Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis

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Written by Dave Maass. Illustrated by Patrick Lay. Character design by Ezra Rose. Lettering and book design by Richard Bruning. Edited by Karen Berger. Published by Dark Horse Comics.

Mixing dystopian sci-fi, mythic fantasy, and zombie horror, Death Strikes: The Emperor of Atlantis, is a graphic novel based on a suppressed opera written in 1943 by Peter Kien and Viktor Ullmann, two prisoners at the Terezín concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. The authors did not live to see their masterpiece performed.

Set in an alternative universe where Atlantis never sank but instead became a technologically advanced tyranny, the power-mad buffoonish Emperor declares all-out war—everyone against everyone. Death goes on a labor strike, creating a hellscape where everyone fights, but no one dies. Can the spirit of Life stop this terror with the power of love?

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Praise and reviews:

“This is beautiful and strange, both for what it is and what it isn’t. As a story it’s fascinating and excellently told, as an artifact it’s heartbreaking and affecting. More than a footnote in Holocaust literature or a lost libretto given visual shape, it’s a reminder of what art is for, and how it saves and shapes us when everything else is gone.” — Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Good Omens)

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.” — Publishers Weekly

“Death Strikes is biting gallows humor, audacity, rage and clarity. I had to stop and stare into space for a while after I read this book. It leaves you vibrating. And the story behind it all calls back one of humanity’s ugliest parts of history from an angle that few know about. An amazing work.” — Nnedi Okorafor (The Binti Trilogy, LaGuardia)

“A beautiful story of defiance that resurrects and honors literature composed under the most horrific of circumstances. To stage an opera from the Terezin Ghetto within the pages of a graphic novel, where it can live forever upon bookshelves, is more than an artistic achievement, it’s a mitzvah.” — Spencer Ackerman (Reign of Terror: How The 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump)

“From the minds of artistic geniuses Peter Kien and Victor Ullmann came a searing tale born in the anguish of the Terezín concentration camp, where both men were imprisoned before perishing at Auschwitz. I cannot imagine a more powerful retelling of the opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis than this extraordinary graphic novel by Dave Maass and Patrick Lay.  Set in a world that is both ancient and futuristic, this dystopian nightmare presents humanity at its very worst, yet in the end offers the hope of the invincibility of the human heart. The book succeeds in adapting the operatic stage to the illustrated page and will encourage classical fans to emotionally connect to the music in a thrilling new way.” — JoAnn Falletta, Multiple Grammy-winning Conductor and Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra 

“This new telling of The Emperor of Atlantis is astonishing and compelling both for its lucid, powerful prose and dynamic, dystopian art. Maass and Lay present a creative reimagining of the original operatic narrative where the metaphors and warnings resonate within its historical context while also feeling frighteningly prescient and meaningful today.” — Teddy Abrams, Music Director, Louisville Orchestra

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