The comic book space is filled with copy-and-paste IPs, often proving tricky to create something wholly original. It’s often said every idea has been done; you can either make it better or different. Thankfully, Hellcop succeeds on both fronts. Writer and Illustrator Brian Haberlin introduces readers to a world that can best be described as a neo-noir mystery that pulls elements from science fiction and fantasy. As odd as that sounds, Haberlin manages to pull the disparate parts together to form a unique new story with a fresh new take on the myriad genres the book takes its inspiration from. Hellcop isn’t without its flaws; the story can be predictable at times, treading lightly into trope territory, but the fleshed-out universe, likable characters, and beautiful artwork make Hellcop a must-read title for fans looking for something inventive.
In 1945, The U.S. Navy worked on an invisibility project in Philadelphia. But rarely do things go as planned. Instead, the project inadvertently punched a hole through realities. What they found on the other side was a plane of existence dubbed 1301-A: it is literally what humanity knows as Hell. Thus, the Pan-Dimensional Security Corps was formed, a covert paramilitary organization exploring other dimensions. The agents came to be known as “Hellcops”; agents who patrol the Hellplane and monitor seek out any of Hell’s occupants who crossed over to earth. Virgil Hilts is a lieutenant with the Hellcops.
Hellcop follows Lt. Virgil Hilts on a typical daily patrol. However, when Virgil finds a mysterious scarab with ties to a deeper conspiracy, he is framed for his partner’s murder and must get to the bottom of the scarab’s origins. Admittedly, the scarab is MacGuffin for the deeper story involved, but Haberlin takes a clichéd plot and infuses it with a distinctive approach to the material. Instead of hitting the streets searching for breadcrumbs across Philadelphia, Virgil must use all his connections and knowledge of the hellscape to solve his partner’s crime. All the while, not only is Virgil unraveling threads, but the audience is learning more about this universe as well, fostering their interest in the Hellcop Universe. And it is quite a wonderous (if not nightmarish) world Haberlin has created in “Pandemonium City”.
The story moves at a solid pace, always presenting readers with another plot point or eye candy from the world of hell. It’s evident that careful consideration was taken into forming the rules of hell and how it interacts with our everyday lives. For example, hell is a real place, and it turns out that most of the unexplained phenomena on Earth stem from demons crossing over through “softspots,” natural gateways through the dimensions. When humans die, some cross over into reality 1301-A. Some have tangible bodies and remain, while others pass on to the next reality. Throughout five issues, a bevy of demons with highly-detailed designs appear, effortlessly allowing the series to be fleshed out further in potentially more runs of Hellcop. Through it all, Virgil is our guide.
The similarities to classic noir continue in the means of delivering information. Most text boxes come in the form of Virgil’s internal monologue. In most cases, this would be a crutch to provide information, but it’s right at home in Hellcop. Virgil comes across plenty of allies throughout the series, but is alone for the most part. The dialogue boxes further the narrative and serve as a handbook to Hell for the audience. Also, it parallels the voiceover work often found in noir films in Hollywood in the ’40s.
In terms of plot and pacing, the story flows effortlessly. However, seasoned readers will likely see the eventual reveal coming a mile away. The story also opens on a cliffhanger within the first few pages – Virgil being chased in hell by a gigantic behemoth, narrowly avoiding its maw. Then the story time-skips to three days prior. The implication is that the story would naturally reach this point. Instead, we never see how that cliffhanger moment plays out. The scene’s omission was out of place, and it’s unclear if the assumption is that the incident played out off-page.
The narrative does recover, and the series ends in a satisfying – yet quaint – manner. Thankfully, the reader is never left bored. Instead, Hellcop is a breeze to finish, and most of that has to do with wanting to see what hell has to offer next. All the plot threads are tied up, but there were plenty of characters and plot points that can serve as the basis for future series in the Hellcop universe.
There are some genuinely heartfelt moments involving Virgil’s wife. Admittedly, it would have been more impactful if their relationship had been developed further, or at the very least, given more time. What could have been a heart-wrenching moment with plenty of character development never hit as hard as it could or should have.
One very notable point of interest is Hellcop‘s art. Writer Brian Haberlin has double duties as he also illustrates the series. Hats off to Haberlin for handling the art as well as, if not better than the writing. It’s difficult to describe clearly, but suffice to say that it’s worth picking up the book for the art alone. The characters are highly detailed: strong shading, beautiful designs, and facial expressions that carry the gravitas of the given scene. The background completely stands out stunningly — it almost has a slight gaussian blur, adding a more realistic effect to the environment, while still working in unison with the foreground. The juxtaposition seems like it wouldn’t work, but it lifts the art to a new level. The best way to understand is to see for yourself.
Despite some minor shortcomings, Hellcop is a fun new property worth picking up. Brian Haberlin takes the reins of the book on the most pivotal fronts but never drops the ball. The story and the narrative pace are respectable, the art is outstanding, but most readers will want to return to hell and see what new demon or environment is around the corner. A weird thought, but regarding Hellcop, that’s meant as praise.
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