Hell, it turns out, is other people, and potholes in the street, and the worst music on full blast on the radio in the neighbor’s apartment at 3:00 in the morning. And scorpions in new shoes, and demonic doormen, and an endless list of small grievances that manage to all seem much worse than the whole lake-of-fire deal.
Hell is a place of punishment, and it’s plain Bill Tankersly - former private detective and current pig packer, condemned to a roommate and weekly parole hearings - feels he deserves the whole rotten place. Except maybe Dead Fish Man.
But that doesn’t mean he likes it. And when an agent of the Governor - the real big man, the one everyone’s talking about - comes asking for Bill’s help, it’s worth the risk to move up into the better reaches of the neighborhood. Especially since it’s in his chosen line of work. Shadowing the Big Bad is bound to be dangerous, but he’s got nothing to worry about. After all, how can things get worse?
Well, the Lord of the Flies could be going mad, Hell City could be breaking into anarchy, and something even more dangerous than the ruling demons might have infected the residents. But that just makes the job interesting.
It would be easy to make this Hell, grinding and bleak as it is, not worth caring about; even easier to make Tankersly unsympathetic in his cynical stoicism. Joe Flood’s art redeems the damned place, doing an amazing double act in the process. His detailed panels provide a claustrophobic, grimy atmosphere, full of joys like potted dead trees, bricked-in windows, and taxidermied human heads. But his expressive designs and animated body language make the despair almost picturesque, lending the characters a touch of humanity utterly at odds with their surroundings.
Hellcity is that wonderful thing: a compelling tale worth reading again. The central plot is basic and clear without being dull; the cliffhanger is legitimately weird and the future plot hard to foresee. But, as the wardens of the City would no doubt agree, it’s the little things that really matter. The thumbtacks in the booze, the baby’s teeth in the supermarket, the defiant grin of an unrepentant soul, or the dangling feet of some unexpected visitors - these are the things that make Hell City a place worth visiting. Even though you really wouldn’t want to live there.