The covers: A pair this time, with both illustrating the fine line that Joe Fitzgerald is straddling this month. The A cover is by interior artist C.P. Smith with Joe standing between the forces of Heaven and Hell and not looking too thrilled about what’s to occur. I have completely fallen for Smith’s artwork and this is the cover I had to purchase. I love how he’s able to play with elements yet keep this looking awesome; for example, there’s a cherub sporting glowing eyes that look like hipster sunglasses while bearing a bow and flaming arrow. Funny but perfect for the picture. The B cover is by Kalman Andrasofszky with an image of Joe bearing a card that has a glowing sigil on it. On this side of the image he has wings. On the right side of the image his left hand is holding a flaming sword that is causing some tentacles to recoil. Great illustration showing the protagonist’s dual nature. Overall grades: Both A+
The story: Last month Joe said he would allow himself to be possessed by billions of demons so that they may wage a sneak attack on Heaven. By allowing this to happen the demons guarantee that they would allow the love of Joe’s life, Laura, whom they have in their clutches, to ascend to Heaven. Making matters worse, this deal is going down in Hell. J. Michael Straczynski has nailed the tone of the lead, as the first page demonstrates by showing what Joe is thinking as he finishes his last cigarette. It’s stunning to think he can be so calm with all that’s going on around him on the double-paged spread on Pages 2 and 3. Tossing the remains of his last drag, the lead demon states a lock will be put onto his flesh to “ensure that once our forces are inside, you cannot simply boot them out again…” Yes, it’s as intense as you’d expect it to be. I knew what Joe would request on Page 10; if you’ve been following this book since the beginning it won’t surprise you. 14 was painful to read and watch, knowing what was coming. However, I didn’t know what was coming. The story takes a major turn on 15. This is as epic as anything can get when Heaven and Hell are in active conflict. All I have to say is, you won’t expect this. Page 22 was fantastic and 24 had me hootin’ and hollerin’ as if I was from the South. What a payoff, and it’s still going! Overall grade: A+
The art: C.P. Smith is a talent that deserves a lot more attention. The way he starts this book is an amazing introduction. The lead character, Joe, is shown in four long panels, with close-ups on his eye (look closely–something is reflected in it), his cigarette, his forehead (a body is plunging to its doom in the distance), and a final image of him in profile (he looking at the reader and the body that much closer to death). The title is wonderfully scrawled in blood red and the next two pages are a double-paged spread of Joe and all the demons of Hell around him. If this were a movie, this would be a blow the budget shot. It’s beautiful and horrible simultaneously. Plus, it’s not graphic. There is no gore or any kind, but Smith has sharply made it absolutely threatening and ominous. I love that, like the cover, he can still have fun with the imagery, as there is the odd inclusion of an animal beside Joe one wouldn’t expect to see in Hell. Talk about Make Way For…I love how hair denotes the evil nature of Joe’s contact. Page 7 is powerful with Joe’s reaction to what’s been done, 14 broke my heart, and 16 and 17 wowed. The pose of the speaker on Page 22 was perfect. The final page had me uttering, “Hell, yeah!” Smith also does the coloring. The images of Hell’s vast expanse, which is shown often is breathtaking vivid with colors, especially on Pages 16 – 18. 22 has the perfect coloring for the action. I also like that certain characters had colors assigned to their dialogue, which clued readers in to major changes. Smith deserves a lot of praise. Overall grade: A+
The letters: Dialogue and narration (the same font), a beautiful title on the first page, screams, and yells are Troy Peteri’s contributions this issue. They are great. I am so happy that words are italicized to better “hear” where the characters are putting the stress in their speech. The best dialogue was the one word on Page 22. Overall grade: A+
The final line: An amazing payoff of Heaven and Hell being used by one man to save the soul of his dead lover. You’re going to be kicking yourself for a long time if you’re not following this. Every issue impossibly improves upon the previous installment’s story and art. Epic and awesome aren’t sufficient to describe it. Just get it! Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.