Shiny Shelf

Hellraiser #1

By Mark Clapham on 29 March 2011

I’ve always had a great fondness for Clive Barker. He’s the same age as my mother, a bit of trivia which always made him seem like the super-cool gay uncle I never had. His work has always sat somewhere between horror and fantasy, while being more humane and creative than 99% of the output in either genre.

Barker even writes about fetishism in a way that’s interesting, rather than sounding like the drunk ramblings of a pub sex-bore, a scarcely imaginable achievement.

Of all the characters and worlds Barker has created, his most prominent remain those from his novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ and first movie as director, ‘Hellraiser’, both of which tell the story of an ornate puzzle box that opens a door to hell, bringing unfortunate Rubiks-solvers into contact with the Cenobites and their unnamed leader, who just happened to have a lot of nails stuck in his face.

Since then there have been numerous sequels to the first movie, although Barker hasn’t been that involved. The sequels have got cheaper as time has gone on, and the small boom in ‘Hellraiser’ comics in the early 90s tailed off.

All these follow-ups have tended to focus on the lead Cenobite, Pinhead, and have generally spun-out variations of that first story’s Faustian pact, becoming more of an anthology series where various individuals open the box.

Boom! Studio’s new ‘Hellraiser’ comic is co-written by Barker (with Christopher Montette) and feels like a conscious attempt to both return to the source material and push the story from the first film forward.

The plot of the first issue is simple enough: in a ‘Saw’-type underground lair in Nebraska, unfortunates are being locked in a concrete room with the Lament Configuration, offered up as sacrifices to the Cenobites. Pinhead is getting bored with the ease of this arrangement, and seeks to strike a bargain to change his existence, while elsewhere Kirsty Cotton (from the first two movies) is trying to normalise her own existence while painting images of Pinhead and attempting to destroy devices for accessing hell.

It’s a strikingly different set-up for the start of a ‘Hellraiser’ story, one that builds on those first two films rather than starting with the cold-open of ‘man finds box’ and immediately stumbling towards an ironic and bloody ending via the inevitable reveal of the Cenobites. Instead we’re picking up with familiar characters who have their own agendas and who have changed since we last saw them: Pinhead is trapped; Kirsty is a grown-up with her own life.

There’s also a characteristically Barker-esque pushing at the edges of the mythology, a level of imagination on top of the usual iconography of the series. A throwaway reference to a music box revives one of the most intriguing ideas from ‘The Hellbound Heart’, that the Lament Configuration puzzle box is just one of many patterns, puzzles, devices and riddles that can unlock the barriers between worlds. Other codes and patterns are present: the music Pinhead plays on an infernal organ; the design from the side of the Configuration impressed into the crops in a Nebraska field.

Barker and Monfette’s script is well-paced, with a suitably striking and gory opening before relaxing into some long dialogue scenes. The art by Leonardo Manco is reminiscent of his ‘Hellblazer’ work, balancing the fantastical with an underlying realism. Charlie Kirchoff’s colours are well-picked, using complimentary colours for the real world and more jarring contrasts for hell.

As a bonus to the main strip, Boom! have thrown in a preview of their forthcoming reprint collection of older ‘Hellraiser’ strips, including work by Larry Wachowski of ‘Matrix’/'Speed Racer’ fame. It makes for a good thick first issue.

After having sat through rubbish like ‘Hellraiser: Inferno’, I’m glad to say that this new comic seems to be threatening to fulfill a lot of the series’ untapped promise, as well as being a decent horror comic in its own right. If you’re a ‘Hellraiser’ fan you’ve probably already bought it, but if you’d like to try before you buy there’s a free downloadable prologue available from various places including here.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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