Heavy Metal launches its first standalone series with “Hoax Hunters” #1, a curious choice since the comic is created with the expectation that readers are already familiar with the existing franchise from the previous Image series. Much like the supernatural, this approach is both a gift and a curse; it creates urgency and disposes of longer expository scenes that could alienate fans of the franchise, but it leaves potential new readers — who are crucial to the success of the first book a publisher releases — running to catch up to the story.
Steve Seely and Mike Moreci deliver dialogue that’s befittingly mysterious and entertaining. The Hoax Hunters gang bounces off each other well, serving as both support and conflict for one another. With Jack missing in action, the team is adrift, unsure of how best to proceed. They’ve been chasing shadows for months and, when readers first meet them in this issue, they are at a breaking point. Seely and Moreci rub their frayed edges against one another as their shoot goes awry. It’s a fun way to establish that the group runs a reality show, but it suffers from a lack of context. If a reader isn’t familiar with this team, they still don’t even know all of the characters’ names by the end of the scene. It doesn’t require Claremont-level expository dialogue but, structurally, it leaves main characters feeling like strangers to a reader. First issues are always a challenge, a tight wire act balancing introduction and momentum. Seely and Moreci understand the latter and keep the cast moving, dropping them in Paris as a chance to recharge and investigate what should be an easy case that turns out to be anything but. The more active the group becomes, the more the issue opens up.
Chris Dibari’s scratchy cartooning is good for the supernatural elements of the book, and his character designs find a single element of design for each one and use that to make them identifiable in every panel. Murder, of course, is the knockout design, as recognized by his central positioning on the book’s covers and marketing material. The artist’s layouts are a little disappointing and miss some opportunities to accentuate the action, deterring the story even as the script picks up steam. The end of the story feels rushed, especially the final page; with an opportunity to show Donovan unleash his power, Dibari gives the powerful reveal a close angle shot on his eyes after he’s accessed his demonic side. It feels like it should have more to it but it is illustrated with the same page weight as the panel above it. The final panel reveals a villain that was completely unseen in any part of the book leading up to it, crammed into the corner of the page. These big story moments, especially at the climax, have diminished impact. There aren’t many places where this is the case, but they are places where it counts enough that it leaves an impression.
With a television deal already announced and a full run under their belts, it’s clear that this team knows what they want to do and where they want to go with the story. As a 5-issue limited series, it will also keep the tale moving at a brisk pace. The opening issue has some problems and suffers from the expectations that come from the debut of a publishing line, but nothing that isn’t entertaining enough to check back in with soon.