First published back in 1990, the second issue of Epic Comics’ original ‘Hellraiser’ offshoot series contained another five short stories designed to expand upon Clive Barker’s Hellraiser mythos..  Although Barker didn’t write any of the stories contained within the original Epic Comics ‘Hellraiser’ series, he did however act as a consultant for each issue.

The Vault – 15 Pages
Mark McLaurin (Writer) – Jorge Zaffino (Artwork) – Julie Michel (Colour) – Phil Felix (Letterer)

In the depth of South America, prison governor Arturo Velez had been running the tightly controlled La Enfermidad.  A prison devoid of hope.  A prison where Velez’s rule was the law.  His rule having been secured when he restructured all levels of the prison; from the top down, from the bottom up, and from the middle out.  But now he had a blot on his record.  A prisoner had somehow defied his rule and escaped his cell, leaving just a small intricately designed box in his wake.  Now Velez will stop at nothing to solve the puzzle and once again preserve order across all levels of La Enfermidad…

Writer Mark McLaurin opens this second ‘Hellraiser’ graphic novel with a deeply sinister offering that lubricates the wheels of the Hellraiser mythos without actually showing any of the horror contained within.  Indeed, the entire comic is delivered purely through dialogue and narrative, without any real glimpses of the horror that lurks within the box.  It works, but because of the subtleness on top of it being the opening story, it nevertheless feels somewhat deflated by the end.

Diver’s Hands - 15 Pages
James Robert Smith (Writer) – Mike Hoffman (Artwork)

The Carreboro Hansen’s Disease Center was the only place like it in Louisiana.  It was where Vincent was due to live out the last years of his life.   His condition so severe now that he no longer had any feeling in the cold stumps on his hands.  His Bacillus so advanced that the man looked withered and corpselike.  But Mary felt a connection.  She wanted to help Vincent.  To learn more of the man behind the frail dying form.  To understand why he clutched that same puzzlebox each and every day of his slowly ebbing life…

There’s something deeply unsettling about seeing the fragility of the human body as it edges closer and closer to eventual collapse.  It’s the inevitability of it all.  The lack of any control.  Let’s face it, it’s the perfect setting for a horror.  And fair do’s to writer James Robert Smith, he’s captured the clinical coldness of a home for such terminal illness perfectly.  The first tendrils of a chilling horror start to infiltrate the reader as the story sets off; slowly but surely building up with an escalating tension as more and more of Vincent’s backstory and connection with the lament configuration is divulged.  Unfortunately the arrival of the Cenobites is one hell of a disappointment – with the demons from hell looking far too cartoonish to evoke anything close to terror.  A real shame.

Writer’s Lament - 4 Pages
Dwayne McDuffie (Writer) – Kevin O’Neill (Artwork) – James Novak (Letterer)

Max Wayne had wasted most of his adult life toiling as a freelance writer.  His only accomplishment of any lasting value came the day he laboriously solved one particularly difficult, and oddly seductive, story problem.  The problem, once solved, revealed itself as a Lament Configuration.  A doorway to Hell.  Max now lives in Hell, toiling as a freelance writer, creating order from chaos.  It’s an eternal assignment which had, until now, produced little of merit.  But recently Max had unexpectedly delivered something that transcended his usual medium.  Max Wayne had become the father to a miracle.  He just hoped his editor would feel the same…

With tongue firmly wedged in his cheek, writer Dwayne McDuffie takes a satirical axe to the role of a writer’s editor, with barely disguised symbolism his weaponry in this comical snipe.  The whole ‘Hellraiser’ mythos takes a back seat here, instead merely giving McDuffie the necessary platform for him to launch his attack.  For its shortness it works.  However, you can’t help but feel that it doesn’t really fit in all that well with the other stories.

The Threshold - 8 Pages
Mark Kneece (Writer) - Scott Hampton (Writer & Artwork) – Phil Felix (Letterer)

Leo Marks had created a machine capable of replicating human sensations.  It was a machine that enabled its users to experience strong sensations, all via the controls of its operator.  After realising his creation he’d left his life’s work in the hands of the Amtech company, before vanishing into thin air.  Of course the machine needed a little fine tuning before it was ready for the mass market.  That’s where their guinea pigs came in.  Amtech had paid the homeless, desperate and addicted to trial the machine on.  It was a good job they did too, considering how their first test subject turned out…

Oh yes this is a good ‘un.  First and foremost the story is wonderfully original.  It’s clever and ingeniously interwoven with the whole ‘Hellraiser’ mythos.  As the various pieces of the plot are set down, the cold-hearted nastiness behind it gradually becomes apparent.  Of course, this is just the precursor for the Hell that’s to come.  It’s so perfectly in tune with the complexities of Barker’s original mythos.  The accompanying artwork is also utterly superb.  An excellent addition to the series.

The Pleasures Of Deception – 17 Pages
Philip Nutman (Writer) – Bill Koeb (Artwork) – Gasper Saladino (Letterer)

Feldwebel Davis’ work had become stagnant.  It was dark.  Very dark.  Reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s haunting visions.  But the market had changed.  Marcella knew she’d struggle to sell works of art like this now.  She blamed Davis’ drinking.  It was dragging him and his work down.  He needed a new angle.  Some new inspiration.  Something to put him beyond the oils and canvas.  Something to put him past the flesh…

If you thought some of the previous stories were dark then trust me, you aint seen nothing yet!  For the final story in this second ‘Hellraiser’ graphic novel, writer Philip Nutman offers up the bleakest, most depressive and utterly darkest of stories to appear in the graphic novels thus far.  The atmosphere from the very first frame is oppressive and gloomy to the point of smothering the reader in a blanket of misery.  Furthermore the story doesn’t let up one bit from this quagmire of depression.  In fact, it somehow manages to spiral further and further down into an abyss of misery – entering the realms reserved only for demons and the corruption of flesh.  The narrative and dialogue is sporadic and more suggestive than it is descriptive.  The artwork is equally as symbolic and gut-churningly bleak.  In fact, reading this final story is quite frankly like peering through a dirt encrusted window into Hell itself.

The comic runs for a total of 64 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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