under the covers

Bedside Manner: Hell on Earth

Dark literature in dark times, plus a plea for casting sanity

By Richard Whittaker, 4:48PM, Tue. Sep. 6, 2011

The horror. The horror. And the policy documents.
The horror. The horror. And the policy documents.
Photo by Richard Whittaker

There is a time of mourning coming in my reading habits. Hellboy is dead, the X-Men are splitting, and the press releases in my inbox are either despairing or mindboggling.

I am a firm believer in buying comics in hardcover collected editions and trade paperbacks (in part because they look better, in part because of durability, and in part because shelves look nicer than long boxes full of individual issues.) This means that I face a delay between stories coming out in installments and the collection hitting the racks, but I can live with that, especially when the end result is getting to sit down with X-Men: Prelude to Schism. Marvel's children of the atom have been through a period of odd stability and unity in recent years, a sort of resolution to the old philosophical debate between the intergrationist Professor Xavier and radical separatist Magneto. Now a new divide between martinet Cyclops and warrior Wolverine is coming, and this story sets up the great falling out.

It will be the end of an era, just as the already-announced death of Hellboy changes the landscape of one of comicdom's great horror icons. Mike Mignola's tales of the demonic demon-hunter has arguably been the biggest, boldest attempt at universe building in comicdom since Stan lee decided that Spiderman worked down the road from the Fantastic Four. Sadly, I will have to wait until The Fury miniseries hits trade to find out how Hellboy meets his end, but the main spin-off, BPRD, has already gone down an unexpectedly dark path. The first story arc, Plague of Frogs, ran over 14 volumes and saw the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense win their first battles against uncanny forces, and at least push their first campaign to a draw. Now with Hell on Earth the monster hunters face the possibility that they may be losing the war.

That's part of the sadness: The first volume of the Hell on Earth saga, New World, will be the penultimate work on the title from longtime BPRD artist Guy Davis. On the positive side, this means he will be returning to his creator-owned baroque nightmare The Marquis. Fortunately, I just picked up volume one, Inferno, so I can make some headway before he heads back into that devil-drenched alternative history.

Mignola himself has announced that he will be returning to sole writing and art duties on Hellboy: It will be interesting to see what that means for his Baltimore, his new endeavor with Christopher Golden. The original oversized illustrated novel Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, was a mix of Hans Christian Andersen, Siegfried Sassoon and Nosferatu. The soul-blackened vampire hunter has now transitioned into comics with the recently-collected The Plague Ships.

Somewhere wedged in this pile are two traditional word-on-word volumes. After Joe Lansdale, the king of East Texas Gothic, mentioned a couple of years ago that he was doing a genre mash-up short story, I was intrigued. While the whole Pride and Prejudice and Zombies cottage industry has left me colder than a mortuary slab, I'd read an ingredients list for Hamburger Helper if Lansdale wrote it. So now I'm the proud owner of Classics Mutilated, published through IDW, and that will be my reward for completing Crucial Conversations About America's Schools. The closest thing to homework in the pile, this slim tome from the Texas Association of School Administrators is a succinct guide to the essential talking points on salvaging public education.

But enough with succinct. The only point in Hack/Slash is the one at the end of the psychopath's blade. This is Tim Seeley's bloodily comedic dissection of the serial killer movie: Long story, but when the movie is inevitably made (and this is aching for the jump to the screen) I'm part of the growing fan base that wants Warehouse 13's Allison Scagliotti for the part of serial killer killer Cassie Hack. Seriously, #allisonscag4cassie. You heard it here, true believers.

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