Pullbox Reviews John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Hell #1 (of 8)

In New York City, a massive monster is destroyed by a subway train… and its surviving reptilian companion can speak English. In Columbia, a scientist crawls up from the depths of the Earth, bringing news of a miraculous new mineral power source… and demons below. In Texas, a convicted murderer is spared at the last minute by an international conglomerate which wants to organize an expedition to the center of the Earth, with him as a guide. Because, like the scientist, he’s been there.

The whole team is headed straight to Hell.

It starts with a rock. Not just any rock, but a new mineral with properties that have the whole world in a tizzy. Dubbed vidrauxite, clutched in the hand of Dr. Jordan Correll as he clawed his way out of the ground, the properties of this rock have drawn the attention of every major corporation with any kind of ambition. Front and center, Celeste Delaney is the one with the cash & connections to set up a deep-sea research platform in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, the gall to have a death row inmate she needs swapped out with some other poor bastard, and the ambition to pull together a team of experts qualified to explore the bowels of Hell.

Stefanie Billings is the occult expert with info on what we think we know about the Underworld. Marion Marshall Dix is the convicted murderer & former death row inmate who’s been to Hell and escaped to tell the tale. Captain Lamb is “the Army guy” with the very manly beard. Dr Jordan Correll is the geologist who carried the vidrauxite out of the Pit. Brandon Samples is the “trouble shooter” with a history. Finally, we have the mysterious reptilian Kartkas… the refugee.

If this is all starting to sound like the setup for a classic Aliens style of horror/action movie, you might have just hit on what I think could make Hell – the comic, not the place- awesome!

Given all of the heavy lifting that had to be done in the opening issue of a story like this, there are going to be hiccups. There were times where writer David Schow seemed to take narrative leaps, skipping ahead through a scene as if the edit bat had been swung with impunity to get things down to a requisite page count. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder what got left behind “on the cutting room floor”, and would things be better or clearer in a collected “director’s cut” edition (#ReleasetheSchowCut)? Also, some of the dialogue was oddly placed, and it seemed like panels were placed out of order. It could also be a matter of pacing, where taken cinematically the characters are talking all at once and the conversation gets a little jumbled. I think I actually kinda like that explanation, since I related to the comic as a movie anyway. Schow’s story played out in my head, and as it moved along I kept mentally inserting Ripley into the scenes to smack some sense into these people as they’re literally planning a trip to Hell for the sake of some corporate R&D division.

That cinematic experience is helped along by the artistic team of Andres Esparza & Sergio Martinez. Esparza’s work is impressive, from character design where everyone is given a look specific to the role they play, to some slick camera perspectives that give a really good sense of motion and scale. Because we’re still in the “getting to know you” phase, there hasn’t been much in the way of action, but I’m looking forward to watching the hellspawn feces hit the fan. Martinez’s colors take the tone started in the illustrations and lays down the exclamation point by giving everything depth and atmosphere. In the early pages where we’re shown Dr. Correll’s harrowing climb out of the underworld, Martinez pulls the reader into the cramped crawlspace. The lighting puts the focus on Correll’s eyes, wide and dilated in sheer terror as we take in the desperation on his face.

Every comic’s unsung hero deserves a nod, and letterer Janice Chiang is no different. The narrative in Hell moves along a couple different “voices’, and Chiang is able to keep them all distinct. The story is being told in a first-person POV by Stefanie Billings, laid out in text boxes. Then there’s the main line of dialogue from the majority of the characters. Finally, there’s the one who I think might be the true star of the show, Kartkas. He’s an interesting character with a unique perspective that’s shown through his dialogue & the lettering it’s presented in. Nothing overly stylized, to the point of being unreadable as happens in some comics, but enough to show that this is a very different voice from the rest of the cast.

I’ve rambled a bit, but that happens when I find a comic that grabs my attention. There may have been creative choices that I didn’t get, or that didn’t get me, but in the end it was the crazy indie movie vibe that sucked me into Hell. That shouldn’t be a surprise given that it’s an attitude I’ve seen reflected many times, in some of my favorite horror/sci fi/action movies… many of which carry the name of the man at the top of the page.

The Thing…

They Live…

Escape From New York…

All of these flicks, and many more, helped shape how I watch movies, always with an eye toward new angles given to old genres. With this instalment of John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction, that kind of storytelling is carried over into comics. As we’re getting ready to take a journey into Hell, I can’t help but wonder what kind of crazy spins of the wheel we have to look forward to.

Final Score: 11/13

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