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Hack/Slash Back to School #4
Image Comics

Comic Books

‘Hack/Slash: Back to School’ #4 brings Cassie Hack’s boarding school idyll to a chaotic, crushing close

Zoe Thorogood’s trek through Cassie Hack’s early days as a monster slayer comes to a striking, memorable, VERY abrupt end.

The fall. It had to come. Wandering undead-serial-killer hunter Cassandra “Cassie” Hack wasn’t going to get to finish coming of age at Darla Ritz’s Hunters for Hire and Academy for girls, surrounded by not only peers by friends (and a lover, even). She and her fellow hunter and best friend Vlad have to end up back on the road, hard-traveling, short-change heroes seeking out the grimmest corners of the continental United States for ghouls to break. That’s Hack/Slash.

But, as drawn and written by the great Zoe Thorogood, darn if the near-year Cassie spent at Ritz’s wasn’t a dream (crow black and otherwise) before it was a nightmare.

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Hack/Slash Back to School #4, Image

Thorogood’s Slashers (Hack/Slash‘s undead serial killers) are frightening in part because they invoke the uncanny valley. They’re all recognizable as once human, but each has twisted in distinct, unsettling ways. Image.

Thorogood splits Back to School‘s finale between its deep breath before the plunge and its horrific climax with a two-page spread that overwhelms and overpowers the book’s existing structure and layout with a colorful, aggressive collage of text and doodles on journal paper—the type that Cassie’s thoughts have been portrayed in throughout the series. It’s a piece with—and perhaps the most dramatic example of—the formal work Thorogood deployed in the three preceding issues, using the shape and structure of the comic to convey feeling and sensation.

Given the sharp tone difference between the issue’s #2 sections, the collage is as effective as it is striking. However, the jump is so abrupt that it rattles Back to School #4’s storytelling—at least as an individual comic. Narratively, the abruptness makes sense. Violence can definitively end a story, no matter what it was building to beforehand or where characters might have been going. But in practice, the lack of resolution for several supporting players, the sudden jump, and the lead-in to the denouement all read as more rushed than Back to School‘s previous installments. Presented in concert with those earlier issues, #4’s lead-in will be extended, which may make the drop click better as a climax. As a single issue, though, this is the least successful installment of Back to School.

Hack/Slash Back to School # 4, Image

Before the issue-dividing collage, Thorogood gives her players a last bit of space to breathe and be. It’s bittersweet, given how well she’s crafted everyone’s voices—be they Back to School‘s crew or Cassie and Vlad. Image.

But the least successful issue of Hack/Slash: Back to School is still a darn fine comic. The opening half of the issue takes the audience on a last tour of the people Cassie’s come to know at Darla Ritz’s Hunters for Hire and Academy for Girls, a distinct, memorable ensemble who have made their names as individual characters and as a unit. It gives Cassie the possibility of a different path. One whose doom hurts all the more because of how she’s grown and changed for the better over the course of Back to School.

While I’ve discussed my structural issues with Back to School #4’s climax, craft-wise, it’s still visceral and grody, a showcase for glop and monstrosity and how to end one by making more of the other. The denouement then shifts into a welcome melancholy. Cassie and Vlad’s lives may not be particularly happy, but they have a groove. There are slashers to hack, and they hack slashers well. Their friendship’s deep and true. Their regrets are many, but there’s nothing to do but carry them. What might have been might have been. What is is. The dead are the dead, except when they’re alive.

 

Hack/Slash Back to School # 4, Image

Image

It’s been a treat to read Thorogood’s take on Cassie Hack. I’ll be there on day one if she makes more Hack/Slash comics. If this is where she closes the book, then it’s a book I’m glad to have read—one that makes me want to check out what’s come before for Cassie and Vlad. Back to School‘s not for everyone—it’s very happily an R-rated violence-and-fanservice filled comic—but for those who’ll dig it, there’s a lot to dig here.

Hack/Slash Back to School #4
‘Hack/Slash: Back to School’ #4 brings Cassie Hack’s boarding school idyll to a chaotic, crushing close
Hack/Slash Back to School #4
It's been a treat to read Thorogood's take on Cassie Hack. I'll be there on day one if she makes more Hack/Slash comics. If this is where she closes the book, then it's a book I'm glad to have read—one that makes me want to check out what's come before for Cassie and Vlad. Back to School's not for everyone—it's very happily an R-rated violence-and-fanservice filled comic—but for those who'll dig it, there's a lot to dig here.
Reader Rating1 Votes
8.7
Thorogood deploys her formal mastery for a magnificent gut punch of a climax.
The impact of that climax speaks to the strength of Back to School as a whole. What happens hits as hard as it does because of Thorogood's good work in building Darla Ritz's Hunters for Hire and Academy for Girls.
In addition to her skillful use of collage and media shifting, Thorogood draws -such- good gloppy monsters, and Back to School's last issue doesn't dissapoint there.
While the climax is shocking and effective, it's also very, VERY abrupt. So much so that it stops the issue dead in its tracks as a single issue. It may read better as part of a series collection, but on its own the hard swerve (and the hard swerve that follows it) upends the issue's momentum.
8.5
Great
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