Written by: Cullen Bunn
Art by: Brian Churilla
Published by: Oni Press
This comic has a really, REALLY cool central concept that lured me in and appealed to my interests; a special ops team that performs rescue missions to save souls from hell. Despite not being a fan of military type books like the team in the story, I was very intrigued by the more mythical aspects of the book and so gave it a shot. Overall, I came away satisfied. However, I was let down by the military element of the book which felt pretty clichéd and flat.
Let’s start with the good. For the most part this book is hugely creative and creepy. A lot of what I enjoyed about the book comes from its style; a real mix of science technology as well as traditional religious symbolism give a very distinct look that artist Brian Churilla depicts fantastically. His talents are shown right at the start with a horrifying double page-spread showing the creatures of the underworld. Things really get impressive, however, when we take our first trip to hell. There’s a real subtle yet unnerving quality to this interpretation, a masquerade ball which really drives the tension as we begin to wonder what’s beneath the masks. Bunn and Churilla assault us with tons of creepy images and concepts and it’s where the book really shines. It’s even suggested that this is one of only several hells that exist so I can’t wait to see what other interpretations of hell we see as the series progresses.
Where the issue loses me a bit though is in the central team dynamic, the guys who are sent in to rescue souls from hell. As stated I’m not a fan of military type books and, unfortunately, Hellbreak has done nothing to change my mind. The characters all feel very flat with none of them really displaying much personality, instead spouting quips that could be taken from just about any Call of Duty game (or even Gears of War, which this book strangely reminded me of). There is an attempt towards the end to give the leader of the group some development in a last minute twist, but it doesn’t spice things up too much and instead feels like yet another cliché. It’s disappointing given how much creativity Bunn displays in literally every other aspect of the book that this would fall so short. I just hope the dynamic can improve in later issues, but if it doesn’t I’m happy enough to remain on board for the sheer creativity in the other elements.
Overall, I can still strongly recommend this series given how impressed I was in the horror elements, but the action stuff just didn’t work for me. If you’re someone who enjoys that kind of stuff though then you’ll probably enjoy this way more than me, in which case I’d definitely recommend it. As of right now though, I think it’s pretty damn good yet held back in some areas.