By Jon Schnepp, Guiu Vilanova, and Mauricio Wallace
Thrash-metal rock gods, Slayer are the latest music group to transcend their typical venue for a comic book. The story for “Repentless” is based on Slayer’s videos, which were written and directed by B.J. McDonnell (Hatchet III), with a script written by Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse). The book, as of the first issue is flawlessly written, but make no mistake…this comic is HARDCORE! “Repentless” is not just violent, it’s ultra violent, so if that’s not your cup of bile then look elsewhere. Chances are, though, whether you’re a fan or not, if you know of Slayer you can guess what to expect. That said, you might still be in for a surprise. Both the main cover art by legendary Heavy Metal artist Glenn Fabry with collaborator Adam Brown, and the alternate cover for issue #1, by Eric Powell (The Goon), will make you cringe, but you’ll still have more than one chance to wince before you get to the last page. Ultimately done as artful, there are cover-to-cover beatings, stabbings, blood, torture and things worse than death. But hey, it’s Slayer, what do you expect?
Previous generations referred to rock and roll as questionable, which seems to have encouraged even louder and faster music in subsequent decades. Punk rock turned into heavy metal, which often is so ferocious and chaotic, that liner notes are required to understand what is actually being sung. As you may suspect, the lyrics more often than not lend to a disturbingly real depiction of the very worst in human potential to do physical and emotional harm. Whether the words were literally satanic or just plain shocking, the fan base, which quickly built up around this form of music, is undeniably strong. So bands like Slayer have always thrived. Bringing that badass attitude to comics while catering to an audience appreciative of all things hardcore might be a wise move as far as sales are concerned. But what makes this book worth reading for the average fan?
Slayer: Repentless #1 is a smooth, coherent story. Content aside, you could have a nice, easy read with believable dialogue and scenes that cut back and forth with fluid motion. Jon Schnepp writes with expert pacing and a building plot, while staying true to the subject matter. Characters don’t wink at the audience, the story never allows for a peek behind the curtain, and as a result you’re left face to face with all manner of criminal activity. Biker gangs, neo-Nazis and even prison convicts turn on each other as much as they lash out at the innocent. Intense doesn’t sell it. Calling it hardcore doesn’t even really do this comic justice, so you just have to take a chance with the understanding that as of this review, you’ve been warned.
Though it’s impossible to talk about the quality of this comic without mentioning the over the top graphic content, a good deal of credit needs to be given to artist Guiu Vilanova and colorist Mauricio Wallace, (both of whom worked together on another Dark Horse comic called Weird Detective). Even though the often hard to look at visuals here, are their doing, the two manage to illustrate with a level of professionalism that is without question worthy of your money. Maybe issue #1 will turn you off from the rest of the series, maybe not, but one thing is for sure, it’s worth checking out. It’s safe to assume everything in the script made it to the page because this comic is packed to the brim with background and character details. Flashbacks and retellings help convey the story, but the way in which the pages and panels are laid out make for some expert storytelling. It’s legible if not startling, graceful if not jarring and fun if not terrifying. There is a knack to doing this well, and through dramatic facial expressions and gritty landscapes, Guiu Vilanova sets up Mauricio Wallace to step in and create a layer of texture – red-stained or otherwise -that makes for an environment as believe as it is imaginative. They don’t hold back, which is admirable, but they also don’t dwell on any one panel too long. Everything is seemingly strategically planned in order to remain faithful to the story while not outright deliberately scaring readers for the sake of shock value.
So, what do you say? Ready for an ultra violent crime tale inspired by the world’s most popular thrash metal rock band? OK, then you’re gonna love Slayer: Repentless. If it turns out it’s too much for you, then that’s completely understandable. Maybe comics fans in general will check it out simply for a change of pace, or to challenge what they currently perceive to be a violent comic. Either way, Slayer isn’t taking any chances they haven’t taken before, and it’s always worked for them and their fans alike. That means the real risks here is on publisher Dark Horse. For what it’s worth, Dark Horse has always pushed high quality books while embracing the horror genre, and this book fits neatly in that lineup. Time will tell if the imagery and content will stick with you in a bad way, or in a very bad way, but that makes the book a risk. And a risky book like this isn’t a sure bet as far as sales go, or if readers will actually enjoy it.