Hector “Heck” Hammarskjold was once the town hero, taking his high school football team to the State Championship game as their star quarterback. But that was a long time ago and he is no longer the hero he once was. He’s come back home to bury his estranged father and to fix up the old home to sell. While doing so, he discovers a secret: the home contains a portal to hell itself!
Having few other options in life, Heck goes into business contacting the recently departed by journeying into hell to settle inheritance and other disputes. Elliot, an old friend from high school, accompanies him on his journeys as his ever-faithful, if somewhat mummified, companion. All of a sudden, an old flame asks Heck to take an important message to her late husband. As a result, Heck and Elliot face their most terrifying journey yet, braving all nine circles of hell and all the horrors it can throw at them, revealing to them more than they ever wanted to know…. and possibly more than they can ever endure.
If reading the summary of this book makes it sound like a horror story or an explorer/adventure type story, then you have picked up on some of the essence of what the book is about. But it is so much more. Zander Cannon presents a tale that evokes memories of the Twilight Zone and Dante’s Inferno. It is a complex tale which leaves the reader pondering questions of great importance, such as the meaning of life, what lies in the great beyond…and what is with the sandwiches?
The name of Zander Cannon may be familiar to many readers, as he is a rather prominent and well known artist in the graphic novel realm. He has worked with Jim Ottaviani on T-Minus: Race to the Moon, as well as The Replacement God, for which he was a Harvey Award nominee. He also won an Eisner Award, along with Alan Moore and Gene Ha, for their work on Top Ten. However, this is his first full length graphic novel as a solo creator. Given all of his accomplishments as an artist, readers are wondering what his newest story is like. Suffice to say, Cannon is able to craft a story that is just as powerful as his artwork. He crafts a powerful tale of memory, sorrow, regret, and redemption that adult readers will remember for a long time.
With Heck and Elliot, Cannon has created two characters who are some of the most memorable I have ever encountered. When we first meet Elliot, he is clearly a flawed character, as he fawns over Heck and is physically weak and small. His weakness only intensifies in the first chapter when we discover that Elliot is now more of a walking mummy that anything else. However, these flaws mask the strongest character in the book. Elliot is able to remember Hell when Heck cannot and towards the end, he resembles the more powerful of the two. Heck is also more than he seems. When we first meet him, he is worn down, failing at his job, and the hometown hero vibe has washed off of him. But as he journeys into the bowels of hell, we see something else emerge, something that gives us hope and courage in the journey that we endure along with him.
These two characters will truly resonate with more mature readers who have had some of the same experiences that Heck and Elliot have had: surviving high school, wanting to be a part of the big game, and struggling with memories of the past.
Given all of Cannon’s talents in the art realm, it is strange to write that it is the art that troubles me the most about this book. His artwork for T-Minus is refined and gorgeous, while it is more crude in design here, as if Cannon’s hands were taped together with a giant paintbrush. It is unsettling to see this type of art since as a reader, I love seeing refined art with solid forms and seeming life to it. However, Cannon’s art is much more primal and primitive in nature and embodies the tale of sorrow, regret, and a journey into Hell. Having read Dante, I can imagine Hell’s caverns to have jagged edges and rough-hewn figures, which Cannon has captured. The artwork enhances the story and creates the emotion that is pouring out of the characters. While there is a lack of refinement, there is a power to the primitive forms the characters occupy.
Although Heck was serialized in Double Barrel, a journal that Cannon helps produce, this is the first time it has been available for purchase as a stand alone story. This is a story that is more powerful than it first appears. Cannon leads us into a world of unquestionable power, reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. It is a story that will leave you breathless, frightened, and empowered by what life can bring.
by Zander Cannon
Top Shelf Productions, 2013