Two series, ten months of story, a host of familiar faces, all leading to this: BOOM! Studio’s Buffyverse crossover Hellmouth #1, hitting the shelves this week. Coming straight out of the story Jordie Bellaire has been crafting in the Buffy comic, and welcoming Angel fresh from his own series, Hellmouth ushers in the end days of Sunnydale.
All the cast are assembled and the stage is set. Bring forth Armageddon and let Good fight Evil until only one is left standing.
Straight from Hell’s Mouth
This first issue in the crossover event is narrated by the ominous voice of the Hellmouth itself, or so it seems. As the town of Sunnydale shakes and shivers at the literal rising of Hell, the narration leads the reader through the chaos, focusing on small groups of the cast as they deal with the End Days. Some rush headlong into battle while others pack up and run in the opposite direction. In the centre, a whole host of civilians have no idea what they are supposed to do.
Jordie Bellaire is joined on writing duties by Jeremy Lambert for this event. The characterisation that Bellaire has built in the Buffy comic is paired with the outlandish scene building that Lambert is used to. For each scene this pairing works brilliantly. None of the characters are superfluous to the moment and there are some great moments of interaction.
However, nothing much actually happens. This first issue is a scene setter, placing the characters and constantly reminding the reader about the several levels of Hell that are attempting to burst through into Sunnydale. It seems like there should be a lot going on but, for the most part, it’s just people running through Chaos. There are moments of humour and action that make you adore the characters, such as Cordelia’s entrance into the library, but these scenes are too few and far between.
The problem with the story is not so much what is there but what isn’t. The meeting between Buffy and Angel lacks any kind of spark, there isn’t any chemistry between the two which just feels wrong. There is also an absence of a serious threat. It’s true that the Hellmouth is opening, we the audience get told this time and time again, but the creatures that Buffy and the gang face don’t have any substantial presence on the page. Buffy punches a demonic rat in the face and bounces off the head of a giant snake. It’s all too pedestrian.
This issue should have turned the threat level up to Eleven but, apart from the rumblings and the worried faces on half of the cast, there is virtually no threat here at all.
Imagining The End
Part of the problem with Hellmouth, the reason why it doesn’t have the impact you would expect, is that the artwork is too lighthearted. Eleonora Carlini uses a clean, delicate style for her inks. Thin black lines outline the characters and scenery with block shadows adding some level of depth to the panels. Her composition is exciting and she injects energy into the characters, but it is very playful. Quirky background characters add humorous elements to some of the pages and Carlini definitely captures the sassieness of characters like Cordi. However, none of this helps in building unease or tension which this particular chapter of the comic should be doing.
Carlini’s best moment in the comic comes towards the end where the consequences of of the Hellmouths opening is made plain to Buffy. There is a touching scene, full of emotion and pain. It is only here that the reader gets any indication of what is really going on and the cost of the adventure. This scene is impressive but would have had so much more weight if the rest of the comic had build towards it with the same tone.
The colorist, Chris Peter, brings most of the tone to the comic. His use of color themes on certain scenes instantly prepares the reader for action, or drama, or occasionally comedy. The color signifiers help to move the narrative on and make up for the emotion lost in the script and art.
The lettering in turn builds something that the characterisation would otherwise be lacking. Ed Dukshire makes the speech distinctive between the characters and picks up on the nuances in the script. The voice of the Hellmouth itself is especially distinctive, you can tell from the shape and color of the caption boxes that there is evil at the heart of the speech, and in turn at the heart of the story.
In the original Buffy Television series the first time the Hellmouth opened, at the end of season 1, the special effects were a little underwhelming. The library got destroyed by rubber snakes on wires. But what made the episode so memorable was the character interactions and the sense of dread that fuelled the story.
With this re-imaging, in a comic book format, you would expect that the Hellmouth’s opening would be more spectacular. After all, they don’t have the budget constraints of the television series and, to be fair, the scope of the threat is much larger; the creators are able to show the reader how all of Sunnydale is effected. Unfortunately, the demons are no-more impressive than the rubber snakes and the emotional drama is somehow lost in the action sequences. Humour seems to have replaced personal drama and it isn’t until the end of the issue that any real danger or threat is expressed.
As an opening to a crossover event that Buffy and Angel fans have been looking forward to, this is lacking the emotionally gripping story that you expect. If you pick this up wanting to read about people running through burning buildings you won’t be disappointed. If anything, this comic proves that bigger isn’t always better. They have a high level of destruction but it comes at the cost of the character moments. Hellmouth isn’t the Buffy and Angel we’ve been reading over the last 10 months.