The last time I picked up a Hellraiser comic I felt it seemed to miss the point. Over twenty odd pages I read about armies and wars and plans and generals, all framed by some less than impressive art that made me wonder how Clive Barker's name had gotten on the cover. Gone was the torture-porn fairy tale I knew and loved, even more distantly removed from the tone of the source than the miserable direct-to-video installments that followed 'Inferno'. Even with the infinite landscape of imagination that comics could provide, the writers felt it necessary to define the boundaries of Hell, making it just another mundane fantasy landscape only with more male frontal nudity. Having heard lead writer Mark Miller talk about this new mini-series, I sensed a possible return to form, telling short non-canonical stories that turned the Cenobites world back into a toy box for creatives. As a fan I was duly intrigued and hopeful. The result is a bit of a mixed bag. Each volume is an anthology of shorts, two stand-alones and a third that tells a serialized story that will presumably stretch the running time of the mini-series. Frankly, especially with this issue, it comes off as goofy a bit more than I expected. By the second story I began to get a 'Tales from the Crypt' vibe, like Pinhead and crew weren't so much scary as drifting into the realm of horror comic hosts. The purist in me bucked a little against this, but having also tolerated quite a bit of bad 'Hellraiser' media, I also appreciated that the writers and artists seemed to really try to have a good time and bring a bit of creativity to the table.
The first story sets itself in 1940, with a young blues singer sitting at a crossroads, trying to sell his soul to the devil, a la Tommy Johnson. A mysterious stranger comes along and gives him a Lament Configuration guitar; havoc predictably ensues. The guitar immediately set a silly tone for the rest of my reading, but credit where credit is due. Writer Christopher Taylor does a fine job reinterpreting the 'Hellraiser' story in the Deep South despite the inherit ridiculousness, and Jason Shawn Alexander's art is the first in the series to be cringingly good at violence, while also being suitably rich enough to depict this kind of story. Some good twists and the camp factor actually worked in the stories favor.
The second story is very brief, more of a skit than a story. Basically, the Lament Configuration gets used for porn. It's a great idea, not fully explored, but disturbing and with a weird comic note to it. Out of the two issues so far, this bit was my favorite, simple, creative, and a nasty idea worth exploring in greater length.
In the third we get the second installment of Pinhead's captivity at the hands of some mercenaries who have been promised cash in exchange for the Pope of Hell's pins. Like last issue, Carlos Magno's art is striking, a vague manga feel to the compositions and designs backed up by hyper detailed stippling and hatching made me read through the story slowly so that I had time to stop and admire his work. The same can't be said unfortunately for the writing however, a story with no surprises now or anticipated in the future. For being the flagship author on this book, Miller's contributions to both have been the most disappointing, and why this story was given six issues to stretch out its skinny feeble legs is beyond me. Still, it means more Magno art in the future, so that helps temper complaints.
It doesn't skimp on the art, it's mildly creatively written, and nothing in this issue is as bad as 'Symphony in Red' from the last issue. Should horror comic fans rush out and demand this one? Not really, but its inoffensive fun that has moments of charm as well as artistic talent backing it up visually. And that's good enough for right now.
Writers: Christopher Taylor, Ben Meares, Mark Miller Artist: Jason Shawn Alexander, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos Magno Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 9/17/14 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital