REVIEW: The Artifacts universe is still reeling from the effects of issues #14-18 (Artifacts Vol. 4) and the Heart Stone plot was a slow burner after the previous excitement. However, the short story “Blood Rites” – spanning issues #22 and #23 – takes things up a few notches and returns to form. In issue #22 we saw a grisly murder and a demon hiding in the body of what appeared to be a mild-mannered church-goer. This time round, we see the conclusion to Tom Judge’s showdown with the creature and his attempt to remove it from its human host. Meanwhile, Tilly Grimes takes issue with Tom’s decision to keep abandoning her in an attempt to deal with problems such as these on his own.
This two-issue story arc is a delight for Artifacts fans. It features Tom Judge doing his thing both as an ex-priest and whilst rocking The Rapture. After an initial Tilly-driven prologue, the reader is thrown back into Tom’s fight with the slippery demon that issue #22 closed with. As always, Marz and Sejic can rustle up a great fight and the glory of the brawl is captured in a stunning two-page spread. Sejic’s creepy-yet-realistic demon barely has the opportunity to gain the upper hand as Judge blows him away with ease. The unique and creative layouts of the fight are typical of Top Cow. They are not ones for staying inside the lines and shun traditional layouts for ones that suit the tone of what’s going on within the panels.
As the character who takes us through the Artifacts story, Tom Judge is at his finest in this issue. He’s a former priest and throughout the whole series, there have been comments about his previous profession. But now we get the chance to see not just another peek of the Rapture, but also a glimpse into Judge’s past life. In an attempt to rid the demon from the man it is possessing, Judge performs an exorcism. Any fans of the classic horror movie The Exorcist will eat this up. There is no way lovers of horror can possibly look at an exorcism scene and not have flashbacks of William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece. The scene in Artifacts is a joy to read and is totally aware of what came before it.
After the police fail to extract a confession from the demon-infested-perpetrator, Judge steps in to perform an exorcism. While he tells the cops that it’s simply to play to the addled mind of their prisoner, it’s clear to Judge and his partner that this is an attempt to free the helpless man from the monster that has hold of him. The scene is dialogue heavy on Judge’s side as he performs the rite, just as the scenes from The Exorcist were filled with the priests’ recitations of scripture. During the earlier fight, Judge warns the demon: “I’m not a priest anymore…I don’t wear the cross…Unfortunately for you.” But fortunately for us, Judge isn’t afraid to whip out the exorcist attire once more and banish a demon or two for our reading pleasure.
Aside from the plot, this issue is just great fun for the regular readers. As previously mentioned, we get to see both sides of Tom Judge in this issue, which means that fans of the Rapture will be rather happy. However, the highlight of this issue is something that was also brilliant in issue #22. Miss Tilly Grimes. Tilly, with her half-shaven head and her mischievous grin is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. This issue opens with two glorious pages of Grimes-filled goodness. As a character who “possesses an almost magical ability to decipher numerical patterns” (according to the comic’s opening “Catch-Up” page), Tilly should be Tom’s right hand girl, but Tom just keeps venturing out on his own. By this point in the Artifacts story, it’s really starting to tick Tilly off and, as a reader, we totally sympathise with her. In the opening pages, she’s stumbled upon a great discovery and when she attempts to share this with Judge, she realises he’s ditched her once more. Tilly has stuck with Judge through some damn trippy stuff, yet he doesn’t seem willing to let her in on the whole story.
Tensions come to a boil in the exorcism, as Tilly ponders whether it’s worth letting the poor human deal with the trouble after Judge decides to pull the murderous demon from him. She really feels that Judge is the one making all the big decisions here and she’s just someone along for the ride. It’s unfair on her and she’s doing her best to help him out at every turn but Judge just keeps slipping away from her and following his own hunches.
Some of Sejic’s Tilly panels are nothing short of divine and there’s an absolutely gorgeous close-up of her face as Judge performs the exorcism and she can do nothing but watch from behind the interrogation room’s two-way glass. It captures all her frustrations and anger as she watches the horror of the demon that is controlling the poor man before her and the horror of the exorcism itself. Tilly’s a damn fine character and it’ll be great to see how she develops from this point.
Overall, this is a real highlight of the Artifacts series and one of my personal favourites that Marz and Sejic have produced together. Between them they created a thrilling fight scene, a tense and uneasy exorcism, and they put some real focus on the relationship between Judge and Tilly, therefore giving the characters a chance to flourish in what was already a great issue.