Reign in Hell #1

I hate to say it, but sometimes I really wonder why a mini-series was approved. That's the case with "Reign in Hell," an eight-part comic from DC Comics that runs at a longer length (and a higher cover price). Starring mid-'90s Superman villains Blaze and Lord Satanus, these two demon lords are preparing to wrest Hell's control from Neron. I suppose there are still fans of some of these characters running around out there, but going for such a niche market seems a questionable sales strategy.

Keith Giffen quickly brings his different Hellish characters and regions onto the playing field, as well as the supporting cast of characters either seeing the war as an opportunity, or being drafted into its ranks. I suppose this could be interesting if Giffen gave us a reason to care what was happening up until now. He singularly fails to do that, though; the first half of the main story focuses on three demon lords (hint: no one you particularly want to see succeed), and then from there we get what could charitably be called a C-grade assembly of characters. Shadowpact, the Creeper, Black Alice, or I, Vampire? Seriously? If "Reign in Hell" was trying to make you yearn to read more about Blaze and Satanus, I suppose matching them up against a lackluster backdrop is one way to do it.

The sad thing is, I remember these characters. I have some fondness for at least a few of those "Superman" stories, especially the ones drawn by Tom Grummett. They were fun enough, if nothing terribly spectacular, but certainly never characters I've had a burning desire to see again (no pun intended). But a mini-series focusing around them seems like a recipe for disaster, and even hoping for the best wasn't enough when reading this comic. (The only character that I've heard people clamoring for to return is former Supergirl Linda Danvers, but unless my memory fails me she's also sporting powers and abilities that she lost and never regained for the second half of her series. Pretty smooth, there.)

If a dull main story wasn't bad enough, the back-up story starring Doctor Occult is even less interesting, falling back on the idea that a character will seem important if other characters appear and tell him (and the readers) that he's important. It doesn't work here. I know Giffen is a talented writer, but this feels less like a properly-scripted comic and more like something that was dashed off on a napkin and then somehow expanded into an eight-issue series.

Tom Derenick and Bill Sienkiewicz seem like unlikely collaborators, but sometimes it works. The early scene with Blaze and Satanus's seneschal announcing their plans is dramatic and visually interesting, and the duo make the red-eyed, helmet-wearing look of the characters actually creepy for the first time in as long as I can remember. At their best, Sienkiewicz's inks add a nice punch to Derenick's pencils, and that's a good thing. Some pages just come across as scratchy and not entirely formed, though, and Steve Wands' lettering for two characters apparently not only masks their conversation from the rest of Hell, but attempts to do so for the reader as well.

Still, it's better than Stephen Jorge Segovia's art, which is just muddled. If Doctor Occult or the Dibneys hadn't been identified by name, I don't think I could have picked any of them out of a line-up. The problem here isn't that Segovia's art is particularly stylized, unfortunately, it's just a mess.

"Reign in Hell" #1 reminds me more than a bit of some of the early Vertigo mini-series back in the day, where anything involving demons or swearing got the logo slapped on it and rushed out the door. Like those attempts, I suspect that "Reign in Hell" will be swiftly forgotten. Let's hope so.

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