Hellbound is one of those horror graphic novels that poses more questions than it answers at first glance. The cover looks like a painting from the VHS boxes of my childhood rather than something I’d expect from a comic or graphic novel. Initially, that is what caught my attention. When the description promised that readers would follow two FBI agents as they solved an unusual case that is more than meets the eye, (Gee, that sounds familiar) I knew I was in. Of course it was a bonus that Dark Horse promised that fans of Se7en would enjoy Hellbound.
This graphic novel was a fairly large collaboration, as far as comic projects go. The script was written by Victor Gischler, a writer of humorous crime novels, Angel and Faith comics, as well as a variety of Marvel titles. The artwork was broken up in an interesting fashion; there were three artists. The cover artist, the one who got me interested in the book initially, is Lee Bermejo. I didn’t realize the cover was his work, at first, as I know him most from his work on Fight Club and the Before Watchmen series. The interior artists, Riccardo Burchielli and Francesco Mattina have equally impressive resumes. They divided the inside work in a unique fashion, with Burchielli doing the majority of the story, while Mattina illustrated the flashbacks and chapter breaks, and the color work was left to Luca Saponti. This approach made it very clear when something was happening in the past versus in the present in another location, which was incredibly helpful for the surreal story being told.
Burchielli’s artwork is beautiful. It treads the fine line between realism and the cartoon-ish super hero comics I grew up with. Add to that the color work done by Saponti and even the most mundane scenes are brought to roaring life. (Click the preview image to the left to fully appreciate the detail.) The crime scenes visited are as imaginative as they are repulsive, and reminiscent of something that might have aired on Hannibal.
The same high praise can be given to the section dividers and flash backs illustrated by Mattina. They looked like paintings and were deeply rooted in realism. Given the disturbing nature of most of the flashback sequences, this was the perfect choice to really unsettle readers. Beyond simply being disturbing, however, these pieces were each exceptionally gorgeous. They revealed a great deal about the characters, which shows a huge commitment to detail on Mattina’s part. The project is aided by the fact that Burchielli and Mattina’s work flowed exceptionally well together. Saponti’s color work matched up with Mattina’s divisions, and the shift from ‘comic book realism’ to full on realism wasn’t jarring.
Overall, the team’s artwork is exceptional. The realism of the regular human beings, settings, and objects made the appearance of otherworldly evil that much more grotesque. (There is a scene where evil things are having a feast that may inspire nausea. Consider this your official warning.)
The story was compelling and combined a variety of successful elements. The first few pages of Hellbound reminded me of Se7en, like the book blurb promised. From the character interactions to the reveal of the first murder scene, the book feels like it’s going to be a crime drama rather than the fantastic roller coaster it turns out to be. Brew takes the role of wild-eyed and vicious Mills to Mirchandani’s level-headed Somerset, and the men set about doing their job. X-Files fans will appreciate the nature of Agent Mirchandani & Brew’s work, tracking down perpetrators of bizarre crimes which defy explanation. The pair bump heads all the while, in a playful manner that suggests they have worked together for a long time. Supernatural fans will note similarities between this story and that program. Although Hellbound is more intense than the show by leaps and bounds, fans will appreciate the role that the mysterious man in the junkyard armor plays.
Overall, the graphic novel was great. I loved the fact that there were non-Caucasian characters in leading roles, and that there were a few female characters who seemed to be able to hold their own in combat. My only gripe is that the characters were a little flat. While this isn’t a deal breaker for comics or horror in general, it was a bit disappointing since there were so many things about this graphic novel to love. I was hoping for a slam dunk with this title. Don’t get me wrong, I do highly recommend this book; the plot’s twists and turns kept me very interested and I’m definitely pre-ordering a copy of my own. However, I need to mention that if lack of character development is a deal breaker for you, you would be better off to latch onto a series rather than this
(as of now) one shot.
WICKED RATING: [usr 9.5]