SLUGFEST: Hell Yeah #1A comic review article by: Jason Sacks, Dylan B. Tano, Nick Hanover
Dylan B. Tano:
Jason: Ben Day is a student at Kurtzberg University, a school for "the most elite up-and-coming minds in the super-powered community." See, in the world of Hell Yeah, aliens came to Earth 20 years ago, during the first Gulf War, and began evolving mankind and improving all life on Earth. But just because there's no more war or hunger doesn't mean that kids don’t resent their parents or that industries don't become obsolete. One man's utopia is another man's boring hellish dystopia. And parents may not be who they seem to be -- literally.
This first issue really has the feel of being the calm before the storm, a set-up for some intriguing future scenes that will happen. We get a feel for this alternate universe Portland where Ben and his classmates live, but we get the feeling that soon we'll be taken on a ride that will uncover some intriguing secrets about this utopia. The last page reveal looks like it will take us in some surprising directions. Why are these heroes the last generation of heroes? Only Joe Keatinge knows where this mystery will lead…
Andre Szymanowicz's art at times reminds me of a slightly grungier Frank Quitely, with its stylized faces and some very specific urban scenes. I felt like I was walking the streets of Portland with these flawed heroes, and could totally imagine Ben and his friends hanging out in these very specific bars.
Dylan, did this first issue excite you?
Dylan: Hell Yeah? More like Hell Meh... The first issue didn't really bring too much YEAH! To the table for me. That being said, I am intrigued by the world Keatinge is creating in Hell Yeah, but it took reading it a couple of times to really get my interest spiked. The idea of the heroes coming in and altering the world is a neat concept that I don't come across very often, and I'm intrigued by its tag line, The Last Generation of Heroes. The story isn't what made it drag for me, it was the art. It felt rushed and a lot of details were left out, but it had its moments, like when they go back to Kuwait and do the whole black, white and red scene. That was kind of awesome. Do I need to clean the screen on my iPad or did you guys have issues with the art too?
Nick: I get what you mean, Dylan, but Szymanowicz's art had enough subtle touches -- from the odd, humorous expressions to the imaginative costume designs -- to keep me distracted from those flaws. Like Jason said, the real appeal of this comic is in what it promises rather than what it has delivered so far. In its first issue, Hell Yeah is clearly establishing intrigue and potential in a way that leaves a lot of necessary details obscured or obtuse. We're not given a lot of answers about the story or told very much about where it's specifically heading, but for me that's what makes it a promising first issue.
While I completely agree that there are elements that need improvement, specifically Keatinge's tendency to make most of the characters sound exactly the same, I appreciate that Keatinge and Szymanowicz trust the readers enough to launch them right into the middle of the story without the kind of flashbacky narrative handholding that bogs down a depressing number of mainstream superhero titles. I don't know very much about Ben by the end of this issue, other than the fact that he's got an oddly confrontational yet friendly relationship with his father and fears his mysterious mother and has a Matrix-y tattoo, but those sparse details are tantalizing instead of shallow. I'm still cautious enough to hold out on assuming the best but I think Keatinge and Szymanowicz have accomplished exactly what they set out to do here, which is to lure you in with a seemingly by-the-numbers teen angst superhero title that threatens to turn into something far more grandiose and ambitious before too long.
Dylan: I agree that a fair amount of promise is set up in this issue, and I'll definitely pick up issue two once it comes out. I just feel like it could have been done better. I don't feel that the issue tried to band aid on plot points, which can leave a plot feeling shallow like you said. They delivered the plot well and I trust Keatinge to deliver the goods eventually, but like you said, Nick, the characters didn't really feel different from each other. I do like the costumes, the one-eyed archer was hilarious in the best ways.
To loosely quote Ben, it was kinda good, kind of fun and kind of interesting. I think there is a lot of promise, but the first issue really under delivered for me. I know I'm the outlier on this but I will have to agree to disagree with you two this time.
Jason: It does feel like we read slightly different books in this review. I know we had very different interpretations of the same book. There was a lot in this issue for me that hints at the larger world (or universe) view that Nick and I were so excited by: the mysterious tattoo, the strange time travelers, the funky banality of the school, the very specific Portland landmarks, the guest appearance by TV host and comics fan Jonathan Ross. I liked the very cleverly named characters, the smart conflict between Ben and his dad, Ben's very cool relationship with Sara.
And I guess what I liked all the clever comic-related easter eggs. Naming our main character Ben Day is a neat little joke, and this issue is peppered through with lots of clever little call-outs to comic history, from the band playing being the All-New All-Differents (Hello, X-Fans!) to Ben's college being Kurtzberg University. I'm happy to confess I'm enough of a comics geek to like and get all those jokes.
Underlying it is maybe my favorite insight: all the paradise in the paradise in the world won't make a man happy. And yet, the last page hints at how Ben should be happy in his world because a shitstorm of trouble is about to come his way.
Combine an intriguing beginning with some cool art and a great cliffhanger… Hell yeah, I liked this comic.
Nick: That plethora of historical tidbits and references is definitely part of the appeal for me as well, Jason, but perhaps for different reasons. To me, those showed that Keatinge knows his history but isn't beholden to it, that for all the love he has for cape stories, he's more interested in tweaking that formula and attempting to tell his own unique story within it. But bringing it up also functions as a handy way of analyzing some of Dylan's issues with the comic.
A certain era of superhero stories relied on these kinds of characterizations, where it was important to introduce the concept and gimmick first and get around to the development some time within the next, oh, 50 years. I can't help but wonder if some of the characterization issues Dylan gets into are actually on purpose, a way of Keatinge using those structures and techniques that were in their time strictly commercial but in the hands of someone like Keatinge are now referential. That's not to say that the thinness of development isn't there and that it can't be a problem, but that it potentially has its role in the comic, too.
Still, even without all that theorizing, I think this should be an easy comic for most fans to pick up and enjoy. It's not quite on the level of some of Image's other recent releases yet, but it's an intriguing title that could very well grow into something outstanding.
Dylan B. Tano is a relatively new reviewer powered by a love of bacon and constantly distracted by a kitten who would rather use his laptop as a bed. He grew up idolizing Spider-Man and can’t believe he gets to review comics all day.
You can read some of his short stories at tanoworks.tumblr.com
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.