a gift from above from Magz. She very quickly becomes the most devout of the heroes, shaving her head and even donning a priest’s suit. Magz very quickly becomes smart, often wise, and becomes the heart and soul of the team. Magz changes dramatically as the book goes on, and her transformation is fascinating.
Everything coasts along very comfortably for the first five chapters. The characters are happy, the plot is proceeding nicely, everything seems copacetic. But in chapter six the story goes to a whole different level. The true enemy of our heroes is shown, and it makes their happy life much more complex and meaningful – not to mention scary. They also see the true nature of Pastor Secord, something that none of them expected, though something that was hinted at in the story in numerous clever ways. The heroes are all deeply shaken by sixth chapter, and so are we readers. How bitter will the battles be that our heroes need to fight, and how tough will the struggle be for them?
None of this would work at all without the terrific art by Norm Breyfogle. Breyfogle was a popular cartoonist in the ’80s and ’90s, drawing Batman for many years, but had fallen out of favor in the industry. In 2005 he returned to comics to draw Of Bitter Souls, and his art is even better than it had been back in the day. Breyfogle breathes life into his characters. Each of our heroes is complex and interesting people, and Breyfogle is terrific at conveying those personalities. He’s also wonderful at drawing the city of New Orleans, successfully bringing alive a Crescent City that may never life again. The Mardi Gras scene in chapter one really makes the city come alive again, and the graveyard scene in chapter four brings back the spooky charm of that very unique city.
Only the first several issues of this collection were published individually, which makes this collection especially wonderful. In this book, readers get several issues that were never published, bringing the first phase of the heroes’ lives to a nice conclusion. It’s a treat to read this collection, which also includes a host of extra features.
This is a super-hero comic with a wonderful twist. The heroes in this book are real heroes, men and women who fight evil because they crave redemption for their wretched lives. It’s a unique premise, beautifully conveyed by the team of Satterlee and Breyfogle.