Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chronic Review: Hack/Slash My First Maniac # 1!

Hack/Slash: My First Maniac # 1
Image Comics

Script: Tim Seeley
Art: Daniel Leister
22 pages for $3.50

Hack/Slash: My First Maniac takes us back to Cassie Hack's adolescence, and in the process grows out of its own. Hack/Slash has always been good for a laugh, and it's always been clever about poking fun at horror films, comics, and itself. I'm seeing evidence that the book is growing into something more.

To be clear, there was nothing wrong with where the book was at previously. Tim Seeley was producing entertaining comics under unfortunate economic conditions at Devils Due. He soldiered through it longer than he probably should have in the name of loyalty and integrity. Seeley took ownership of the situation and borrowed money personally to make good for his artists when DDP could not, and now....a new start.

I suppose that I don't have access into the mind of Tim Seeley. I do have a history with this franchise as a fan, though. And as I finished the first issue of My First Maniac I thought to myself "He's pulling a Joss Whedon on this."

You remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right? Before it built a Whedon empire and pretty much redefined genre television, it was a really quirky movie starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, and Pee Wee Herman for God's sake.

To be fair, it wasn't a great film, but neither was it a travesty. It was just...silly. A bit clever, certainly unexpected, and silly. That's essentially where Hack Slash has been. I'm not suggesting that nothing dark or developed ever happened at Devils Due. But for the most part it worked as a parody, the action was largely cartoony, and it was played for laughs. It felt "safe."

My First Maniac is not safe. There are no "haha teehee" moments reminding us of the absurdities of Nightmare on Elm Street. Cassie Hack suffers a series of real hurts, both physical and psychological. We get far more interior access into Cassie's emotional state, and Seeley kind of breaks your heart as Cassie chooses to strip away every normal and "girly" element from her life so that she can defend a world that probably doesn't deserve her.

From a plot standpoint, this is a development of an origin story that we already know pieces of. Cassie Hack began hunting "slashers" because her mother was one. Maniac shows us details of what happened directly after that. She's placed in a foster home, and has a window for claiming a mundane existence, maybe even a happy one.

I think that's the thing that struck me most about this issue, is that it was clear to me that Cassie had a choice. Not an easy one, but a choice. In the end, she decides that facing off against supernatural horrors is more palatable than facing down cheerleader hate squads and opening up to new people who probably care for her. It feels less vulnerable and more natural for her to hunt slashers and feed off the pain. And it feels real, not cartoony.

This is not your father's Hack Slash. I noticed Seeley playing around with parallelism, which I hadn't noticed before. I think the move to Image was a chance to re-evaluate and re-energize the franchise, and I like what I see. Cassie Hack and this book are growing up!

I'm not sure if this is a limited experiment, or if Seeley really is pulling a Whedon here and consciously taking this thing to new level of sophistication. It's felt for awhile like the book was growing, actually. Feeding less off of pop culture and becoming more layered, more self-referential.

Is this a good place for new readers to start? Most definitely. Will I be disappointed to see Hack/Slash return to its more comedic roots? No, I wouldn't. I think it's quite viable to throw a variety of emotional tones to a series without betraying the audience. Sometimes Spider-Man can be a straight popcorn action book, and sometimes you get a "Kraven's Last Hunt", you know? There's room for both, and I'm simply impressed with Seeley spreading his wings and crafting a different kind of well-told tale.

- Ryan

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