Chasing Leviathan: The Clive Barker Graphic Novel Readthrough & Review
Introduction By Jim Coniglio
I remember going to the theater one night in late 1987 to see a new horror movie called Hellraiser. The trailers looked good and of course, it was from the mind of Clive Barker. Little did I know that this movie would turn into a cultural phenomenon that is still going to this day. A movie that would spawn 9 sequels, countless books and comics and even toys. All from a movie that was made for under a million bucks, by a first time director, from his 186-page novella titled The Hellbound Heart. A movie that split the review community right down the middle.
Jump ahead a few years to 1992. I am at the Capital City Comic Retailers convention. As I go to sit in the bar, I look over and sitting next to me is Clive Barker. He was there with Marvel Comics promoting his upcoming Razorline comic line. After fanboying out for a few seconds we started to talk and he was the nicest guy ever. Putting up with me asking questions about movies and books. He even told me how much he hated the Pinhead name that was given to the character during filming and just hung on.
Hellraiser will always be one of my favorite movies. The books and comics that came in the aftermath ranged from great to so-so, but I still devoured them all. Some Barker had a hand in, and his dark touch shows. Whether it be Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Books of Blood or Son of Celluloid, they all shared one common thread. They all in some way sprang from the mind of Clive Barker.
Gavin and myself have a monumental task ahead of us as we work our way through over 100 comics and graphic novels based on Clive’s work. But for us, this is not work. It is a labor of love.
“We have such sights to show you!”
PART ONE: Epic Comics: Clive Barker’s Hellraiser Books 1 – 5
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Epic Comics – Book 1
Reviewed By Gavin Kendall
The Canons Of Pain
Erik Saltzgaber (Writer), John Bolton (Art), Bill Oakley (Letterer)
The Count of Carillion is on a crusade to find the pierced shroud of St. Rubrub and return it to France. After many a battle and witnessing countless horrors, the Count returns to Castle Carillion, not with the shroud but a small box.
Disillusioned, the Count ignores the attentions of Lady Carillion, who has been running affairs in his absence and upon regaining control lets his land fall into disrepair and poverty.
Having devoted herself to God, Lady Carillion begins to dig into the box’s history determined to restore her husband’s faith…
Right off the bat, John Bolton has created panels that are pure eye candy. They look like they’ve been painted on canvass with stunning detail and paired with Bill Oakley’s lettering the story is easy to follow.
Erik Saltzgaber’s story is held in high regard by Hellraiser fans and for me, the main reason is that this is a clever tale that’s not afraid to shy away from (bar the Lament Configuration) any familiar franchise trappings. Setting the story in the Middle Ages (approx 1200), immediately offers something different for the reader and the inevitable arrival of the Cenobites does not bring forth Pinhead et al, but a couple of new creations. We are introduced to Grillard, a humanoid Cenobite with four breasts and two hooks that stretch its mouth open. Grillard is accompanied by a bipedal dog-like creature, that has its eyes stapled shut and a tentacle sticking out of its chest.
The Canons Of Pain is a superb introduction to the Epic Hellraiser series. The story though only 17 pages long packs in an entertaining plot and satisfying conclusion
Dead Man’s Hand
Sholly Fisch (Writer), Dan Spiegle (Artwork), Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh (Colours), Carrie Spiegle (Letterer)
A dark stranger arrives at Carver’s Creek, a town out in the wild west famed for drinking and gambling. He had only one person on his mind. Jed Lawson.
Jed’s a hard-drinking, tough fighting card player that has killed his fair share and the stranger has a proposal.
‘Straight poker. One hand. Face up’
The stakes are high for Jed, lose everything or win the most valuable thing on earth.
An incredibly simplistic tale set in the old West and a nice example of what you don’t see can be just as effective as the page being splattered with hooks and chains.
I can’t fault the art nor writing, both manage to create a fantastic sense of atmosphere as the game progresses and the game’s conclusion is revealed.
The Warm Red
Jan Strand (Writer), Bernie Wrightson (Artwork), Bill Wray (Colours), Michael Heisler (Letterer)
Maureen Endicott is offered a life-changing return on her investment with a property developer. The one problem is that an old farmhouse is sitting bang in the middle of the land they want to acquire.
All Maureen has to do is convince the occupant to sell.
I thought this was outstanding, the juxtaposition between Maureen’s sexual teasing and Brian’s thoughts were incredibly well done. Switching panels and tone expertly until another new Cenobite arrives. This time we meet Face, so-called because he wears his victims faces like a mask
It’s at this point the story is very similar thematically to Hellraiser where victims are offered to the Cenobites by a guardian in return for keeping their life.
Again, artwork and writing worked well with the story easy to follow and enjoy.
Dance Of The Fetus
Ted McKeever (Writer & Artist)
Alice has had enough. She’s run through what she’s going to to do for a long while now, and now it’s time to face her demons.
I applaud you Ted McKeever. With barely a written word this story gut punches you so hard that I was left just staring at the final panel for what seemed like hours.
Suicide is never an easy subject to cover, especially in a ‘comic’ but here it’s addressed respectfully and the Hellraiser twist that suicidal thoughts can summon a Cenobite works rather well.
Dance Of The Fetus features Mr Soul, another new Cenobite, a hunched, muscular creation with lips pulled back by wires that wrap around its ears.
Mr Soul interacts with Alice in such a way that he quite literally enters her body via her mouth. Once inside her, he makes a startling discovery. A discovery that Alice knew nothing about.
This is a bleak, incredibly tough read that proves that this series is not afraid of covering taboos, touching nerves and covering real-life issues to create something genuinely special.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Epic Comics – Book 2
Reviewed By Jim Coniglio
Marc McLaurin (Writer), Jorge Zaffino (Artwork), Julie Michel (Colors), Phil Felix (Letterer)
As the fires of revolution rage, one man fights to hold his position as commander of La Enfermedad, a prison of no return for captured combatants. When a prisoner escapes without a trace and leaves only a mysterious puzzle box behind, the commander becomes obsessed with its secrets. For he demands order and structure no matter what the cost. And he believes that the secrets of the box will help him achieve his goals.
This gritty tale has a very dark and deep art style supplied by artist Jorge Zaffino (Punisher, The ‘Nam).
It is a pretty straight forward story with the warden striving for structure at the cost of everything. In terms of a Hellraiser tale, it is very light on the usual blood, gore or even a Cenobite, with only a hint of what’s to come in the final panels.
This is the warden’s tale and the puzzle box is just here to move him along to the inevitable.
James Robert Smith (Writer), Matt Hoffman (Artwork)
A man suffering from a fatal disease seeks the help of his unwitting nurse to open a puzzle box that could lead to his cure and her damnation.
This story boasts some beautiful painted art that was the big thing in the early 90’s comics field. And the writing is pretty solid and moves along at a good pace.
The author does a very good job of developing the relationship between the patient and his nurse, underplaying the subtle manipulations he uses to draw her into his plans.
I have always had a love/hate feeling about this story. I love the story twists that come along in the final panels, but I downright hate the Cenobites. I feel they look more like they jumped off a Mars Attacks trading card than from the pits of hell.
Dwayne McDuffie (Writer), Kevin O’Neill (Artwork), Jim Novak (Letterer)
Max has completed the best project of his life, it’s his baby, and it’s time to see what the bosses think of his work. Will it meet their high standards, or will it need to be “edited”.
Written by Dwayne McDuffie (who helped create Milestone in the 90’s) and featuring the ultra-stylized art of Kevin O’Neill (Marshal Law), this mere 4-page story has always been a favorite of mine.
Unlike other stories, this one begins with Max already being in Hell and at the service of Leviathan. There is no box, no first encounter or even a true Cenobite. (Though The Agent could be a horror to some)
This could be hell for any writer. Max creates his best work, which takes the form of a literal baby and presents it to his boss. And in true fashion, the writer must endure the horror of his work being picked apart and edited and censored from its original form.
It’s a story that fits into the Hellraiser plane but can still ring true for the trials and tribulations of any writer. In hell or on earth.
Scott Hampton & Mark Kneece (Writer), Scott Hampton (Artwork), Phil Fenix (Letterer)
It all begins with an inventor and a machine that seems to make dreams come true. After donating the machine to a private company, the inventor disappears.
As the machine is widely used for sexual fantasies, a scientist takes a new direction and embarks on a quest to test the threshold of one man’s pain.
Little does he know what lies just beyond the push of a button.
This is a unique story to look at. When it was written (the early 90’s) the technology described would seem so futuristic, nowadays “virtual reality” can be found in your own living room.
In this case, the tech is the puzzle and the scientist’s quest to unlock pain leads to his solution and his new place in a world he never imagined.
Also beautiful artwork from Scott Hampton (Batman: Night Cries).
The Pleasures Of Deception
Philip Nutman (Writer), Bill Koeb (Artwork), Gaspar Saladino (Letterer)
An artist searches out new inspiration for his work and hires someone to search out a Lament Configuration for him. He has heard it will grant him the vision he needs to create new works. He does not know that the inspiration he seeks will lead him down a path of no return.
Now this is a Hellraiser story! From start to finish this reads as if it came from Barker himself. We have the quest, the box, the engagement and the payoff in true bloody fashion. We even get the main man himself, Pinhead making an appearance.
The art style is perfect, slightly dark and muddled at times, but sets the mood and draws your eye in to really “look” at the colors and textures.
In my opinion, this is the best story in Book 2.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Epic Comics – Book 3
Reviewed By Gavin Kendall
The Crystal Precipice
Jan Strand (Story), Steve Buccellato (Pencils), Stan Drake (Inks), Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh (Colouring), Michael Heisler (Letters)
After landing on a planet that has absolutely no signs of life on it, a space crew identifies what they think to be a crystal city on the horizon. In preparing to travel to this new location, intergroup relations are tested and tensions are raised not only by the humanoid silhouette they spot off in the distance but also the crystals that appear above them that seem to be hanging on every move they make.
And now we have introduced Science Fiction to the Hellraiser universe. My issue with the Hellraiser movies from the fifth instalment onwards is that they mostly appear to be standard horror/thriller fare with Hellraiser shoehorned in to keep the rights at a particular studio. Not such problems with any of the stories I’ve read so far in this series. A testament to good writing and respect for the source material.
I won’t stray too far into spoilers, but the fact that the planet is lifeless is an interesting plot point. The crystals, the ones that float anyway, are souls made fleshless. There is no need for flesh on this planet, and returning Cenobite, The Face (Warm Red, Book 1) is the puppeteer of the crew as they strive to make their way to the crystal city.
I should also note that a selection of new cenobites appear in a panel or two detailing a chamber in Hell, none of them are particularly clear but one of them looks like our old friend Butterball.
A slight gripe would be that a death occurred due to a character going off alone for a convenience break. It would be a tad silly for another character a page later to also decide to go off alone to relive their bladder, wouldn’t it?
That aside, The Crystal Precipice is a solid story with decent art and easy to follow panelling.
The Blood Of A Poet
R.J.M. Lofficier (Story), John Ridgway (Artwork), Steve Oliff (Colouring), Gasper Saladino (Letters)
A struggling poet is offered free board at the Pension Venuer which houses a community of artists who live there under the provisions of a trust arranged by a deceased patron
‘By pouring my blue ink in them, I made the ghosts turn visible. To say that the task is simple or without danger would be insane. To dare disturb the angels’
The Blood Of A Poet is set in 1925 Paris and has a real Lovecraft vibe running through it, especially in its visuals. A much longer story that offers a lot to the reader in terms of its own intriguing storyline as well as expanding on pre-existing stories.
The Blood Of A Poet cleverly weaves Lemarchand into its plot and I loved that. Again, not shoehorned in, there is rhyme and reason that the puzzle box designer is mentioned.
This story features Pinhead as well as Butterball and the Female Cenobite. Standing alongside the popular trio are two dog-like creatures, one of which has The Chatterers face and a large hulking beast. I do like the idea that Pinhead made a decision based on the lyricism of words and so keeping in line with his eloquence.
Another superb story that was a joy to read, aided by a unique art style and easy to read panelling.
Songs Of Metal And Flesh
Peter Atkins (Writer), Dave Dorman & Lurene Haines (Artwork), Phil Felix (Letterer)
Jason Marlowe has been blind from birth, left with smell, sound, touch, taste and an ability to feel music.
A piano prodigy, his desire to create music was akin to solving the most complex puzzles, discovering (not inventing) hidden melodies
Professional and personal rivalry leads Jason to a composition that becomes an act of faith.
Written by Peter Atkins (Hellbound: Hellraiser II), this is a beauty of a story. Covering the themes of jealousy and retribution in glorious style, Songs Of Metal And Flesh really strikes a chord with me as a music lover.
The power of music can change many things and in this story the changes are brutal. A symphony that takes you to hell, that changes your very being into the instruments that created the glorious sounds. But worst of all, the power to make you lose the ability you needed to create the work in the first place.
Another tale to feature new Cenobites. Two are described as “blue angels singing the songs of metal and flesh, wordless and sublime.”
The first has an exposed brain. Its chest is pried open to show its organs and has spikes on the shoulders and forearms. The second Cenobite has no neck with only its eyes, which have been sewn shut, appearing over a collar.
We also see a few gimp mask-wearing Cenobites, with clawed gloves, hook torn and pierced flesh and a larger Cenobite with ritualistic skin carvings, a mouth that looks to be in the process of being closed with skin, a horribly lacerated scalp with barbed wire piercing the shoulders and face.
Easy to follow panels and superb artwork unlike anything in the previous stories make this a story that’s a joy to read.
A solid conclusion to Book 3 and confirms that as a fan of Hellraiser I know the franchise (I hate that word) would be safe in the hands of Peter Atkins.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Epic Comics – Book 4
Reviewed By Jim Coniglio
Nicholas Vince (Writer), John Van Fleet (Artwork), James Novak (Letterer)
This is one of the few stories to start with the main character already in the Labyrinth and facing Leviathan. Edward is in hell and is looking to be taught the ways of chaos and order. His story is told through flashbacks done in the trippy and detailed art of John Van Fleet.
We see the horror that his life has wrought, his search for the box and his eventual fall. The path of a Cenobite in the making.
This is a short tale, but features some solid writing and eye-catching art.
Like Flies To Wanton Boys
Bunny Hampton-Mack (Writer), Scott Hampton (Artwork), Tracy Hampton-Munsey (Letterer)
Lets’ just take a moment to look at the names above. This story is a true family affair. All we need is Bo Hampton as a co-artist and it would be the whole group.
Scott Hampton pops up several times through the course of this series and it is always a pleasure to see his beautiful painted art. That being said, I never liked this story. It’s so slow and tedious at times. The part with Ian being lost in the endless doors I liked, and parts toward the end, but the remainder is just “blah”. Now I know that some will disagree and that is fine, to each their own. This story just did not hold my attention as a Hellraiser universe story. This reads more to me as a ghost story and features no Cenobites, Leviathan and really any scares at all.
To Prepare A Face
Jan Strnad (Writer),Mark Chiarello (Artwork), Gaspar Saladino (Letterer)
I have always been a film buff, especially horror movies. This story always made me think of Lon Chaney “The man of a thousand faces”. He was known for his extreme practical makeup. Creating such characters as The Hunchback, The Phantom of The Opera, the Vampire in London After Midnight and so many more.
You can see the inspiration for the main character as you read the story. An actor trying to perfect his craft by any means necessary. In this case by murder. His acts become more and more sinister until he garners the attention of the Hell Priest himself.
This is a fast-paced and well-written story with some nice painted art.
Again, the Cenobite Face features. Proving that he is a favourite amongst the writers and seemingly Epic.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Epic Comics – Book 5
Reviewed By Gavin Kendall
James Robert Smith (Writer), Mike Hoffman (Artwork / Letterer)
A family reunion is threatened with tragedy as Byron, suffering the effects of madness raves about a riddle book he’s been forced to read by a father he hates with a passion.
Byron is racing to get to the ‘Old Home Place’ with Whitcomb, his cousin in hot pursuit.
Can Whitcomb get there before him and prevent the unthinkable?
Well, it had to happen. For me, this is well below the quality I’ve been enjoying in this series. Don’t get me wrong, the panelling is great, it’s the story that’s lacking any real punch and some dubious design choices don’t match the high quality offered thus far in this collection.
The Cenobites are painfully cartoony.(Jim has referred to them as sharing a likeness with the aliens in Mars Attacks, and he’s not wrong). Not that I have an issue with that per se, but seeing them alongside the more traditionally drawn characters they do look a little preposterous.
I do like the ‘pets’ that the Cenobites have created from pieces of their victims, although they do to have a very similar appearance to the post orgy body horror of Society (Brian Yuzna 1989).
Fire Trap is a drawn-out story which struggled to hold my attention. The idea of the riddle book is an intriguing one but its not really used to any great effect. A poor start.
Glitter And Go
Ron Wolfe (Writer), Dan Spiegle (Artwork), Carrie Spiegle (Letterer)
Mass suicides have been occurring around the globe. Thousands have thrown themselves off of office towers with no explanation. But one common act binds these events. Prior to jumping, all the victims will throw bright objects into the air calling ‘Glitter and Go”.
Individually, brothers Alex and Allen have been investigating these phenomena and now Allen is missing. Alex needs to solve this puzzle to find him again.
This story took far too long to get going and expected the reader to, pardon the pun, take a huge leap of faith as Alex dubiously stumbles across the answers to this rather dull puzzle.
Glitter And Go offers nothing to the Hellraiser universe in my opinion and is what I’d consider to be the first story that felt like it had the mythology added to a pre-existing story I’ve read so far. That may well not be the case but this is Hellraiser-lite and sadly, another disappointing tale.
Mazes Of The Mind
Mark Nelson (Writer/Artwork), Willie Schubert (Letterer)
If your private hell is thought and suffer a mind that is constantly searching for a pure formula or equation, Leviathan has a box that can be your mathematical gateway.
A simplistic tale that suggests that puzzle boxes can be made from the ‘Mazes Of The Mind’. These are the “quirks, expectations and carnal desires.” that Orno, another new Cenobite (it looks remarkably like Tortured Souls character, The Scythe-Meister) can extract from the brains of its victims. This is carried out in his private laboratory in Hell by performing gruesome surgeries on what is described as raw material and once his ‘tasting’ is complete he can carve the victims mind onto a blank puzzle piece. These are then gathered together to create the Gateway.
A secondary plot that returns the Raw Material from where it came with the desire to reproduce adds nothing to the story at all and, for me, would have been better left on the drawing board.
The art is probably the most ‘classic’ cartoon so far in the series and is bright and punchy with easy to read panelling. The story was okay but the books I’ve already read have set the bar so high any dips in quality are going to suffer.
Sholly Fisch (Writer), Colleen Doran (Artwork), Jade Moede (Letterer)
Lindsay has an exciting first date at the local carnival with Bill. Everything went well, and they had a great time. Prizes were won. A teddy bear and a strange intricately decorated cube.
Bizarrely, Bill wanted Lindsay to keep the cube secret and solve it when she was alone.
She was okay with secrets, after all she kept a lot of them in her diary.
This would have been a perfectly serviceable story in another horror series. It was well drawn, easy to read and featured a reasonably entertaining plot that sadly contained nothing that makes it worthwhile to be included in the Hellraiser universe. To rub salt in the wounds Dear Diary concludes with a twist that was so obvious, my eye roll was legendary…even in Hell.
Stay tuned for Chasing Leviathan Part 2 where Jim and I will be looking at issues 6-10.
Jim grew up on the South Side of Chicago to a steady diet of horror movies, Saturday morning cartoons and Fangoria magazine. He has written for several fanzines and websites over the years and now runs a review site at One-Legged Reviews. Jim lives in rural Indiana with his wife and 2 pups and spends his days of retirement reading and sitting on his porch yelling at the neighbor kids to stay off his lawn.
Follow Jim On Twitter @JimConiglio
Check out Jim’s blog for reviews and much more www.oneleggedreviews.com
I’m living in the South-East of England between London and Brighton. I’ve been married to Laura since 2000 and have two daughters. (Emily & Freya). I’ve always had a passion for horror and decided, as a hobby, that I’d like to create a blog to showcase this fascination with the darker genres.
I started Kendall Reviews in January 2017, initially to host my reviews of books and music that I had in my sizeable collections. Pretty quickly, this became a passion project and morphed into a blog that wanted to help PROMOTE HORROR.
I want to thank all the people that interact with the blog and of course to the rest of the Kendall Reviews team.
Follow me on Twitter @gjkendall
For all things horror please check out my blog www.kendallreviews.com