Pullbox Reviews: Hellmouth #5 – The crossover that really kicks the line into gear…

THE EVENT OF THE YEAR ENDS HERE! Angel and Buffy finally confront the enemy in the heart of the Hellmouth, but the journey has already taken it’s tolls. Beaten in body and spirit, they might not have enough power between them to save the world. With more allies than they know, Buffy and Angel will make their final stand… and not everyone will make it out alive.

Having entered the Hellmouth, Buffy & Angel have fought their way through demonic hordes to come face to face with the Hellmother… pretty much the personification of all things Big & Bad. In an unfortunate turn of events, that meeting was exactly what the Hellmother needed in order to bring her brand of Hell on Earth into being. After taking over Angel’s body, all she needs to do now is “fill the vessel” with the blood of a Slayer & her path to omnipotence will be complete. It just so happens that there’s one handy.

And she’s alone.

I was pretty happy when I learned that Boom! Studios was taking over the Whedonverse, if just a wee bit leery when I found out that it was going to be pulling a “soft reboot”. No secret, I’m not a big fan of reboots, if only because that well is usually drawn from when a board of studio execs wants to bypass anything resembling “creativity” by tapping into an existing property. It’s lazy, and the majority of the times I’ve seen it happen, it’s been a disappointing retread of what’s already been done.

But in Boom! I trust

I took in the first issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and once I realized what it was they were up to, I was fully on board. This isn’t so much a true reboot as it is a shift of setting & time. All of the characters & elements loved by fans were present & accounted for, with just some tweaks here & there to bring the stories into the current setting. Everything was familiar, while at the same time totally new. Anya’s running the magic shop, Cordy is a force on social media, Zander’s almost a vampire, & Willow is already tapping into her inner witch. Everything diehards loved about the show is on point, with enough new twists that it doesn’t feel like we’re just plodding over old ground.

Okay, there have been some bumps as the series got up to speed… Some of the storylines may have bounced around & subplots might have felt a little rushed. More to the point, I’ve had a little trouble getting into the art style of the main title, but overall it’s been cool being reintroduced to the crazy monster-infested world of Sunnydale, California. Through the first story arcs, the individual Buffy & Angel titles (Angel outstandingly written by Bryan Edward Hill) have been kept separate, with Angel still working to earn his salvation in Los Angeles. And then Boom! announced their first crossover event, Hellmouth, which finally unites the couple who defined “dark fate” for a generation.

From the first issue of Hellmouth’s five issue run, I’ve really liked the writing. That’s a huge step when you consider that the original Buffy television series was regarded as some of the best writing on the air at the time. Joss Whedon tapped into something special, & his fingerprints can be readily found in the work done by Jordie Bellaire & Jeremy Lambert here. As Buffy & Angel work through their descent into Hell, the dialogue between them is often hilarious & occasionally bittersweet as their original stories are hinted at. Bellaire & Lambert are dancing on the head of a pin, introducing these two pivotal characters to each other & giving nods to their roots while still holding to a new dynamic between them. If there’s one problem with the interlacing stories, it’s that there’s just so much going on- all of it at the same time- crisscrossing between three ongoing comics (Buffy, Angel, & Hellmouth). What I would love to see happen would be a trade release that collects this specific storyline into a single volume, maybe two. At the very least, I think that this arc might be better served on a binge read. However it plays out, Bellaire & Lambert had a lot of ground to cover… it’s completely reasonable to believe that any issue with following the various plots is more on the reader (that would be me) than on the writing.

So I’ve gone on record saying that I haven’t been completely sold on the artistic style of the main Buffy series. None of that hesitance followed me into the pages of Hellmouth. The work of Eleonora Carlini has been outstanding throughout the five issues, showing the perfect blend of character detail & dynamic action. It’s an important thing for something like this, a property with such an established fanbase, that the characters remain recognizable, & Carlini presents some pretty solid work on that count. Another hallmark of Buffy’s television series was the groundbreaking fight choreography, which may be a little dated now but was pretty intense for television at the time. Carlini takes that high bar & delivers its equivalent to the comicbook page, using blur lines during the action scenes to great effect, showing the speed of the combatants involved… Slayer, vampire, & demon. The finishing touch to Carlini’s work is presented by colorist Cris Peter, whose palette in this issue revolves around hellish yellows & oranges, with a sickly green thrown in to break up the chromatic monotony. Peter gives it all depth, & puts the finishing touches on the action sequences.

Finally, I have to give the nod to Ed Dukeshire’s work on Hellmouth’s lettering. Much more than just setting type to the written script, he plays with the style of both font & balloon to give different voices to the various characters. Just one example is the Hellmother- speaking through Angel’s mouth, she’s given an otherworldly quality by use of specific word balloons. Dukeshire, a letterer whose name is as recognized by me as many artists, puts everything on the page with skill & care. His text never interferes with the flow of a panel’s artwork, & is always easy to follow (sadly, not always the case with some letterers).

A crossover event in any comicbook has to have a hook that compels readers to dive into all of the individual titles involved. What Boom! has going for them here is a pretty devoted group of fans who have been hungering for a fresh look into a very familiar universe. Taken as a whole, what Hellmouth did well was to establish the single most important- & contentious- relationship in any iteration of the Buffyverse, that between Buffy & Angel. It plays off of the Slayer/vampire dynamic, & is more or less doomed from the start. For all of that, it’s still the central connection on which many of the others will build, & it’s been handled well (so far).

Final Score: 9

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