Seek Salvation with J.M. DeMatteis and ‘Seekers into the Mystery’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Young. I felt age and bitterness, dissolution and depression melt away. Felt my bones shrink, my skin grow taut: limbs gangly, eyes bright with wonder. A wave of almost uncontrollable energy and enthusiasm swept up through my toes…ran like an electric shock through my legs, chest, arms, and head.

This, I realized (whooping with delight): This is what it was to be young! To be a boy! This is what it was to climb trees, scrape knees, swat baseballs, share secrets, chew gum, drink rain, race lightning, sword fight, fly, dream, die, and be reborn…all in one autumn afternoon.

Let me get this out of the way right now: I’m kind of a sucker for mid- to late-90s Vertigo titles. I was in high school and college at that time, and I was pretty much the prime target for Vertigo’s “adult” storytelling that alternately blew my mind and showed me what the medium was capable of.

I’m also a huge fan of J.M. DeMatteis, who—unlike most people—I discovered through Vertigo. Most comics fans know DeMatteis through his work on DC and Marvel superhero titles. Me? I was introduced to him through his epic Moonshadow series, which Vertigo published in 1994. (Republished, actually; the original came out under Marvel’s Epic imprint in 1985.)

Moonshadow completely blew me away and remains one of my favorite series of all time. I immediately set to work scouring back-issue bins for DeMatteis’s other works. I read much of his contribution to the superheroic canon (with Spider-Man and the Justice League), but his titles with DC’s “experimental” imprints – Vertigo and Paradox – ended up as enduring favorites:  The Last One, Mercy, Brooklyn Dreams, and Seekers into the Mystery.

That last one—Seekers into the Mystery-was originally put out by Vertigo in 1996 and has never been collected. Until now.

For DeMatteis, this was a story unlike any other, since it just…magically appeared in his mind. (Apologies for the “magic” bit. If you’ve read the story, you know.) As he explains in his introduction to the new edition:

In November 1990 I was in India, sitting inside the Tomb-Shrine of Avatar Meher Baba, when an interesting thing happened: a story came to me—a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end. I didn’t think about it. My wandering mind didn’t dream it up. The story was just…there. No details. No characters. But a complete framework for a tale.

Seekers into the Mystery was that story, and it eventually turned into the story of Lucas Hart – a struggling Hollywood screenwriter who is going through some…strange events. His inner demons have taken corporeal form; he has the ability to astral project; and encounters with aliens, angels, and otherworldly religious beings are becoming routine.

The story wades into serious waters since many of the events are set off by Hart’s recovered memories of sexual abuse when he was a child. The journey he recounts through the story is one in search of the enigmatic Magician and ultimate salvation. I’m not gonna lie; this is an overtly religious story, and it also seems to be intensely personal for DeMatteis (who, if you follow him online, doesn’t shy away from his connection to Indian spirituality).

Indeed, the character of The Magician, who forms an integral part of the story (take a look at the cover, above), bears more than a striking resemblance to Avatar Meher Baba.

It should also be said that Seekers isn’t for kids. It was part of the Vertigo line for a reason.

Seekers into the Mystery was intended to be a massive epic. DeMatteis had ideas for several years’ worth of stories, characters, and themes to explore. This would be his magnum opus.

Unfortunately, the series came to a premature end after only 15 issues. Thankfully, DeMatteis had enough warning and was able to bring the story to a logical conclusion – though it was hardly the ending he wanted.

The first five issues of the series were collected by Boom! Studios several years ago, but this new release by Dover Publications is the first time the series has been collected in its entirety. And it’s a gorgeous book that carries serious heft. It includes a new introduction by DeMatteis, all 15 issues and their original covers, and a few original character sketches by Glenn Barr.

In a sense, I can understand why the series failed to grab a wider audience as single issues. The story reads incredibly well in a single go. Breaking the story up into bite-size chunks destroys the momentum and energy it develops. As with Moonshadow, Seekers into the Mystery is enhanced by and really benefits from the compilation.

Complementing DeMatteis’s story is phenomenal art by Glenn Barr, Jon J. Muth, Jill Thompson, and Michael Zulli. This one comes highly recommended. Check out this new Dover edition, and then scope out as much of DeMatteis’s work as you can. You’re welcome.

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