One of my favorite works of the Renaissance is Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Marlowe, for those of you not in the know, was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, playwrights of his age, and if he hadn’t died tragically in a bar fight, his name might have been the only one to rival William Shakespeare’s in our collective conscious today.
Doctor Faustus is a tale we know very well in this day and age, even if you’ve never read the play. Faustus, a man obsessed with learning and the occult, sells his soul to a demon in return for power and knowledge, and then proceeds to squander everything he gains before his own downfall. It’s a tragic play, filled with tremendous pathos, that does a brilliant job of showing the folly of men who seek to gain what they have not earned.
The story itself pulls from an older, German story of a man named Faust who essentially does the same thing, and has since be translated and reinterpreted over and over again until it has become a veritable staple of demon mythology today.
Comic books are not stranger to this kind of story. So many of our heroes, from Spawn to Silver Surfer, and many, many more in-between, have had stories of people selling their soul to the devil in return for a boon that turns out to be a curse. Marvel infamously retconned years of Spider-Man stories with a Faustian bargain, and while it is sometimes forgotten, DC had an entire event line that revolved around this premise called Underworld Unleashed.
Time and time again, comic characters have dealt with this story, trading their souls for power or money or revenge, only to later regret those bargains with little hope of reversing them. It’s a staple of a lot of story telling, and so with that much history behind it, it’s hard to find room to say something new.
And that brings us to today’s book, Hell to Pay from Image Comics. Is it a worthy entry into the long, long, very extremely long lineage of sell-your-soul-to-the-devil stories, or does it get so lost in it’s premise that it loses the plot? Let’s dive in together and find out.
Here’s the blurb:
The Shrouded College will give you magic…but you’ll incur a debt. Until it’s paid, you belong to them. Married couple Maia and Sebastian Stone took that deal. They have worked for the College ever since, using their new abilities to track down 666 cursed coins: qurrakh…aka, the Devil’s Dollar. Only a few remain. The Stones are almost free…but the devil’s in the details.
Hellboy meets Indiana Jones in this supernatural adventure from CHARLES SOULE (EIGHT BILLION GENIES, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY) and WILL SLINEY (Spider-Man).
Right off the bat, Hell To Pay has a lot going for it. Charles Soule is a fantastic storyteller, who has a solid grasp on both action and fantasy. As a big fan of both Eight Billion Genies and Undiscovered Country, I was all in on checking out this new first issue. I trust in Soule as a storyteller, and believe that he can take this tale in an important and interesting direction.
Will Sliney’s art isn’t bad either. Clearly he is very talented, and while he seems more comfortable drawing the monstrous more than the mundane (a trait apparent in other great artists like Mike Mignola), I didn’t feel like the art was lacking anywhere in this story.
That being said, this story is very, very well trod territory, and really needs a pretty serious twist to breath new life into the concept. I have to say, as I worked my way through the first issue, I was a little concerned that there really wouldn’t be much of that on display in the book. It kind of set itself up as a run of the mill heist story early on, and honestly I could understand why people might try to start this book and then walk away halfway through.
But I urge you not to do that, and to give Hell To Pay a solid chance, because, while I thought I knew where it was going, this story takes some interesting and exciting twists that had me eager to read more by the end.
Hell to Pay starts off with some well worn tropes, but through the talented writing of Charles Soule, and the impressive art of Will Sliney, it manages to breath a bit of fresh life into a stale concept.
The characters have interesting backstories and there are enough secrets and world building here to warrant a read. This book is definitely in the vein of others like Hellboy, and the recently concluded Seven Secrets. If you like a good action meets supernatural thriller, I think this book might be your jam.
So check it out when it drops!
That’s it for me. I’ll see you all next week. Until then, stay safe!