I've been re-reading some comics lately, and I managed to rediscover one of my favorites and reminded myself why this was the case. Consider this a review / love letter for it, and if you are interested in reading it afterwards and haven't before, be forewarned: there be spoilers ahead.
Horror comics are a strange breed. If you think horror movies are hit or miss, you definitely have not read some of these. First off, the genre itself becomes exceptionally vague when it comes to this medium. Too many times, over the course of a series' run, it becomes more evidently fantasy, or science fiction, or just plain superhero tales. True horror comics are hard to come by, though they do exist.
As a reference point, I still have copies of old black and white stuff like GoreShriek and the oversize Nightmare on Elm Street. They were black and white not necessarily because of the low budget printing, but because the comics code authority would flip out if they were released with so much red on the page. I graduated to underground stuff like Cry For Dawn, an anthology series by Joseph Michael Linser and Joe Monks. Linser, for the record, is one of the most incredible artists I have ever seen. Think it didn't make an impact? I have a tattoo of the three tears logo from that series on my left arm.
Still, CFD only lasted nine issues. GoreShriek and NoES didn't last much longer (the latter was only two issues, at least in the form I'm referring to). Even Faust, Tim Vigil's classic Adults Only title didn't go that long. Finding a horror comic that went the distance was not an easy thing to do.
Then I discovered Hack / Slash by Tim Seeley.
The basic premise is this: Cassie Hack was the girl at school everyone picked on because she was poor, wasn't that pretty, and was just plain weird. Her mother, the school lunch lady, was not happy at how the other kids treated her precious daughter. Like most mothers, she wanted to protect her child. Unlike most mothers, she did it by killing the kids who made fun of Cassie and served them up to the other students. When Cassie discovers this, her mother kills herself by sticking her head into a pot of boiling water (or oil, was never quite clear on this). Unfortunately, this did not stop her. She returned from the grave to continue killing the kids who tormented Cassie, forcing her daughter to kill her again. Once this happens, Cassie realizes there are some people who are so evil, death cannot contain them. These are Slashers, and they need to be stopped.
After encountering a deformed behemoth of a man named Vlad in Chicago, they team up and scour the country, killing Slashers wherever they find them.
The series knows its roots. It began as a series of one-shots, trade paperbacks, and mini-series that featured appearances from Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), and even Chucky from the Child's Play movies and Herbert West from Re-Animator. It did not rely solely on established slasher icons, though. It built its own, every bit as scary as the ones in the movies. We got Bobby, a mentally-challenged man who was accidentally killed in a vet's gas chamber one night, and now can summon dead animals to do his bidding. Father Wrath, a fire and brimstone evangelist from the South who had a penchant for dressing in women's clothing and trying to molest little boys until he was killed, then raised from the dead to destroy the unbelievers, sinners, fornicators, whores, and drunkards by a girl named Laura Loch who discovered a book of spells in her church basement. Jimmy and Lloyd, twisted brothers who want to stop the re-imagining of classic comic book characters to have darker overtones, and honestly, defy explanation (ever seen the X-Files episode "Humbug"? That's the general idea).
Among horror comics, the series is unique; for its longevity, if nothing else. After several of the one shots and limited series, it got a run of 32 continuous issues with Devil's Due Press. Then Image comics picked it up for another 25 issues. Then a few assorted one-offs. Then a six-issue crossover with Army of Darkness (yes, she teamed up with Ash). Then another five issues.
By its very premise, the series could have been done horribly. But Seeley obviously knew what he was doing. By the end of the main series run, you cared about the characters. Cassie and Vlad's relationship was only one small facet of the bigger picture. They gained friends along the way, from among those they saved. We did not just get to see those minor players through the main character's eyes, either. Lisa and Chris, the survivors of the first two storylines ("Euthanized" and "The Land of Lost Toys") meet, fall in love, and have a child together. Cassie befriends and eventually has a relationship with Margaret, aka Georgia Peaches, from the first main series arc. And then there's Pooch, a deformed dog / hell-beast also introduced in that same arc who returns to find the "most hated Cassie Hack" for his demonic overlords before realizing that his new masters (Chris and Lisa) treat him so much better (yes, he talks, and if you ever wondered what your dog might be thinking, Pooch probably comes close). Cassie defines Pooch better than I can: "You look like a dog swallowed a baby, and petting you is like stroking a five foot uncircumcised wiener."
Come on, that's awesome.
It blends humor, gore, sex, and everything else that made horror entertaining in the Slasher era. Yes, the stories sometimes get a little out there. It's not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But the depth of character, the interplay between those characters, and the richness of Cassie and Vlad's individual backstories are something you don't normally see in horror comics.
There have been rumors about it being turned into a movie, but that's the wrong direction. Put this thing on pay cable so you can do it justice and make it a TV series.
Are you going to learn anything by reading this? I doubt it. But it's a fun diversion for horror fans. I definitely recommend picking it up. You can get all the original stuff in Omnibus trade paperback form from Amazon or your local comic shop. The last two collections are not in an omnibus, but you can get them individually (Army of Darkness vs. Hack / Slash and Hack / Slash: Son of Samhain, Volume 1). At least check out the first omnibus and see if you like it. If you're as demented as me, I'm betting you'll get the rest soon enough.
As a side note, to explain the title of this blog: do a Google Image search for "Cassie Hack". Look for any picture of her holding a baseball bat with barbed wire or spikes on it. Read what's on the bat. Get it? And if you're feeling especially naughty, do a search for "Cassie Hack Suicide Girls". Yes, she's on their site, and yes, she has a photo shoot posted on it. It's comic book art, not an actual living model, but that's some serious crossover going on there!