Thursday, September 27, 2012

Recommended Reading for 9/28: Hell Yeah

One of the great pleasures of the superhero genre is its ability to surprise. Every time I'm sure there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to superheroes, I stumble across something that is new and different; a different way to tell the tale of people in capes and tights, or a new take on the world of heroes and villains. One such book that has given a breath of fresh air to the genre is Image Comics' Hell Yeah, created by Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz.

Ben Day is a superpowered guy twenty years after the first superhero appeared. His dad was the soldier who was the first man to encounter the heroes. And he's, well, kind of an ass. He gets in fights, he keeps getting in trouble at his university, and he wants nothing to do with superheroes. He's not a great dude. But when a group of superpowered women pop up and tell him someone is murdering Bens across the multiverse, well, he has to get serious, or he might not make it.

One of the pleasures of Hell Yeah is the fact that, over the course of he first arc, Ben doesn't really come around and become a young hero. The angry, slacker Ben we meet getting into a fist fight at the beginning of the first issue is the same guy we see at the end. I'm sure that will change, but one of the tropes of the classic superhero comic is that when the hero gets his call to action, he steps up. But that's not how things work in life. I like that we'll have to watch Ben grow into something better.

In a couple of previous of my recommended readings, I've commented on creators and world building. I think the creation of a fully fleshed out world around a character and his/her supporting cast makes a comic, or any form of fiction, all the better. This isn't just visual; it's a sense you get form reading that there's a world orbiting the sun, not orbiting that main character. And while Ben is clearly the main character, there's also a lot going on that gives the world depth. Mysteries abound about where the heroes came from, why alternate Bens are dying, and who is really behind it all.

Writing about Hell Yeah is proving tricky for me because of those mysteries. Writer Joe Keatinge is playing a lot close to the vest here, and the comic is a hydra of mysteries: for every one that is answered, two more pop up in its place. When we find out who has been killing the alternate Bens, the question of why pops up. When a team of the few remaining alternate Bens arrive, we don't know why they want to kill "our" Ben. We don't know what the mysterious Kingdom Act is, and why it is a major violation of it to cross between dimensions.And the last pages of issue five, the end of the first arc, leaps forward five years, and that's a whole other set of questions. But that's not a bad thing. So much of what I read and see gets spoon fed to the reader. This slow build, unraveling each layer of the proverbial onion, is really cool, and keeps me coming back.

Aside from Ben himself, the cast of Hell Yeah mostly includes a group of other young superpowered people. His best friend, Sara, is the smartest person in the world, and her thoughtful intellect is a direct counterpoint to Ben's, "Punch first and don't ask questions," attitude. Three women from an alternate Earth arrived on the main Earth in issue one to warn Ben of the death of the alternate Bens, and have stuck around.  Val, their leader, was dating her world's Ben, and is seeking the person who killed him. And she turns into a T-Rex, which is pretty awesome. There's also Benoite, the female alter-Ben who wants our Ben dead, and Ben's parents, who have their own secrets, which have something to do with the mysterious appearance of superhumans on Earth. Most interesting is the mystery man who seems to police superhumans on Earth. He looks like an older scientist, but he's strong enough to punch someone's head off. I look forward to seeing more of him, and learning what his deal is.

Artist Andre Szymanowicz has done a great job giving Hell Yeah a distinct look. All the characters have unique and eye grabbing costumes, and while they don't seem to fall under any of the standard superhero templates, they're still clearly being superhero costumes. Another of Szymanowicz's strengths is how clearly he presents his action sequences. This is an unabashed superhero comic, and I feel a lot of time's modern superhero comics lose the rhythm of a fight by creating splash pages and cool images that aren't necessary. Szymanowicz keeps the sequences flowing and the action moving.

The first trade paperback of  Hell Yeah, Last Days on Earth, will be released on Wednesday. New issues of the series will hopefully be starting shortly thereafter, since I can't wait to find out what happens next.

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