"Oh, Hell: Volume 1 – Chyrsalides" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Written by G. Wassil
Illustrated by Dave Hamann
Colored by Michael Birkhofer and Ross A. Campbell
Looking back on my life, I realize that I was a total moron when I was a teenager. I'm sure some can argue that not much has changed between then and now when it comes to my intelligence. Teenagers can be emotional powder kegs and generally a pain in the ass. That seems to be the case with Zoel, a rebellious young woman who hates the world because her birth parents dropped her in a dumpster. Her loving adopted parents can't take it anymore and send her to a boarding school...which turns out to be Hell...literally.
Oh, Hell wastes no time getting to the netherworld. The curtain is pulled back within the first ten pages and we're introduced to the cutthroat rules of this school. It's really a school too. The instructors aren't trying to empower these young minds. Instead, they're trying to create demons to serve a dark entity that is most likely Satan. Creator / writer G. Wassil outlines the ins and outs of this place pretty quickly.
There are a ton of great concepts in Oh, Hell, but it's tough to concentrate on them when it all centers on Zoel. She is an annoying, unsympathetic lump of a person with a massive chip on her shoulder. I get that her birth parents gave her up and I'm sure that can cause some emotional scars, but she was raised by two kind, normal people that took her in for some reason. She thanks them by wearing a permanent scowl and getting a neck tattoo. It's no wonder they sent her to Hell.
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Zoel is literally thrown together with another student named Zipper and somehow strikes up a relationship of sorts. This feels rather forced. The two are clearly broken, so they have that in common. Although Zipper is a supporting character, he's far more interesting than Zoel, coming from a troubled home and a pretty screwed up family life.
In fact, Zoel suffers from the Ted Mosby Syndrome from How I Met Your Mother, where all of the other characters are way more entertaining than the main one. Everyone else around her is well crafted and fills a certain role. Maybe I'm overthinking this and I'm supposed to hate her until she can eventually be redeemed like Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. I don't think that's the intention though.
Despite the way I may feel about Zoel (whose real name is Angela, by the way), she is brilliantly rendered by artist Dave Hamann. His style reminds me a bit of Rob Guillory's on Chew. You can feel the teen angst pulsing from her from the first time we see her in the present day, sulking in the back seat of the car. Hell, she looks pissed as an infant when she's in that dumpster on the second page. (I guess I'd be angry too if someone put me in a dumpster, but I'd get over it sooner or later.) Zoel's look personifies teenage rebellion. She's got piercings, different colored hair, the aforementioned neck tattoo, and an overall Goth fashion sense.
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Hamann's talents extend to the other characters and especially the demons. These are incredible creatures that would be home on any metal album cover. When you think of the word “demon”, this is the stuff that comes to mind. The headmaster is one of the stand-outs. His transformation is suitably creepy, going from a weird old man to a hulking green beast with knees that bend the wrong way. His fingers end in sharp talons. His back is hunched with each notch of his spine jutting out in a bulge. The strangest and perhaps creepiest part of the design are the red tendrils that swirl out of his sides.
The artwork is perfectly complemented by colors from Michael Birkhofer and Ross A. Campbell. Despite its location, Oh, Hell is a bright, vibrant book. The fires burn with the intensity of a thousand souls. Conversely, the scenes in the real world are somewhat dreary by comparison.
Oh, Hell has a great premise, but doesn't come together. Instead, it's more like a poor man's Morning Glories. Things start to align by the end of this first volume. By that point, we're eight chapters in and full of rage out how Zoel lashes out at anyone and everything because of something that happened to her at birth that she can't possibly remember.