13 Horsemen – Biker Gang vs Demons

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In the world of horror we’ve seen a lot of demon slayers: strong-willed priests, determined brothers, unassuming youngsters, and so on. But in terms of general concept, 13 Horsemen may be the first “biker gang versus demons” pitch I’ve ever come across. Take John Constantine, Sam and Dean Winchester, Ash Williams, and all your other favorite demon hunters and bedeck them in tattoos and leather. Then throw in a horde of blood-thirsty demons and a narrative jam-packed with action and suspense, and out comes this gloriously gory story of war between humans and the forces of Hell.

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13 Horsemen Horror Comic Book Cover
13 Horsemen Horror Comic Book Cover

Readers are immediately thrown into the action with the biker gang (The 13 Horsemen) riding into a trailer park in pursuit of a demon leader named Corbin. It’s clear the bikers have done this before, as they begin systemically blowing demons apart with guns and searching the trailers. The violence is relentless, brutal, and bloody. This opening scene also gives fair warning to the reader that though the Horsemen are a tough group, they aren’t impervious to injury and death. It’s a wonderfully chaotic start and really helps set the tone for the series as a whole.

As the story progresses it begins to fall into a rotating wheel of plot points: traps are sprung, our heroes are taken prisoner, a miraculous escape happens, and the cycle continues again. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with a predictable set of events, and many TV shows and comics in this genre follow similar paths, but there aren’t many major twists or surprises. Still, the stakes continue to rise and there is a forward momentum that keeps things tense and entertaining. Each rotation of the plot wheel brings James (leader of the gang) one step closer to finding the demon that killed his wife and child so many years ago. There’s also plenty of great cliffhangers, both at the end of each issue and during the stories from one page to the next.

biker gang art from 13 Horsemen horror comic
The 13 Horsemen prepare for danger

With thirteen-plus characters to focus on, it’s no surprise that we don’t get a lot of depth and background for our demon slayers. However, there are moments sprinkled throughout that help define their personalities and several hints at larger backstories. So even though you don’t know their life histories, you still have a good sense of their relationships and motivations. The scarred and mysterious character they refer to as Father is particularly intriguing, and I’m very interested to see what his connection is to the demon army and story at large.

The demons themselves are quite the terrifying bunch: glowing red eyes, ghostly pale skin, and viciously sharp fangs. Most of the ones harassing our heroes are foot soldiers, though there are a few climactic moments where larger beasts are unleashed upon the group for epic battles. My only small complaint is that the demons are extremely similar in appearance and mannerisms to vampires. If I were shown images from this and 30 Days of Night I would have a hard time telling the difference. There’s even a moment where a frightened police officer refers to them as vampires, so maybe it’s intentional? Not a deal breaker by any means, just an element that was a little distracting. 

demon army art from 13 Horsemen horror comic
The 13 Horsemen facing a demon army

Not only has author Nat Jones written a riveting and action packed story, but he’s filled it with perfectly detailed illustrations and compelling colors. The art style is heavy on the sketching and light on the shading, enabling the coloring to play a major role. The extensive presence and multi varied shades of reds, oranges, and yellows do a good job of complimenting the action and drawing you into the fiery hell that has been unleashed upon the earth. Also the lettering by Janice Chiang functions as an exemplary model of how to weave onomatopoeia into tense fight scenes for dramatic effect. 

13 Horsemen strikes just the right balance between dramatic tension and over-the-top bombastic violence. It’s exactly the right tone needed for a story about warring bikers and demons, and it matches well with the frenetic pacing and gripping visuals. Despite a few shortcomings in plot repetition and conveniences, the reading experience was one of unbridled enthusiasm. There’s plenty to relish here, and, as the ending would suggest, there may be plenty more demon fighting fun on its way. So grab your holy gun, hop on your Harley, and let’s ride!

13 Horsemen is available now from Storm King Comics.

Hope…for the Future, Vol 1 – A Neo-Noir, Pulp Crime Horror

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Imagine the black and white pulp crime world of Dick Tracy mixed with the neo-noir of Frank Miller’s Sin City. Now, add in a dash of occult magic and envision the love child of James Ellroy and Alan Moore, a genre-bending mashup of L.A. Confidential and Hellblazer. Starting to get the picture? If you love any of those genres as much as I do, then you will be head-over-heels for 2000AD’s gritty detective graphic novel Hope…for the Future. 

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Hope for the Future comic book cover
Hope for the Future comic book cover

In an alternate post-war 1940s Los Angeles, where occult forces are a fact of life, Mallory Hope is a private detective haunted by his past… and by the demon he works with. When a new case involving a missing boy reminds him of his own lost child, Hope is determined to find him. But he soon discovers all is not what it seems, with dark powers lurking behind the lights of Hollywood

Our protagonist, John Mallory, is very much a John Constantine type: a hard boiled private investigator who’s tuned into the magical world existing beneath everyday reality. He’s a man on a mission, navigating the dark underbelly of 1940s Los Angeles with a dry wit and a grim disposition that makes him immediately likeable. He’s rough and tough, and when given the option to run or double down he always chooses the latter (at one point shrugging and saying “It’s been hours since my last beating”). But he’s also compassionate – demonstrated when he risks his life to save a misfortunate child threatened by a gang of violent goons. I was invested in him from the very first page, his narration really helps to carry the story and give it the necessary exposition and snark.

john mallory art from Hope for the Future comic
John Mallory takes a beating

In this story Hope is tasked with finding a young movie prodigy, a child star who has suddenly gone missing. His investigation will take him to various Hollywood locales, from glitzy film production studios to seedy underground clubs. Along the way we learn about his use of magical powers and how these supernatural interactions are slowly draining his life force. We learn about the enigmatic spirit he accidentally conjured, who wears a nun’s habit and gas mask and feeds off his misery. And we learn, to my great excitement, that there is an overarching storyline about him tracking down the dark being who stole away his wife and son.

demon kidnapping art from Hope for the Future comic
A demonic kidnapper

The writing of Guy Adams is on point here. Literally every single wistful, droll, and pessimistic line from Hope is gold. The story includes a good mix of drama, horror, and humor, and the core mystery of the missing boy would be compelling enough, but the added occult elements really elevate it. Inserting scenes of snake-tongued demons into a detective thriller plot is jarring, but in the best way possible. I definitely appreciate that magic is simply part of the story, and that it’s the dynamic characters who drive the momentum. We get just enough backstory on Mallory to make him engaging, but there’s suggestions of more intriguing reveals in the future. 

And that art from Jimmy Broxton…wow. Normally, I’m a fan of vibrant colors in comics, but the black and white illustrations here just fit so superbly. They’re grungy, gritty, and the art certainly feels like an homage to earlier horror/crime comics. I love the shading and stark contrasts, and how the style bends towards realism in the way the characters and settings are drawn. I also love how Broxton overlays swirling runes and symbols across the panels to let us know when magic is (literally) in the air.

Occult magic art from Hope for the Future comic
Seeing the world through dark magic

This first volume, in my opinion, is a near perfect story. It’s a horror crime thriller with a solid plot  and great pacing, populated with wonderful character archetypes plucked from the supernatural noir genre that bred it. It has a self-contained storyline, but it expertly weaves in a larger plot and perfectly sets up the next book. At 66 pages it’s a very quick read and it leaves you hungry for more. I absolutely cannot wait to join Mallory Hope’s further adventures in the next volume!

Hope…for the Future is available now from 2000AD Comics

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