Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Heck by Zander Cannon

The good folks at Top Shelf Comix sent me an advanced galley of Zander Cannon's Heck, which I'll try to review without too many puns. The following phrases have been purged from this review during editing: hell of an adventure, many layered exploration, lingers like hell.

Heck is Cannon's first graphic novel (though he's a Harvey Award nominee for The Replacement God and Eisner Award winner, with Alan Moore and Gene Ha, for Top Ten). He also worked in a Prairie Home Companion reference into his bio.

The plot is straight-forward: Hector "Heck" Hammarskj√∂ld is the estranged son of a sorcerer, who finds a gateway to hell in dad's basement, then decides to take up the adventuring life, acting as an abyssal currier service for grieving mortals who want to ask one last question of the dead.

But this is not a horror story, nor is it a morality play. At its heart, Heck is about Heck's disappointment with himself. The other characters, the people who Heck has pinned hopes and expectations onto, never come into focus quite as clearly as he does. The only woman in the story is a grieving widow/ potential girlfriend. There is Elliott, the faithful sidekick to whom Heck is indebted. And then there is Heck's father. There is no reference to Heck's mother.

Where the book really takes off is when we start to realize the effect that these trips to hell have on Heck's memory.

Because the human mind can forget a lot. In fact, I'd argue must forget a lot to be able to keep going. I broke my leg a couple years ago, and that shot of pain when I tried to stand up was the single worst feeling I've ever hand. But I don't remember the pain itself, only that I was in pain.

Heck finds the same thing is true about hell, and about his life on Earth. He's rationalized and compartmentalized a million little sins (and a couple of big ones) so that he can keep going. So has every character in the book. So how does he respond when he sees the consequences in hell? Cannon's book suggests that there are limits to forgiveness- limits to what we can forgive ourself for, and limits to what we can forgive others for.

I read the galley on an iPad held sideways, which framed the 8.5"x 5.5" pages quite nicely. While Heck is still in digital serialization through Double Barrel, I kept thinking about how great the hardcover will look when it comes out.

Everything is drawn in black and white, in a style that I'll call "harshly lit cartoon." The cartoonish-ness of some of the panels balances the seriousness of the content (contrasted with something like Sin City, where the lightlessness of the panels was an equal part of the mood). That sense of light provided by the ample white space on the page was probably amplified by reading it on a backlit screen, so (again) it'll be really interested to re-read it when the hardcover comes out.

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