By Michael Moreci, Steve Seeley, Chris Dibari and Mike Spicer
Heavy Metal makes their first foray into monthly single issue comics with Hoax Hunters #1 and it is an inspired choice. Its pulp feel and modern quips fits perfectly into the Heavy Metal aesthetic, while still feeling wholly its own beast. Essentially, we have classic EC horror meets weird Twitter and thank goodness for that. This first issue doesn’t read like a first issue at all, not really, and that is both its greatest limitation and most appealing aspect. Moreci, Seeley, Dibari and Spicer plunge the reader head first into the oddity-ridden world that is a fake reality show/very real supernatural combatants without ever dumbing things down. There’s a barrier to entry, but one that entices more than it frustrates and it’s wrapped in an art package that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling of watching Scooby-Doo, but with actual spectral threats. Jinkies, indeed.
Remember how before the all-mighty internet existed, you would pick up a random issue of a comic and have almost no clue what some of the characters were referencing, but you absolutely wanted, nay needed, to know what? That’s the sort of feeling one gets reading this first issue and it’s two-fold in how to approach reviewing it. For fans of the first volume of Hoax Hunters (published through Image comics from 2012-2014) there’s a plethora of all things that made that original run great and for those just checking this out for the first time, it’s a bit of a mixed bag as far as being “introductory.” There’s nothing overly complex in this issue that context and some subtle dialogue can’t cue you into: this is a motley crew of bizarre investigators of the even more bizarre; their former leader, Jack, has gone missing; his replacement, Donovan, is involved with Regan; there’s lots of crazy, terrifying shit in the world). However, without a little more acknowledgement of their backstories, some of the ability to empathize or connect with the characters is lost. Not much, mind you, the last thing a rich, atmospheric title like this needs to do is hold the readers hand, but the level of caring about these characters and their threats is affected slightly for those just meeting them. It also succeeds at absolutely making you want to go back and immediately read the original run to find out more about these instantly intriguing characters. What’s the deal with Murder?!?! (The deal is awesome, is what it is).
Moreci and Seeley do a great job creating tone, with sharp snarky one-liners that will leave you smirking, specifically the Archer-like demeanor of Donovan. While some background information may be sparse, Moreci and Seeley absolutely let the reader know exactly what kind of characters these are through; their dialogue reveals their motivations, insecurities and confidence beautifully in just 22 pages. You may not know who these characters were, but you absolutely know who they are right now. It’s structured well so as to give each character equal time in the spotlight (although, one can never have enough Murder) and moves at a surprisingly brisk place that belies the careful attention to the interpersonal relationships and charming self-aware humor.
You’re probably going to need to pick your jaw up off the floor a few times looking at Dibari and Spicer’s art. The vintage, pulp feel is omnipresent and irresistibly immersive. Dibari’s pencils and inks are simultaneously soft (the fine hatching, the wispy speed-lines) and filled with gravitas, specifically the economic application of heavily inked shadows in the sundry catacombs the team finds themselves. His skillful character and environment rendering (the aforementioned cavern, the library, etc) are really well blended with various techniques such as stippling shading and ink spatters to combine into a pitch-perfect ambiance for this horror and occasionally facetious driven title.
Spicer’s coloring is, to dust off an old chestnut, the icing on the cake for Hoax Hunters. Dibari’s art is great, obviously, but Spicer’s colors go beyond merely complementing it and instead contribute equally to making this book a tactile experience. With a painterly touch, the color palette is appropriately muted (aged, even) and tirelessly balances the darkness without ever obscuring the horrors laid bare on the page. The spectral cools of floating phantasms, the sepia drenched goldenrod of a Parisian library, the ghoulish pea soup vapor bellowing behind a skeleton and the myriad contrasting radiant hues found in the underground climax, are all stunning. The way the page borders, occasionally the continuation of a large opened backdrop panel, are a wonderful small touch that is a huge part of what this book so visually effective.
Hoax Hunters #1 is loaded with potential and a marvel to look at. Is it the best first issue in the world? No, but it’s not really a true first issue; it’s the first issue of volume two and part of the fun is in letting the vagaries trigger your imagination. While your brain may be playing catch-up trying to fill in the missing back pieces to the characters’ make-up, it’ll be soothed by the sharp one-liners and original supernatural frenzy Moreci, Seeley, Dibari and Spicer joyfully throw at you.