This year, BOOM! Studios took control of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book license. The publisher set about reimagining Joss Whedon’s groundbreaking television series in comics form for the modern era. It rebooted Buffy's continuity, sending the Slayer, Buffy Summers, back to high school. In April the publisher launched its unannounced reboot of the Buffy spinoff series Angel. The series again follows the brooding vampire with a soul as he tries to make up for past sins by defending the innocent in Los Angeles, only this time he hasn't had his star-crossed romance with Buffy. As the first year of BOOM!’s Buffy-verse nears its end, the publisher kicks off Hellmouth, a crossover event between the two series.
Jeremy Lambert joins Jordie Bellaire in co-writing Hellmouth #1. Eleonora Carlini provides the art, enhanced by Cris Peter’s colors. The issue picks up immediately after the most recent events of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sunnydale High’s Halloween dance comes to a halt after the vampire Drusilla begins a ritual to open the Hellmouth beneath the school. Buffy scrambles to defeat Drusilla's attempt and finds herself joined by Angel. Buffy and Angel lose the race and, facing a literal hell-on-Earth scenario, take the plunge into the Hellmouth to set things right.
In the pages of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bellaire has shown that she knows how to bring out the voices of these characters as well as anyone. That remains true when working alongside Lambert. The alchemy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always found in the writers’ ability to blend the menacing with the mundane. The show knew how to slice through tension using humor without undercutting the seriousness of a supernatural threat. Hellmouth #1 achieves that same balance; it creates pauses in the middle of madness for Cordelia to question Buffy’s choice of Halloween costume. Buffy and Angel shoot the breeze about Los Angeles while making a mad dash for the Hellmouth. The creative team also peppers emotional beats into the action. Carlini does a fantastic job drawing a moment between Buffy and Xander that could be this reboot's highest emotional peak to date.
Carlini is no slouch when it comes to conveying scale and action either. As the Hellmouth comes to life, Carlini depicts dragons swooping over Sunnydale. It's a double-page spread that contrasts Sunnydale's suburban landscape with the demonic horde rising up from beneath it. In another scene, Carlini brings dynamism to a tilted page depicting Buffy sprinting as the floor crumbles beneath her. The Slayer never breaks her stride as she saves a few lives along the way, and Carlini's art sells that intense momentum.
These heights make the issue’s stumbles all the more frustrating. For all its style, Hellmouth #1 has some storytelling issues. There are a few instances when Carlini’s artwork isn’t as clear as it should be depicting a specific moment. There’s also a lot happening here, between the snappy dialogue and unleashing the hordes of the abyss, and the issue isn't effective at highlighting what's important. Upon a second reading, things become much more clear since the reader has foreknowledge of where the narrative is going. Having the events of the previous issue of Buffy fresh in mind also helps, suggesting this may not be as much of a problem in the collected edition. As it stands, the issue may leave some readers confused or feeling like they missed something after their first pass.
Hellmouth #1 also suffers from a common problem with highly-anticipated events. The first issue only takes readers as far as what the solicitation text already revealed. There’s little here that will surprise anyone who was already anticipating Hellmouth. There’s also not much under the surface of this issue, though we expect it’ll go deeper as Buffy and Angel fall further into the Hellmouth in later issues.
Despite a few weak points, this is an entertaining debut for Hellmouth. The creative team brings a significant sense of scale to the issue. It’s Buffy and Angel receiving the blockbuster treatment, and that’s exactly as much fun as you’d expect it to be. It's also a credit to all involved that they don’t lose sight of the characters in the midst of the unfolding apocalypse. Hellmouth #1 sets a hell of a tone, and we’re excited to see where it takes Buffy and Angel next.
Published by BOOM! Studios
On October 9, 2019
Written by Joride Bellaire & Jeremy Lambert
Art by Eleanora Carlini0comments
Colors by Cris Peter
Letters by Ed Dukeshire