A Walk Through Hell isn’t a hard sell for the right kind of reader. The largest hurdle it may need to clear is that a lot of readers still haven’t heard of Aftershock Comics, a relatively new publisher founded just three years ago but that’s already recruited talents like Warren Ellis, Marguerite Bennett, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti to make creator-owned work that’s unlike anything else out there.
That said, Garth Ennis is about as far from an unknown quantity as it comes in comics, the mind behind so many fan-favorite titles that it’s hard to pick just one that exemplifies his career. Along with Steve Dillon, Ennis helmed not only one of the most popular Punisher runs from Marvel, but also created Preacher, which recently wrapped a second successful season as an AMC show. He’s got a particular skill for unrepentantly violent stories that have a lot of emotional and philosophical heft to them, narratives with something to say and a unique way of doing so. A Walk Through Hell #1 (Aftershock) continues that trend, dropping readers into action already underway and almost immediately confronting violence motivated by racism, the role that social media plays in sensationalizing and amplifying bad behavior, and the importance of the current real-life president in exacerbating both of those things.
Fans of Ennis won’t be surprised by any of this, or the quick and heavy dialogue on the pages. Characters interrupt each other frequently, especially in larger groups, and there’s a real rhythm to the way it reads, closer to a true conversation than a script. In the hands of a lesser creative team, this amount of dialogue could really distract from the story, but artist Goran Sudžuka and letterer Rob Steen do an exemplary job of making sure that while the conversation flows fast and easy, people can tell who is talking and what’s going on. Sudžuka is credited as co-creator with Ennis, and it shows in the care and attention he sinks into these panels. He’s worked previously on Y: The Last Man and Ghosted, and while his bibliography may not be the length of Ennis’, his skill is matched. The character designs are good, the backgrounds are packed with a gratifying amount of detail, and the overall style is clean and crisp. He acted as a fill-in artist on Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman run, and there’s a small temptation to compare his style with Chiang’s, especially in some of Agent Shaw’s expressions.
The plot of this first issue isn’t all that extensive, but it’s enough to suck readers in. FBI Agents Shaw and McGregor are called to the scene of a crime where LAPD officers have utterly failed to do their jobs. Though the book opens on very human, familiar violence, it quickly shifts to something a lot less recognizable, and the whole team pulls that off together. Dialogue gets sparser, panels get tighter on faces contorted by panic and fear, and colorist Ive Svorcina shifts things darker and greener, casting everything in an uncomfortable dimness that only intensifies in the last pages. The issue closes with a bang both literal and figurative, the start of a mystery that will be hard to resist. It’s a little bit X-Files, a little bit Hellraiser, and a lot political, triggering innate fears of vast darkness and unknown spaces in a way that’s a lot of fun.