Cullen Bunn and Joelle Jones have each been partially responsible for some of my favorite Oni Press projects from the past few years ("The Sixth Gun," "12 Reasons Why I Love Her," "You Have Killed Me"). The idea of the two of them collaborating on a project together was reason to get excited. With "Hellheim" #1, this opening salvo of their Viking horror saga promises some good times ahead.
A lot of Bunn's story in this first issue sets up the basic premise; he introduces the people of the Viking village and the struggle for survival they're going through due to the wildmen that continually menace them. This is definitely a comic where the less you know about "Hellheim" #1's premise, the better; as Bunn unveils each character and how they affect the plot in general, there are some nice little surprises waiting along the way.
There are only a couple of characters that readers get a grasp on, most notably Rikard, the young warrior who fights alongside his father against the wildmen and night creatures. He's a good lead, though, someone who shows both strength and compassion in his travails this first issue. As "Hellheim" #1 progresses, Bunn isn't against throwing some curveballs our direction in the path that Rikard's going to travel, though. In many ways it's because "Hellheim" #1 is almost all set-up for what's still to come; once he's established the status quo, he's then able to upset the proverbial apple cart and let us see what happens when everything begins to fall apart.
The big heavy lifter this issue is Jones, though. From the opening scramble through the wilderness, to the fights outside the village itself, Jones keeps everything interesting. That first page establishes everything readers need to know in a visual manner; the wounded Vikings straining to sprint across the page, the sudden collapse in the water, the way that Rikard grabs his comrade. Even without the word balloons, you'd quickly see that Jones can tell Bunn's story without the benefit of dialogue; she's simply that expressive an artist. When the fights do show up, they're brutal scenes, with blood and gore that serve not just to disgust, but to give us the impression of how difficult these fights are. And then, as you turn the page, you see a perfect contrast with the tenderness between Rikard and Bera. It's touching (even with the blood still smeared on Rikard's face), and it sets up wonderfully the conclusion to the first issue and the big game-changing moment.
The only real complaint I have about "Hellheim" is it's just when we get to the end of the issue that I feel like we've started to kick things into high gear. In many ways, that's not so much a problem as it is a recognition that Bunn and Jones have me hooked and wanting more. This is a fun first issue, but based on this I can only expect we're about to get some seriously kick-butt future issues just around the corner. This is a nice debut.