With Hellraiser #1, series creator Clive Barker and writer Christopher Monfette possibly deliver the franchise’s most relevant installment since 1988. All of the series’ classic elements are present for fans: The Cenobites (aka Pinhead and company), the puzzle known as the Lament Configuration, the chains, the macabre piercings/mutilations and even the return of Kirsty Cotton, the scream queen from the first two films.
We find Pinhead on a farm deep in rural Nebraska (yes, Nebraska), where he has made a pact with a farmhand/occultist named Samuel to capture victims to open the box and proceed to be gouged and skinned with the meat hooks that inevitably spew from it.
Pinhead has a greater plan, however, which Barker and Monfette only foreshadow in the first issue. Meanwhile, Cotton — still mentally and emotionally traumatized from her past experiences with the Cenobites — is meddling and trying to somehow disrupt their world. Again, little about her role in the series’ future is revealed here, but it’s enough of a tease.
On the flipside, the first issue is strictly a setup for what’s to come, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of meat to the first issue. However, the mystery it builds more than makes up for whatever is absent.
Artist Leonardo Manco is the perfect choice to help bring Barker and Monfette’s skewered, haunting and grisly vision to comics. Manco is no stranger to supernatural artwork, having worked on Hellstorm: Prince of Lies and Hellblazer. Hellraiser #1 is definitely in his wheelhouse, and you could even argue that Barker’s influences have been present in some of Manco’s previous works, making the Hellraiser-Manco team-up a match made in heaven.
The first issue also features a 16-page bonus preview of Larry Wachowski’s story Razing Hell Part One: On Stolen Time, a wordy, dialogue-heavy comic about a group of underworld escapees trying to prolong their stay on earth by running from hell hunters. The may seem like it could be exciting and fast-paced, but somehow Wachowski’s writing just feels like a slog to get through. Mike Pacella’s nostalgic horror art a la EC Comics is the high point of these 16 bonus pages.
Some readers — even some die-hard horror fans — will never be interested in Hellraiser or Clive Barker’s twisted vision. For those who can stomach it — or even appreciate it — Hellraiser #1 is a worthy reintroduction to the series.