BOOM! Studios’ Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Bestiary #1 contains three very short stories set in the Hellraiser milieu. The first, “Symphony in Red” by Ben Meares and Mark Miller, depicts the growing bloodlust of a demonic torturer. The second, “Desert Fathers” by Victor LaValle, presents a conflict between a present-day band of demon hunters and a demon. The third, “The Hunted, Part One,” again by Ben Meares and Mark Miller, illustrates the capture and impending torture of a down-on-his-luck pinhead.
There are a range of art styles in this book, with the most accomplished in “The Hunted, Part One.” While each story presents enough dark and moody hues to sustain a menacing tone, the artwork is generally limited in scope and focus by its associated narrative. These stories are simply too short to be impactful. Too little happens — with too little at stake — for any one moment to be engrossing. This is particularly true in “The Hunted,” which is literally one very brief scene long. The idea that a reader should pay for multiple issues to get “the whole story” is frankly the most frightening thing about this collection.
Let’s talk about why this is a problem.
Clive Barker is one of the most accomplished writers of short horror fiction from the last century. While he never cracked the popular code in the way that other genre masters like King and Koontz did — his work is singular onto itself and a testament to Barker’s craft. In large part, his reputation stands on his facile use of the short form story to leave his readers creeped out. So, when you come to a collection of short works that are submitted under Barker’s own name, it is reasonable to come expecting accomplished work — work that rises above a one or two note plot. This is not to say that readers should expect something as good as a story by Barker — that would not be reasonable, as after all only Barker is Barker; however, it is nevertheless the case that the name conveys a standard and quality that should at least be approached in associated fiction.
However, let’s be kinder to the authors than that, as they are clearly enthusiastic about Barker’s efforts. If each of the pieces is judged more simply as a work of gothic fiction, a different set of strengths and weaknesses emerge. “Symphony in Red” certainly delivers on an experience of gore, as it contains a number of exploding bodies and blood-drenched profiles. “Desert Fathers” does present an interesting twist on a historical oddity with its efforts to “update” a secret occult order. And, “The Hunted” does present a violent exchange between man and monster. At the basic level of the gothic trope, each of the stories can be judged a success; however, this is not the same kind of success that leads one to conclude that the work is necessarily good, or that it rises to the aesthetic or, frankly, financial value that BOOM! Studios is pursuing.
Rather than buy five more versions of this, I would recommend that the reader go back (or perhaps go to for the first time) Barker’s Book of Blood collections, which will give you all the creepy Barker-ness you want or need between Hellraiser viewings.