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The third issue of Dark Horse’s horror comic–book series from Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake, To Hell You Ride, premieres tomorrow, on February 13th, and it’s a pleasure to report that the story continues to intrigue, and to escalate in intensity and vivid imagery.
The third issue commences with the execution of a man -- a father -- in 1939. It’s a particularly empty and useless death, and that is likely the thematic point. An act of officially-sanctioned murder always destroys more than one life, and can satisfy blood-lust but rarely bring true justice. In this instance, capital punishment actually sets the path for another life (and perhaps another and another…). The unnecessary and unjust nature of this death also points to the fact that even in America, some citizens are considered more “equal” than others. Others are merely…disposable.
To Hell You Ride’s story then shifts to present day as the catastrophic, biological “curse” we saw rear its head in Issue Two returns to gorily claim several drunken revelers in a hot tub. I loved this out-and-out horror scene because it deals with several genre tropes (like “the breast part of the movie” convention) in very direct fashion, and then ends in visceral, sickening fashion. This is a scene you could easily imagine on the silver screen, and it is really wicked fun.
Later in the issue, the same flesh-melting force rises again, destroying the corpulent Mayor Boyer immediately after he declares that his town is absolutely, 100% safe. It’s an ironic moment, of course, and Boyer’s death reveals the authors’ effective sense of gallows or black humor. Long-time horror comic fans will love this moment for another reason. The idea of the unjust and avaricious getting their (supernatural?) comeuppance plays like a narrative element from a 1960s E.C. Comic.
As the story continues, the military swoops in with black helicopters, and attempts to quarantine the contaminated town. The military captures and tests denizens… and even picks-off with snipers those who attempt to flee. Leading this violent initiative is a malevolent force of darkness named “Blackwash.”
Before the issue is done, Blackwash gets to utter the famous George W. Bush-ian line: “either you’re with me or against me. I have to protect the nation.”
In (effective) response, kindly Jim Shipps -- the Lance Henriksen surrogate in appearance and nature -- responds that the people under fire by Blackwash are the nation. How can violence perpetrated against the spirit and body of the nation be misconstrued as national security or protection?
This third issue of To Hell You Ride contains much more action and horror imagery than did the previous entries combined, yet it continues to develop several cerebral themes. Specifically, the narrative features several parallel tracks of time. The notion explored is that time doesn’t have a beginning or an ending, but rather a non-linear structure. Here Two-Dogs, a character who speaks to his dead ancestors, notes that the idea of “changing fate” is one of white, or western culture. Fate can’t be changed. Time doesn’t work that way.
The crucial word or idea of last issue, I felt, was “contamination.” The land was contaminated by the greedy, by the oblivious, by the entitled and the indulged. In this issue, it looks like the term contamination has been superseded by the word “empathy.”
Empathy, of course, is the action of understanding; of being aware of or sensitive to someone or something else. Empathy might also be described as the vicarious experiencing of the feelings and thoughts of another person of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
I highlighted the words in that definition I found most pertinent.
If we couple the authors’ focus on Mother Nature sending man “messages” with the idea of parallel time tracks, plus empathy -- the experience of another, either in the past or the present -- we begin to excavate the secret, beating heart of To Hell You Ride. As as the definition makes clear, empathy is the quality of understanding without explicit explanation or enunciation. That definition is, actually, the mode of communication of this comic-book. Through powerful narrative voice and striking, spiky imagery, the comic tells its tale, but it doesn’t make obvious all the connections for the readers.
That’s our job. To pull all the threads together.
So far, this is how I see things. Regarding the curse: those who have caused suffering…suffer themselves. They are not immune to the pain they introduce to the world, and eventually it strikes them too. You can’t unloose evil in the world without it boomeranging back on you.
I feel the story will develop significantly from this point in issue #4 and #5. Right now we are seeing a curse played out, but without all the details of what it is, or if it can be stopped. This curse causes the suffering of those who don’t listen, don’t care, and don’t empathize with others. But mostly, it afflicts those who have shunned, slighted, and mocked Mother Nature. Those folks aren't listening to the messages.
I suspect this conceit will evolve and grow, and become even more pronounced as the comic winds to its shattering conclusion. What I feel we will soon start to understand better here is how nature connects all of us (and thus the fabric in this tapestry), and how, through empathy, that “connection” can be something greater or better than mere “contamination.”
Of course, I could be wrong. I’m just reading the breadcrumbs as they drop, as these master storytellers lead us towards the horizon of understanding. We'll all have a chance to review these analyses after the last issue, and the story is over.
To Hell You Ride Issue # 3 goes on sale tomorrow, so check it out!
As before, I wholeheartedly recommend reading all the issues back-to-back so one can glean a full sense of the story’s epic flow. The story is building in momentum with each passing page, and to get the full effect of that momentum, it’s best to start at the beginning.