Comics on the Can – Hellbreak #1

GameStop, Inc.

hellbreakHELLBREAK #1
March 2015
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Brian Churilla
Colored by Dave Stewart (presumably not the Eurythmics one)
Published by Oni Press

Where I, Michael, sit on the throne and dispense kingly wisdom about the comics you want to read. I do it for you, the reader… and because I ate corn last night.

Don’t you hate it when you see a good idea take form in a consumer product and think to yourself “Damn, I wish I had thought of that!” I’m sure some toaster designer saw the four slice toaster and said those words. I’m even surer (but admittedly unverified) that when a toaster designer saw this…

You don’t know the POWER of the dark toast!

You don’t know the POWER of the dark toast!

He (or she) added “Holy Crap…” in front of the statement.

Yes, “Holy crap and DAMN”.

This rings especially true with writers and other creative types because ideas are our stock and trade. This isn’t an “I thought of making Thor a woman first” kind of bullshit. I mean this idea comes from an angle you didn’t see and because it IS such a good idea you feel like a hack for not thinking of it yourself (I may be coming down a bit hard on the insecurities of creative and artistic types but, face it, if you’re a creative type you ARE insecure, get over it). That was the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the cover of Cullen Bunn’s new creator owned series from Oni press called Hellbreak. The second thing that popped into my mind was “I’m not going to start a new series.” Then I saw the $1.00 cover price and the third thing that popped into my mind was “Wow that’s just three regular tacos on Tuesday at Del Taco!” (I tend to equate retail items in terms of number of tacos on taco Tuesday. It’s a quirk. This column is in no way sponsored by Del Taco where the crispy shrimp burrito is back for a limited time, hurry in!) The fourth thing that popped into my mind was “I’m suddenly hungry” but that has no direct connection to this column.

What I’m getting at is that the idea struck me as kind of a Dirty Dozen meets Hellraiser type joint. And boy was I pissed it didn’t occur to me

To add to pissed-off-ed-ness is when the idea you’re jealous of is well executed. The inner cover synopsis opens with “There are thousands of hells, each unique, each terrible.” DAMNIT, already the idea is opened up and explored! I LOVE the idea that each time these guys (and gals) go into the stygian depths it could be a different kind of Hell. I can imagine Brian Churilla saying “Stop, you had me at different hells, I’ve already got thirty character designs running amok in my head.” The synopsis talks about “Project Kerberos”, which is NOT a Rush/Awolnation supergroup (though that would be cool), funded by the church and working in conjunction with ordained exorcists and a special forces team using “Forbidden Technology”, not a Dave Grohl side project with Deadmau5 (though that would be cool too), to infiltrate a particular Hell and extract the soul being imprisoned. Of course, being an ex-catholic, the fifth thing that popped into my head was “Must be to get all those child-molesting priests out of well-deserved torment.” But that is tasteless and prone to a personal bias… and well documented testimonials from abuse survivors… but I won’t get into that here.

For the moment, in the opening issue, the church is what it seems; a line of defense against the legions of hell(s) sneaking into our material plane. The fact that that line is held with a combination of Latin phrases and crucifixes as well as heavy ordinance and sniper positions is just a solid idea. There is something very satisfying about a well done Bad-asses vs. Monsters story. Hellbreak looks to be one such story.

The first issue does the introductory shuffle right; kicking off with a little Greek myth (Orpheus and Eurydice) that introduces the themes and might foreshadow plot elements (spoiler, it does). Then onto the meat and potatoes; a couple have come to Project Kerberos to help with their possessed son. The extraction team, already on-site in a hell that looks like Baz Luhrmann loaned his production designer to Guillermo Del Toro, uses a “tether” to find the soul. Predictably, things go south and it becomes a mad dash to escape from creatures that change from Elizabethan masqueraders to things that look like what would happen if the Alien and the Leviathans from Supernatural had babies.

And now play some Barry White.

And now play some Barry White.

What isn’t so predictable is the nice and gory head shots the sniper of the team makes to aid the escape and the big explodo that follows. This a fun approach that, for me, is probably a holdover from the ’80s where horror took an action movie turn; think Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors or Phantasm 2, or arguably Predator, essentially “Screw this running from monsters crap! We’ve got automatic weapons and C-4! Let’s take the party to the monster! ‘MURICA! ‘MURICA!”. I’m about 30% sure that was a line from one of those movies and if it wasn’t it SHOULD’VE been!

The first issue also gives a taste of each character, admittedly a little undercooked, but the immediacy of the alien/teeth/Adam Ant fan club hybrid chase cancels that out. There is little room for deep exploration of the seven plus main characters. That’s for future issues. Basically issue one does what it’s supposed to; set up the basic rules of how things work, give a solid example, and intro characters. It is surprising how few first comics actually do those essential things. I guess a case could be made for this book utilizing every World War 2/action movie cliché out there, but Hellbreak walks the thin line between rip-off and homage; the book gets the spirit of its influences right as opposed to leaning on familiarity to shortcut narrative heavy lifting (see my review of Cyber Force for the other side of the coin). Good structure is good structure and when that is in place you can hang all sorts of variances off of it. Reading Hellbreak you can (or I can at least) sense a lot of possible story vectors because the foundation laid is solid.

Brian Churilla’s illustration work is both cartoonish and serious (maybe because of so many scowling faces), and the fun he’s having doing hell monsters is obvious. The two page spread of demonic Sponge Bob extras pursuing Eurydice is weird and disturbing in a different way than the hell where the initial mission takes place. The look could’ve gone dark, and I mean dark as in unable to make stuff out. Instead Churilla keeps things clear and emphasizes the important details (like lots of teeth). It’s a smart move and necessary to make the action clear and flow understandably.

I’m not knocking Churilla in the least but this seems like a title that would benefit from having guest artists play in the sandbox every once in a while. Each one bringing their own particular warped vision to a different hell. Consider J.K. Woodward’s work on a little known but fantastic book called Crazy Mary. Here is a page:

Shameless, I know.

Shameless plug, I know.

He’s more famous for doing Klingons now, but J.K. could knock a Hell based freak out straight outta the park and that’s just one example.

Hellbreak, hopefully, will live up to its potential. I don’t really expect Bunn to disappoint, but another drawback to being jealous of a good idea is when the idea doesn’t go in the directions you suspect it would. Like the members of this comic incarnation of the church I’ll take a leap of faith.

Final word if your store still has a copy of Hellbreak; spend the $1 to give it a try, it’s only a dollar ya cheap bastard and I’m sure you can skip the tacos for one week.

Random thoughts somewhat pertaining to the book but I couldn’t work in organically in the main review:

Actually this idea has been done before with Hellraiser: The Harrowers during the Epic comic series and touched on with the Boom series. The difference being that Hellbreak seems a lot more coherent and they have the good sense to bring grenade launchers when they go into hell.

Del Taco if you want to underwrite “Comics on the Can” I’m not adverse to a little corporate sponsorship especially with car payments due.

Damn, I loved that four barrel shot gun in Phantasm 2!

Other cool music team-ups:

The War on Sizyrup – Lil’ Wayne and The War on Drugs.
To Austin by way of Detroit – ZZ Top and Eminem.
I’d rather drink bleach – Morrissey and Iggy Azalea.

Another big horror to action shift with World War two movie structure thrown in for good measure – Alien.

“Nice and Gory Headshots” are appearing at the Fonda theater here in LA in April.

In the interest of full disclosure J.K. Woodward is a friend. He just did this commission for my daughter’s birthday and you can order prints of it from J.K.’s website or buy one at a con he appears at…


Hot Topic eat your heart out!


Next: A trio of superhero comics from an indy publisher called Black Jack Comics.
Later: Back to the box with Ultimate X-Men #46

Anytime Costumes

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