Tales From The Longbox # 6 – Japer Revisits Hell On Earth

Every Friday, we’ll be bringing you reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.

Hell On Earth
Writer: Robert Loren Fleming
Artist: Keith Giffen
DC Comics

Would you go to hell for $100,000?

It’s one of those silly questions that you might get asked by a friend in some kind of game that tests both your ethics and morals as well as what you might do for a certain amount of money. It’s a game that’s been in human history for a long, long time but, perhaps, never as prevalent as in today’s society. Whether it’s an up and coming stockbroker trying to make their first big score or even Fear Factory on television, we’re fascinated by what other people would do for money or power. We’re captivated by the extremes that greed would take people. Perhaps it secretly makes us ponder our own moral and ethical judgements.

So then, would you go to hell for $100,000?

If you’re the fictional protagonist of Hell On Earth, struggling horror writer Guy Roberts, you answer, “Brother, just show me the money and tell me when the next train leaves.”

Hell On Earth was the first in a series of magazine-sized, science fiction graphic novels published by DC Comics in the mid 1980’s. The company’s chief rival, Marvel Comics, had already established a line of oversized books and DC wanted to get in on the act. The sci-fi series would see contemporary comic creators adapt various novels and short stories from well-established authors including work from such famous authors as Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and George R.R. Martin. Hell On Earth was originally a short story, written by Robert Bloch, the famed author of Psycho.

Robert Bloch, as a teenager, got his professional writing start in the pulp magazines of the 1930’s. One of his major influences was H.P. Lovecraft, whom he eventually befriended and was mentored by. Bloch actually wrote many stories dedicated to Lovecraft’s famous Cthulhu mythos and those influences can be readily discerned in this graphic novel.

In Hell On Earth, an aging professor seeks horror writer Guy Roberts help in documenting the effects of a “laboratory test” in which evidence of the supernatural world would manifest. Roberts, in need of the one hundred thousand dollars he is promised, agrees to the terms in a tense scene where he signs his name on a disclaimer form. The professor, employing Latin texts, zodiac signs, ancient sigils, fresh blood and a nude female colleague, attempts to conjure a minor demon. The problem begins with the reading of the wrong text. The group instead conjures the devil.

For any fan of The Exorcist, this can be interesting concept – made even more so because the group are able to trap the diabolical creature in a glass cage for study. As readers, what we distress over, quickly becomes apparent: the idea of keeping the devil imprisoned behind a glass case is a bad one – and so sets off the story’s chain of events. One by one the characters fall to the machinations of the devil as he possesses each of them. The old, quiet Professor Keith immediately becomes a socialite glutton: preening himself in his educated circles, drinking mercilessly and ruthlessly politicking for his next grant at the hands of the wealthy – promising them even more riches. The withdrawn female colleague, Dr. Ross, shamelessly gives in to the wants of the flesh, endeavoring to become a Queen on earth. Roberts, meanwhile, a decidedly failure of a writer, reaches for the power of creation – not just in words on a page but in physical form – as he summons forth an army of ghouls, demons and incubi around him in an attempt to take over the world.

Giffen, the artist here, follows a strict 16 panels per page guideline, breaking that rule at only certain tense or anxious moments in the story. His abstract style of drawing can be difficult to get used to. Many of his close ups are incomprehensible, but the simplistic way he draws the devil – two red, triangular eyes, and, sometimes, a series of rotten sharp teeth behind the cage of glass, is unnerving. The script by Loren Fleming reads quickly with an impending sense of doom. It’s the original text that is interesting here, though.

Bloch’s treatise on human ethics, morals, temptation and greed is at the heart of Hell On Earth. If it were a test, Bloch surely states that humans would fail. Still, there is also the element of redemption, hidden at the end of the story. How could there not be in a story about the devil?

So, the question still stands: would you go to hell for $100,000?

Me?

I’d need a hell of a lot more money

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