"The Damned #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Oni Press
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Brian Hurtt
Colored by Bill Crabtree
2017, 32 Pages, $1.00
Comic released on May 3rd, 2017
Eddie can't die, at least not in the traditional sense. Any time his heart stops beating, it'll start up again if some poor sap touches his corpse. They basically swap places with him in the afterlife. He's also running the Gehenna Room, a hip nightclub with one rule: No demons allowed. Oh, I forgot to mention the demons, didn't I?
The Damned is set in the prohibition era where demons run the successful crime families, trading in souls. It's essentially a demonic version of the mafia and yes, it's as awesome as it sounds. This is an exceptionally interesting world and this issue (along with the introductory trade paperback) just scrapes the surface. There are a number of new elements at play that only serve to pull you deeper into this story.
At its heart is Eddie, who could easily stand toe-to-toe with the icons of noir and gangster movies of old. He wears a permanent scowl and I doubt the man ever smiles. His face is scarred from all the violent ways he's died over the years, adding to his cold demeanor. Despite this, he oozes cool. Eddie looks like the kind of guy that you'd do whatever you can to impress.
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This primarily comes through in his design. Artist Brian Hurtt says so much about the character from his appearance. This is also true of Pauly Bones, an old friend of Eddie's that turns up like a bad penny. From the first time you see him, you know that he's no good. Everything about him looks slimy, like he wouldn't be above conning an orphan out of his lunch money. It doesn't help matters that he's got a couple of suitcases with him and a hand out.
Hurtt does so much with Pauly's facial expressions. There's a sequence as he's talking to Eddie, where it's clear that he's looking all around the room to make sure it's safe to talk. He has a paranoia about who might be listening to him. His eyes dart from side to side throughout the panels as he leans in close to chat up Eddie. It's a nice, subtle effect.
While Hurtt creates some amazing looking humans, the demons are off the charts. These are hulking, intimidating beasts that look capable of tearing a man apart with their bare hands. Even with all these demons walking around, the scariest character seen in The Damned is a mysterious woman named Deidra. She's wrapped in robes and blankets from head to toe, occasionally revealing gnarled hands that are spotted with blood. It's this element that makes her so disturbing. This is seen perfectly in one panel where she offers a blood-splattered cup of tea to Eddie with a stunned look on his face. Just imagine that for a moment. You go to visit someone and everything they touch becomes blood-stained. You don't have an explanation for why, but it's more than enough to creep anyone out.
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It's no surprise that blood stands out in a book like The Damned. A key to a great horror comic is getting the blood just right, and colorist Bill Crabtree definitely does just that. It's on point in the aforementioned scene with Diedra and it's eye-catching in the opening and closing pages. It cuts through the drab, grey suits worn by the people on the street, standing out in an almost unnatural way. I guess that makes sense since you're not really supposed to see all that blood outside of a body, right?
Between this first issue – which is priced at the absolutely insane cost of $1.00 – and the previous trade paperback (also valued priced at only $9.99), this is an effective way to launch a series. You'll become instantly engulfed within this world and be dying to learn more. Unlike Eddie, you won't have the luxury of bouncing right back. If you ever watched movies like The Maltese Falcon or just about anything starring Edward G. Robinson and thought they'd be better with demons, The Damned is for you. This has a great pace, amazing artwork, and a dynamite story that makes it a must read.