cover image Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis

Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis

Dave Maass and Patrick Lay. Dark Horse/Berger, $24.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-5067-3730-0

Journalist Maass and cartoonist Lay debut with an appropriately unnerving graphic novel adaptation of Der Kaiser von Atlantis oder Die Tod-Verweigerung, a satirical 1943 opera scripted by librettist Peter Kien and composer Viktor Ullmann while they were imprisoned at the Terezín concentration camp. In the story’s alternate history, Atlantis became a global empire instead of sinking into the sea. Emperor Overall, who has never seen another human being and calculates all decisions by profit margins, rules an Orwellian dystopia locked in eternal warfare. When the emperor declares “all out” war, “everyone against everyone,” Death goes on strike, while his companion Life (drawn as a Pierrot who resembles Joel Grey’s Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret) complains that no one wants his services anymore. Two human characters, Soldier and Worker (“turned rebel”), form a truce and set out to depose the emperor. Lay’s art, tinted in smoky gray ink washes, evokes a landscape of desolation and smog that echoes the battlefields, ruined cities, and prison camps of WWII. Maass’s playful script, with its pitch-black humor and fiendish turns of phrase, honors the original opera without being overly reverent. A grim but ultimately hopeful glimpse of an age when “humanity is in freefall,” this parable captures the defiant spirit of artists during the Holocaust. (Jan.)