The detective is a well-known protagonist in mystery fiction and beyond. This person is an agent of law and order, but often throughout the course of their story, they begin to suspect that the civilization and laws they swore to defend are not necessarily thwarting the evil people in the world. They might, in fact, discover that those laws might be helping them. What makes this trope well-known is its versatility. These detectives can even police streets that exist beyond space and time. They can even serve their own brand of law and order in Hell itself. Such is the plot behind Hellcop, Vol. 1: Welcome to Hell, written by Brian Haberlin and illustrated by Haberlin and Geirrod Van Dyke.

Humanity has found a way to travel between dimensions, so they break into Dimension 1301-A, a dimension full of demonic creatures, barren landscapes, and shadowy cities. It takes a special kind of human to be a Hellcop and patrol this dimension, and one such person is Virgil Hilts. He’s a well-respected Hellcop until he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Soon, he is on the run through 1301-A while other Hellcops are hot on his trail, and the only way he can get out of Hell is to discover who or what has framed him.

Haberlin gets a lot of story mileage taking a hard-boiled detective whose characterization has a lengthy pedigree and tossing them into an environment that blends both science fiction and horror. Sure, there are cops that patrol some mean streets, the book implies, but only a cop like Virgil (readers of Dante’s Inferno should appreciate the name) can patrol streets featuring a host of very demonic looking characters and flying, foul-mouthed cherubs. In an attempt to make him less one-dimensional, Haberlin gives him a life outside of hell, including a loss he is struggling to overcome, but the real core of this book is the basic premise of a wisecracking cop surviving by the skin of his teeth in a place where just about everything has much sharper teeth.

This world that Virgil finds himself running through is gorgeously conceived by both Haberlin and Van Dyke. 1301-A is at times a gritty industrial metropolis, an uninhabitable wasteland, and a surreal dreamscape. The design of 1301-A seems to be influenced by a milieu of pop culture worlds with futuristic cityscapes and fantastical worlds, from Blade Runner to Hellraiser, and meshes its science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements so that they easily coexist. Plus, Haberlin and Van Dyke’s humans all have great emotional range and expressions, but they also do a great job of portraying cherubs as less angelic babies and more flying monsters.

The title of Hellcop might be a little misleading. It leans more into science fiction and less into mysticism. However, main character Virgil is a detective protagonist who more than satisfies the Cop part of the book’s title. This book is ideal for science fiction fans as well as noir and detective fans who don’t mind their hard-boiled pulp hero rubbing shoulders with monsters not of this earth. This book might not spend a lot of time meditating on the darkness in the human soul or why some souls are worthy of hell, but this book is a fun ride through a hellish dimension.

Hellcop, Vol. 1: Welcome to Hell
By Brian Haberlin
Art by Brian Haberlin, Geirrod Van Dyke
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534322967

Publisher Age Rating: Mature

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

  • James

    | He/Him Circulation Librarian, Clark County Public Library

    Reviewer

    James Gardner is a Circulation Librarian at Clark County Public Library in Kentucky. Along with writing his own stories, he reviews horror for his own blog The Foreboding Home of the Scary Librarian and other places. But graphic novels are another love of his, having grown up loving Spider-Man and the X-Men. Reviewing graphic novels is a dream gig because the graphic novel is a medium that is full of great stories. One of the best things about being a librarian is always having an excuse to read graphic novels among other books, which is because readers’ advisory depends on reading books (while advising is the other half, of course). He also enjoys role-playing games, which is another opportunity for him to immerse himself in a story.

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