October 13, 2015

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Halloween Horror/MICE Preview: Boston Comics Rountable's Hellbound Five

Pictures of ghosts and goblins and horrors so menacing only comics could contain them will haunt you all month long with our annual Halloween Horror feature. Join us as we try to scare you with posts relating to our favorite comics designed to put a chill up your spine or scratch that itch you get whenever someone mentions Boris Karloff! We'll be at this all month with a variety of posts. You can find them all--along with entries from past years--at this link. But don't blame us if you can't sleep after reading them....


Hellbound Five: End of Comics
Written and Illustrated by Alison Burke/Tara Harris, Ben Doane, Dan Mazur, Stephen Cartisano/Ellen T. Crenshaw, Patrick Flaherty/Brenton Barnes, Garry Bonesteel, and E.J. Barnes/Clayton McCormack
Illustrations by Jerel Dye and Dan Moynihan
Edited by Stephen Cartisano
Cover by Roho
Published by River Bend Comics with the Boston Comics Rountable

Colored in an appropriate shading of black, white, and red, a group of creators re-unite with a few new faces for the final installment in this series put together with the help of the Boston Comics Roundtable. Folks talk about normal stuff in the face of disaster, hunt monsters, and use vampiric powers for good across a high-quality book that's a great pick-up for horror fans.

From the opening cover where a demonic figure travels in a path of blood, with a broken blade and the names of the creators inside etched across its deformed body, horror fans know they're in for a treat. Sometimes a great cover is all an indie anthology has going for it, but this one doesn't disappoint when you open the pages.

Leading off with a fold-out section that features two characters talking calmly while disaster strikes around them and ending with lust taken to an extreme worthy of any of the best pre-code horror books from EC, the entire contents are extremely strong. Editor Stephen Cartisano, who also contributes to the issue, gathered together a group of creators who vary in style (from the realistic look of Clayton McCormack to the near stick figures of Garry Bonesteel) but stick together well thanks to the use of a standard color palate across all the pages. There's also a lot of variety in terms of plot. It's not a matter of blood-blood-blood, gore-gore-gore, rinse and repeat. We see love stories, quirky tales, dead seriousness, and broad comedy from creator(s) to creator(s).

Here's a brief rundown of the stories, in order of appearance:

Brunch by Alison Burke/Tara Harris is a short gag opener, perfect to start off an anthology. This is the one with two characters sitting calmly. You get a hint something's wrong thanks to the plethora of broken windows in the background, which opens in the spread to a vast swath that shows maybe their conversation should take a different direction. I really like the splotchy way the shades of red were applied on this one.

Monster Hunt by Ben Doane was one of my favorites, because it's got that classic, Twilight Zone feel to it. An annual monster hunt in a small town gets thrown a monkey wrench when the monster backs out. But necessity is often the mother of invention, as we soon see. Doane does a great job of using color with restraint, meaning that the red ball cap or the wall of black shadow really pops against the thin lines of his illustrations. Done in mostly tight grid panels, the pacing and timing of the comic works to its rather monstrous conclusion.

Art by Dan Mazur
A History of the Hollywood Musical by Dan Mazur probably has the least-likely title in the collection, based on the theme. Yet it still a horror story, just one that takes a look at the horror from a different perspective. It's one part All the Time in the World, one part Last Man on Earth, and the restrained look at what happens when one man decides he's going on out on his terms instead of those dictated to him is note-perfect. As with Doane's work, the key here is using the pacing of the panels to tell the story. We can tell the passage of time for the protagonist not with a clock--or even any dialogue--but because of the nature of the details around him, as he lives out his days. The ending sequence is extremely powerful, and I love how Mazur structures it. His art style here is more about repetition and difference, rather than specific detail, aiding in the feeling and vibe. Really well done, and another of my favorites.

Art by Ellen T. Crenshaw
The Death of Love by Stephen Cartisano/Ellen T. Crenshaw gives us one of horror's great flavors, revenge, but with a different spin that I'm not sure I've seen before. A total jerk is having another one of his parties, looking for conquest. What he gets in return will give the term "you'll regret this in the morning" a whole new meaning. This is another story where color really drives the narrative, with red dominating everything, while Crenshaw makes it clear that the dude is a total predator. But his prey isn't quite as helpless as he thinks, and once the trap is sprung, it wraps up with a nice moment--rare for the revenge theme. I quite liked this one, too, and Crenshaw's linework, which reminds me a bit of Colleen Frakes, again does some nifty pacing work. The best parts, to me, however, are how she always leads the reader's eyes to the most important thing going on in the page, even if the page has multiple panels. 

Somebody Else by Patrick Flaherty/Brenton Barnes is our sci-fi horror, with scientists working on monitoring brain waves with the usual results when people try to do such things in a horror story. This one was enjoyable, but I felt like it was too cramped. There's a lot of potential in the idea presented here, and the ending just felt a bit rushed. While the team's artwork is technically sound, it also felt stiff, with mostly headshots talking to each other, mixed with a few longer looks. Compared to the others in the collection, the ability of the art to move the story didn't quite work on a personal level for me.

Art by Bonesteel
Blood and Breakfast by Garry Bonesteel continues the creator's look at killers, which he's done in the Jason Series (review here) to comedic effect. This time, however, it's deadly serious. Two wanna-bes take out a diner and try to impress an old veteran criminal. Bonesteel goes for a bit of a Pulp Fiction vibe here, and I think it works well. These three people deal with death, and seeing bodies everywhere means nothing. They either need to make a deal, or they don't. While Bonesteel might be the least technical of the artists involved in this anthology, he does a great job setting the scene, using blacks and reds as highlights, and structuring each scene to highlight just how monstrous these characters are, all with just a touch of snark. A ton of small panels give the dialogue something to attach to, as well, and the varied nature of the pages does a lot to move past whatever he lacks in pure art chops. 

Consummation by E.J. Barnes/Clayton McCormack closes the anthology, and as I noted above, it's probably the one that's most like a "traditional" horror comic. The art, by Clayton McCormack, shows that he's appeared in Heavy Metal, able to do the sensual horror needed just before things get downright creepy. What begins with two lovers turns into a lust that can never be satisfied, and again, as with most of the stories here, the art creates a pacing that drives the whole. Each of the small panels shows a bit of the action, focusing on little things that show you this is going to be more than a normal tryst. The realistic style was completely necessary here, as it's the details of the coupling that create the horror. It's a clinic on matching art to story, and a great way to end an amazing anthology.

If you are lucky and can go to MICE this weekend, you can probably get a copy of this at the show. The Boston Comics Roundtable will have a table, and not just this book will be featured. They have a whole range of anthologies for you to choose from. Can't make MICE? Add this one to your horror comic collection by going to this link.