Cullen Bunn and Brian Churilla’s “Hellbreak” #1 is packed with a smartly paced, high-octane adventure. Taking the notion of escaping from Hell back a bit, Bunn and Churilla open this comic with a SparkNotes-worthy encapsulation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Introduced as a narrative within a narrative, that myth serves as a vehicle through which Bunn serves up the high concept of this adventure. From Hell to northern California, he takes readers to meet Marik Proctor, the senior project coordinator of the Kerberos Initiative, who is with a pair of clients. Kerberos deals in the reclamation of lost souls, and Bunn packs the concept with just enough bureaucratic language to sell it and hook readers in so that they want to learn more about these characters and their predicament.
Shrouding the tale in deep, dark mystery, Bunn gives readers a sample of the fantastically frightening worlds that Kerberos bridges. Wars for souls need to be fought on multiple planes and, in “Hellbreak” #1, Bunn, Churilla, colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Jared Fletcher showcase those battlefronts.
While Proctor handles things in the “real” world, his Orpheus Team hits the plains of Hell itself. Whether in Hell, the Holy Light Priory or the depths of the mythological underworld, Churilla makes an impact from the first panel of each setting. The artist makes every place vast, giving readers plenty of scope to absorb with each scene shift. Churilla doesn’t need to smack readers in the face with action; he does it with space, detail and character expressions. With a style that blends Phil Hester and Evan Shaner to become something independently wonderful, Churilla draws the halls of the Priory as deftly as the eyeless, double-mawed demonic hordes in the depths of Hell. Orpheus Team is in deep in the Necropolis, hiding behind masks and shifting through the sprawling hallways in search of their target, but Churilla makes each one distinct. Jenner, Nadia and Joseph are introduced first and, even hidden behind masks, Churilla makes each character recognizable with some color assistance from Stewart.
The Necropolis itself bursts into radiant color as the action requires Orpheus Team to drop their cover. To that point, Stewart applies a mastery of subtle desaturation to the Necropolis but, once the color returns, it is almost painful. It isn’t jubilant color, mind you, but chaotic flames and explosions of color that punctuate the action in Churilla’s drawings, Bunn’s words and Fletcher’s dialogue.
While some first issues would struggle with ten characters, Bunn introduces the entire team, completes the mission and sets up the series without any “To Be Continued” or “Part 1 of X” to string readers along. Furthermore, he devotes an entire page at the end of the issue to the deliverance of a mighty emotional punch in the gut for characters that didn’t exist twenty-eight pages earlier. In this “Exorcist”-tinged cross between a prison break movie, a horror-based video game and a science fiction adventure film, the creative team makes “Hellbreak” #1 familiar enough to be dynamically compelling but inserts enough new twists to keep things moving and energized.