Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Brian Churilla
Release Date: March 11, 2015
Preview pages via Bleeding Cool
Cullen Bunn has a fondness for spiking traditional narratives with the horrific and supernatural and seeing what chaos ensues. In series like The Sixth Gun and The Damned, the writer introduced demonic and unsettling creatures into, respectively, a western story and a period crime drama, and the results made for creepy, compelling stuff. His new series, Hellbreak, offers a military/spy thriller setup that’s laced with religious horror, and the hook of real-world combatants confronting spiritual terror is pretty terrific. Think Mission: Impossible meets Dante’s Inferno. As high concepts go, that’s a good one.
The first issue opens with a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, as a white-haired man named Marik Proctor discusses lore and religions with a couple that has come to his organization—Kerberos Initiative—for help. A demon has possessed the pair’s child, and the proverbial crack squad of trained professionals ventures into a corner of hell to seek out the victim’s soul. Artist Brian Churilla renders the underworld setting neatly, with a slight wrongness to the location helping remind the reader that the palace through which the team proceeds isn’t a terrestrial one. The art nicely captures surreal details, such as the ornate party masks the team wears to infiltrate an infernal, decadent party based in the aesthetic of old-world French aristocracy. The demons residing there are an impressively grotesque bunch, with multiple mouths and the requisite unpleasantly-long tongues. Dave Stewart’s coloring also contributes greatly to the sense of place, enlivening such locales as a hallway illuminated by stained-glass windows or a palatial space with much of the color drained away.
This issue serves to introduce the team in broad strokes: the aging field commander, the sniper with a fondness for explosions, the tech expert in over his head and others. With one exception, we don’t learn about these characters’ pasts; if Hellbreak were a movie, this would be, more or less, the scene that plays before the opening credits, giving a sense of both what a typical mission is like and what the stakes at hand are. The narrative also allows for some impressively incongruous scenes, such as a man in full military garb surrounded by masked demons.
Though this issue is largely self-contained, there are a few threads that suggest the history of this new world, from the blend of science and mysticism to the trauma lurking under the the psyches of the team members. And team mastermind Proctor’s discussion on afterlife “derivatives” may well acknowledge that the storylines to come will borrow from a host of traditions regarding hells and underworlds. Hellbreak is a concise, promising beginning—one that both establishes a fertile premise and shows how compelling stories can grow from it.