"Hellbreak #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Oni Press
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Brian Churilla
2015, 32 Pages, $1.00
Comic released on March 11th, 2015
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Everyone loves a good heist movie. There's something about a small group of people getting together to take something that doesn't belong to them that's just so damn entertaining. What if instead of stealing money or jewels, the prize was human souls? Hellbreak from Cullen Bunn and Brian Churilla plays with that idea, as an elite team called the Kerberos Initiative venture into the depths of Hell to bring back souls...for a price.
Hellbreak brings up an interesting point, specifically when dealing with demonic possession. Most of the time, the human's soul is still trapped somewhere in the body, powerless to do anything but watch as a demon walks around in his or her skin. If an exorcism is performed, everything goes back to normal. That's not the case here. When a demon takes possession of a body, the human's soul is forced out. Think of it like a swap. With the demon here, there's a hole in Hell that must be filled, so that's where this poor person ends up. And thus, the maguffin for the comic is created.
Souls aren't depicted as spirits or inanimate objects. They're people. The field team Orpheus heads down into Hell to rescue a person. This adds a level of intensity to the whole operation. They can't just throw a jar into a bag and make a run for it. They're protecting a human being from all the terrors of the underworld in an effort to get them back to the land of the living where they'll go through years of therapy to get over the trauma they've faced.
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Speaking of the terrors, there are plenty. The level of Hell that this issue dives into is like a twisted version of Eyes Wide Shut. At first, it just looks like a Victorian era elite party. People are wearing fancy gowns and suits with powdered wigs and assorted animal masks covering their faces. It's creepy on its own. Then we get into the bowels of the party and find the horrors lurking below. That's when the scare factor jumps to eleven.
Artist Brian Churilla took those party guests and changed one aspect about them to make them into monsters. He replaced their faces with two gaping jaws filled with jagged teeth. Everything else about them is the same. Now I see why they were wearing those masks. The very look of these things is disturbing and unnatural. They shouldn't exist.
While what this team is doing is noble, it is a job. They can't rescue everyone trapped in Hell. They came down here to bring back one guy. Who knows what would happen if they tried to grab everyone else too? This is an extraction operation. It's quick. In and out. This tugs on the heartstrings a bit when you see all these other people suffering and there's little to nothing that the group can do for them.
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We get a basic introduction to the members of the Orpheus team with this premiere issue (which is only $1.00, by the way). They fill some of the stereotypes you'd expect from a group like this. There's a hard-nosed leader, a joker, a woman that takes no shit from anyone, a dorky tech guy. They come off very natural, like they've been working together for some time. They're real. We don't get a full history of each of them, but that's not really necessary. We are given a bit more backstory for the leader, Jenner, that instantly humanizes him and provides a deeply personal reason for why he's working with this group.
Hellbreak can at times resemble a blockbuster action movie akin to the Expendables. Then it pulls back the curtain a bit and reveals that this elite team of soldiers is not fighting Columbian drug lords or Mel Gibson. Instead, they're fighting the forces of Hell itself, in all its terror. This is a damn satisfying first issue and you are not going to find a better deal on the comic stands right now.