Written by Jordie Bellaire and Jeremy Lambert
Art by Eleonora Carlini and Cris Peter
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Buffy the Vampire Slayer teams up with the vampire Angel in Hellmouth #1, the series’ inaugural crossover event at BOOM! Studios. Writers Jordie Bellaire and Jeremy Lambert hit the ground running with this tag-team series, so if you haven’t been reading at least the main Buffy title, you might be a little bit lost - still, artist Eleonora Carlini and colorist Cris Peter make this vampire apocalypse feel every inch a threat, with some dynamic layouts and eye-catching colors keeping the production values high. While this isn’t necessarily a flawless team-up between these two characters, the potential for Hellmouth is high.
First off, a disclosure: the first time I read this book, I had a bit of a hard time parsing the story. But once I caught up with the previous issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, things started clicking into place - namely, the vampire Drusilla has activated a Hellmouth in Sunnydale, letting loose all sort of monsters to terrorize the city. Bellaire and Lambert don’t spend a ton of time giving us exposition, which can make this a bit of an insular experience, especially since Carlini’s designs don’t necessarily lend a lot of differentiation between characters like Buffy and Anya - but if you’re already familiar with the Hellmouth preludes, you’ll already be primed to enjoy Buffy’s escape from a now literally hellish high school dance. Buffy of course steals the show, as she gets to cross that divide from alienated high schooler to a Slayer with purpose - seeing her in her element makes for some really engaging characterization.
While the action that’s on display - not to mention the abject fear of people like Giles - makes Hellmouth feel like it has some real (ahem) stakes, I’d add there’s one other thing that keeps this series from being a slam dunk: namely, why Angel is in it at all. While Buffy’s adventures naturally dovetail into Hellmouth, this meeting between Buffy and Angel feels a little less than organic - the brooding vampire more or less just shows up, and while Bellaire and Lambert give he and Buffy some banter as they try to one-up each other’s badassery, there’s nothing in this issue that makes his quest seem personal like Buffy’s.
But the real daring stuff has to be Carlini and Peter’s work. While sometimes her kinetic Dutch angles can sometimes make it hard to follow, Carlini is putting the pedal to the metal with this event book, particularly with a sequence of Buffy racing to save as many of her classmates as possible from the demons of the Hellmouth. There’s a little bit of Dan Mora and a little bit of classic Humberto Ramos in Carlini’s work, and Carlini’s cartoony style automatically injects a lot of energy into a book that could have just as easily veered into oppressiveness. I think a lot of that bounciness comes from Peters’ colors - he does a great job at bringing in bright pinks, reds and greens into the mix while always remembering the nighttime elements of the setting.
While it still has its share of imperfections, Hellmouth #1 manages to snag victory from the fangs of defeat, thanks to some beautiful artwork and a likable lead. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as a standalone event, because there is definitely an expectation that readers are already fully aware of what’s going on, making this a potentially inaccessible read for newcomers. Given that there’s four issues left of this series - not to mention tie-ins in both the Buffy and Angel titles - there’s still plenty of time to smooth out any rough edges in execution, and if Bellaire, Lambert and Carlini’s opening salvo is anything to judge it by, fans of the Whedonverse are likely in for a hell of a good time.