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‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time
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‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time

Even in an incredibly crowded field, The Hellbound delivers one of the more meaningful crime stories of recent memory, and does so by embracing the complexities of the genre. 

It stars detective Kyung Hoon Jin as he investigates people who are being burned into char (read: sent to hell) by some big monsters. Jinsoo Jung is a religious (read: cult) leader with the explanation for why people are getting charred. Their intersection is where the story plants itself and takes the time needed to unpack all of the complications therein. 

Part of the recipe for the success is in the simplicity of the detective. He’s a cop with a murdered wife, and a son who doesn’t seem to be adjusting. Dad threw himself into work, which isn’t helping anything. “Cops catch criminals,” is his catch phrase! It’s all very basic, and it would feel more generic if it wasn’t the point. While Jin doesn’t feel incompetent, he does feel in over his head, facing something too complex for his simple viewpoint to handle well. He isn’t a man consumed as much as he’s a man being consumed by everything in his life. 

‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time

Dark Horse

There are many foils for Kyung Hoon Jin throughout the series, including the aforementioned Jung, who’s complexities deepen across the series, but something I found particularly interesting was the role that social media personalities played in the narrative. An offshoot of the main religion is an extremist sect that escalates situations through social media, and it feels prescient. The group influences and manipulates listeners into “righteous” action, and they do so through the use of social justice language. It brings to mind the way the alt-right convinces others (and themselves) that their crusades are righteous, and how they convince others to join them. 

‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time

Dark Horse

Importantly, these characters are clear villains of the series and only cause problems, but the depth is apparent as well as they’re also shown to be manipulated, and the entire situation acts to explain—without excusing—their actions. People are getting spiritual notices that they’re going to hell on a particular day and time! As far as anyone knows, it happens every time! Why wouldn’t people go a little bit crazy, or treat it like a religious experience? 

‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time

Dark Horse

The art of The Hellbound is really interesting, both because the whole thing is adapted from the scrolling WEBTOON format into a more traditional graphic novel, but also because of the aesthetics in general. 

I haven’t read any of the graphic novels that started as WEBTOONs yet, so this was an interesting experience for me. I really like the infinite scroll and the way creators have used it to effect storytelling, so I’ve largely opted to experience comics in that format when available. However, this I’ve only read as a collection, and really, if I hadn’t known, I wouldn’t have noticed at all. The translation was seamless as far as I can tell, though I do want to go through and see what kinds of changes there are. If anything, though, it made the book feel extremely well-paced, with a low panel count per page that makes it easy to keep reading. 

The aesthetics of the art are another matter, and their execution is interesting to me. The page above is a good example of how effective series artist Choi Gyu-Seok can be. The staging of the page is wonderful. The characters and the giant ghost head all clearly inhabit different spaces, even without any kind of forced blurring to differentiate fore- and background. The likeness is also great, as we can tell the ghost head is the woman in the room, but the difference in expression is great too, really selling the horror of the moment. The fingers reaching toward the reader is another great touch. 

That skill is all over the book, but I do think there’s some weirdness to the art at times. There are points where the line weight on a page, and at times even in a single panel, varies in ways that don’t match the look of the rest of the book, and ends up standing out in a way that doesn’t feel organic. At times it seems to be used to focus the eye, but oftentimes it feels unnecessary. Still, ultimately the art is wonderful and tells the story well. There are far more good examples of art in this comic than bad ones. 

The Hellbound is a beautiful crime comic about broken people, and how they try to help the world. Even when crime stories are becoming more popular, both in comics and in the wider culture, it’s able to stand out by executing its ideas as well as it does. 

‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time
‘The Hellbound’ Vol. 1 review: A crime story worth your time
The Hellbound
Despite the crime genre being a crowded field, The Hellbound is able to stand out, not just through its supernatural concept, but through great execution throughout.
Reader Rating1 Vote
9
Great concept
Beautiful art
Seamless adaptation from Webtoon
Art is somewhat inconsistent in places
9
Great

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