CLIVE BARKER’S HELLRAISER Issue 1 Retro Review
“Be warned — at the end of this forward, things are going to get horrible.” These are the opening words of the forward by D.G. Chichester. The forward then proceeds to give a bit of a history lesson that leads up to this monumental first issue. Let me summarize for you.
After the success of the first two Hellraiser Movies, Epic Comics (Think of them as Vertigo, but for Marvel) wanted to get in on the action. Initially, they wanted to do an adaptation of Hellraiser II : Hellbound. They soon realized the potential for so much more. The tried and true Anthology format of most successful Horror comics in the past, was perfect for the Hellraiser franchise, but used as a full exploration of the mythologies that were established with the first two landmark films. What other Cenobites lurked in these forbidden realms? Is the Lament Configuration the only configuration? These questions and more were to be explored. [Follow the Link to read more…]
Don’t expect a comic that is the monthly exploits of Pinhead with these books. although he does appear occasionally, he isn’t the focal point. No, these are the stories of other Cenobites, and more importantly, the people whose lives are forever altered because of their interaction with these monsters.
This series was released as a quarterly series, starting in March of 1989. This year also saw the launch of Tapping the Vein from Eclipse Comics, which was a series of adaptations from the Books of Blood. For whatever reason, Epic did not put out the second issue until Jan of 1990. In this series, I will be covering all the series that were put out, in the order that they were published. Wednesday is new comic book day, and I plan on that being Clive Barker Retro Review day as well! But enough about that. Let’s discuss Hellraiser!
Each issue held an average of four short stories. The first story, of the first issue is called “The Canons of Pain.” It was written by Erik Saltzgaber with art by John Bolton. These are both names you will see me mention a lot. Saltzgaber was heavily involved in putting together the “bible” of this comic series as well as contributing to several of the stories. He also wrote the Weaveworld comic adaptation. John Bolton is very well-known in the comics world. He went on to do some very well know work, such as te first issue of The Books of Magic with Neil Gaiman. Here is a fun fact. Tim Hunter, the main character of this series is modeled after Bolton’s eldest son. One could argue that technically so is Harry Potter, but I won’t get into that here. Bolton also painted the cover to the issue.
The story itself takes place in the Crusades. The Count of Carillon is on a mission to find the Arrow Pierced Shroud of St. Rubrub. Instead he finds a puzzle box. One that looks quite different from the one we are used to from the movies. The Count returns to his home a broken and defeated man. His wife quickly realizes he is gone for good and proceeds on a quest for her own. She has joined the battle to combat evil in all it’s forms. Her studies show that this box is gateway hell, her version of it anyway, the biblical hell. In her mind, if she can prove the worth of the box her husband brought back, then he will feel vindicated and be himself again.
She opens it and a Cenobite arrives. The Count interrupts the proceedings and is killed for his efforts. The Cenobite, happy with a soul, departs. The Wife and her monk companion, for a partnership, to wage war on the evil. This Partnership evolves into more, and The Lady is pregnant. After the two think they are better prepared to battle the Cenobite, who they still think is either Lucifer, or an emissary. Once again, he gets summoned by the box. After a particularly gruesome crucifixion followed by a speech worthy of Pinhead himself, he tells the survivors that he has some mercy, and that one may stay. The final frame tells you all you need to know about “mercy.”
This opening tale lets the reader know what kind of book this is. There was no Pinhead, nor was this the iconic Puzzle Box, yet the story was Hellraiser through and through. Human ego and frailty were the stars of this piece. Just as with all the truly great Hellraiser stories.
The next story “Dead Man’s Hand” is a really short, yet effective story. This was written by Sholly Fisch, which really surprised me. Fisch is mostly known for writing for younger audiences of DC Comics. He has recent,y been doing Backup features for Action Comics. The Artist, Dan Spiegle, has had a very long career in the comics industry. One accolade of his that made me take notice is that he helped create a character for DC Comics known as Mister E. Mister E was also in the the aforementioned Books of Magic. Small world, huh?
Basically this story, taking place in the Old West, deals with a Mysterious Stranger who walked into the local pub and interrupted a game of Poker. He suggests one hand of Poker. “If I win, I get everything you own…”
The other player, Jed, agrees. Through some flashbacks, we see that Jed has had some good and bad patches in his life. As this one hand plays oit, you see the puzzle box start to open. There is some great moments of tension here. Jed wins the hand. The stranger tells him, he promised him the most valuable thing on Earth, and so…he closes the box and takes it with him. Jed knows he just won his soul and celebrates. This is a fun little story with an unexpected twist.
Our next tale is my favorite of this issue, “The Warm Red.” Jan Strnad, who has done too many things to list here, including Star Wars, was the writer of this tale. One of my all time favorite comic artists, Bernie Wrightson, provided the art for this story. Wrightson co-created one of my favorite DC Characters, Swamp Thing. He is currently working on an amazing story with another Barker Alum, Steve Niles,.in Frankenstein Alive, Alive! I highly recommend it.
The story revolves around a shady real estate broker who is trying to close the deal.on some property. It is an incredibly hot day, and she is using all of her skills, and the advantages that a hot day can bring. The owner of the Property, Brian, seems resistant to the charms, even when the woman is completely naked. It is at this point that she story shifts.
The woman falls over, drugged, and wakes up tied to a bloody mattress. Brian has a puzzle box. This is where we get the first appearance of a new Cenobite, Face. He is a recurring character, and one of my favorites. Brian and Face have been working together for a while. It appears as though Brian skins victims for Face. But Brian has been slipping lately. The woman sees an opportunity, and takes it. She is a shady Real Estate Broker after all. She suggests she becomes Face’s new Partner. Face shows interest. Soon the deal is made, and Brian finds himself tied to the bed and facing the scalpel.
This is my favorite of the issue because of the way it reflects the original Hellraiser story, and the sequel. Aside from the obvious bloody mattress, we have seductions, shifting alliances, and Face is the most Cenobiotical (is that a word?) Cenobite in the issue. There are flashbacks, that help set the tension. It is just a well done story from beginning to finish.
Finally, we have “Dance of The Fetus” Ted McKeever did both art and writing duties on this. He had only been in the business for a few years before doing this story, but had already made quite a name for himself. He has done work for Marvel, DC, Epic, Vertigo, and numerous other companies. I happen to be one of the people who is not a fan of his work however. His art style is too…sloppy for my taste, which can take me right out of a story.
This story is no different. I was very confused by the whole thing. As best as I can tell, there is a Cenobite named Mr. Soul, or maybe he isn’t a Cenobite, but an escaping soul such as Frank. A woman named Alice has been leaving raw meat out for him that he is using to slowly bring himself back. So yeah, Maybe not a Cenobite. Anyways, it seems that Alice wants to kill herself, but has been unsuccessful, so now Mr. Soul is going to have a try at it. The artwork is vague her, but it looks like Mr. Soul crawls into Alice, through her mouth so that he can control the body during “The Deed.” While inside Alice, he takes notice of a fetus. Deciding that it wasn’t part of the deal, he removes the fetus before killing Alice. The Fetus just sort of floats away. So the assumption here is that it was the spirit of the fetus, not the actual physical Fetus. Anyways, that is how this first issue ends.
The first issue was mostly some amazing horror comics, even if you aren’t fans of Hellraiser. I wish the last story wasn’t there, or just placed elsewhere in the issue, because it was rather anticlimactic. But just as I sad with the first story,.this issue is very indicative of what you can expect from this series. I enjoy the Anthology Format greatly, when it is done well, and this is done well. In my mind, I have always tried to.justify the straight to DVD Hellraiser movies, by saying it falls into this format. If only they hadn’t thrown Pinhead into every movie. If you noticed, Pinhead only shows up in the cover, but none of the stories. That just goes to show that there are a lot of great stories to tell, that explore the Mythology, without trying to turn Pinhead into another Jason, Freddy, or Chucky.
Okay, I have gone on long enough about this great first entry into the world of Clive Barker comics. Join me next time as I discuss Tapping the Vein Vol 1!