Friday, January 18, 2019

Clive Barker’s Pinhead #2

Clive Barker’s Pinhead #2

A confusing re-envisioning of Barker’s classic hell-daemon

"The Devil You Don’t Know”
Writer – D. G. Chichester
Pencils – David Carrasco
Inks – Enrique Villagran
Letterer – Phil Felix
Colorist – Tom Vincent
Editor – Tom Daning
Executive Editor – Carl Potts
Editor-in-Chief – Tom DeFalco
January 1994

I was a huge fan of Clive Barker’s work when he first broke on to the scene. His horror fiction seemed to always be about taking unexpected left turns with the story he was telling. Was this a standard tale about two young gay men on holiday where one or both of them gets killed? No, this is a story about villages that compete in making giant human figures by lashing themselves to each other AND how two young gay men on holiday see this where one or both of them get killed.

That was what I liked about Barker’s work. The man was incredibly mad and his stories always felt like a fresh coat of crazy paint had been applied.

Barker’s most enduring work spun out of his story The Hellbound Heart, a novella published in 1986. In it a family is ripped apart literally and figuratively when they encounter a mystical puzzle box that opens doorways to hell. If this sounds familiar, to anyone who has seen the movie Hellraiser (1987) it should be. The movie was based off that story.

In a bit of related trivia, the original printing of The Hellbound Heart occurred in an anthology titled Night Visions edited by none-other than that Game of Thrones master George R. R. Martin.

Hellraiser introduced the idea of the Cenobites, demons from the other-dimensional realm of labyrinth called Hell. The Cenobites are lead by daemon known as Pinhead or the Hell Priest, depending on who you ask. Barker hated the Pinhead name, but it became a staple in pop culture. Pinhead’s desire is to feed souls to the Lord of the Labyrinth, a giant rotating diamond shape called Leviathan. The soul feeding is typically done by torturing the person eternally, but occasionally (as the plot demands it) this may come in the form of turning the person into a junior Cenobite (with all the mutilation and black rubber that goes with it).

In the original Hellraiser movie, the co-monster is a man who escaped from the Cenobite’s torture, but now needs a few dozen men’s blood to become whole again. The movie had a great premise, with the Cenobites becoming more like avenging devils seeking out the one who called them with the puzzle box, but escaped their painful pleasure-dome. The worst moment is an unexpected nail through the finger that makes me cringe to this day.

Sadly, the second movie (Hellraiser II – 1987) was penned by Barker and cover pretty much the same ground. This time it was the lover of the guy who returned in the first movie who got the old “needs blood to regenerate her body” problem and more Cenobites acting to pull her back into Hell. I was highly disappointed in movie number two.

By the third film, the series became schlock and Barker only assisted in post-production. This was 1992 and while the story was completely different, it was a significant step down from Hellraiser II’s rehash. In Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth Pinhead and his prior human self are split in twain. Pinhead haunts an evil pillar, using it and a womanizing club owner to swallow enough souls to rematerialize on Earth. It is an odd movie that skirts the line of stupidity before collapsing under the weight of its own silliness.

It was right around this point where the comic book tie-ins for the property took an odd turn. Starting in 1989 Marvel’s Epic line had released an anthology Hellraiser comic. The books came at a premium price, being squarebound, high quality affairs with slick pages and occasionally painted art and covers. It ran on something akin to a quarterly schedule, with only twenty issues being released between 1989 and 1992. Alongside it ran a two part Hellraiser vs Nightbreed, intermingling Barkers two most famous properties, and a Hellraiser Companion book.

But in 1992, things Hellraiser took an odd turn at Epic. We received a Hellraiser Summer Special and a Hallraiser Winter (Dark Holiday) Special. Hellraiser III got the movie adaptation treatment in one-shot comic book form. And then in 1993, Epic decided to get REALLY creative.

Clive Barker’s Pinhead six-issue miniseries was released. The book moved away from the anthology-type short stories the Hellraiser comics were known for in favor of an ongoing storyline with Pinhead as the protagonist. The painted, slick page, squarebound format was paired down to standard stapled cover over printed pencil and ink on a slightly upgraded paper stock. It ain’t Baxter paper, but it isn’t far from it either.

As for the story…well, whew! The story is a doozy.

It took me the entirety of the rambling issue two to piece together exactly what was happening and what had come before. I don’t dare throw you into the water without floaties, though, because this book could sink many people’s interest before you find the right stroke to stay afloat.

So here goes me summarizing an issue I don’t own based upon a few internet posts and what I can glean from issue two:

In the present day (yes, it’s a time travel tale! Those are always super uncomplicated.), Pinhead and a few of the Cenobites realize that many of their brethren daemons have vanished as if they never existed. The cause appears to be a misshapen vandal known only in the comic as the Aggregate, who is some sort of gestalt being. The Aggregate is traveling back in time and removing Lament Configuration puzzle boxes from various eras resulting in history deleting any Cenobites created by those boxes. Pinhead vows to stop him/her/them by doing a little time travel himself via inhabiting the bodies of his ancestors (or something).

Yes, I realize that sounds bizarre. Turning Pinhead into the hero of the story is just flat-out weird, but the added head scratch goal being to restore as many mutilated humans as possible to Cenobite-hood goes off the deeper “deep end” for me. Who exactly am I supposed to be rooting for here? I mean Pinhead’s name IS on the book’s title. Is he the guy I’m cheering on? Or the guy that is removing evil Cenobite daemons?

That part is mega unclear. Just you read along with me and see…

…We jump right into the action on this one, and I must state that D. G. Chichester drops the ball on story transitions. If you come into issue two blind, as I did on first read-through, the story makes little-to-no sense. The problem with that is Chichester has an intro narration that could be used to do less to setup atmosphere and more to tell us what the heck is going on. Lemme show you…

So far, so good. It’s a Red Dead Redemption 2 gunfight going down in the center of main street. This is gunslinger one. And gunslinger two is…

A weird Cenobite with a gore-coated mini-gun, something far too advanced for this time. Immediately I have questions. How did the Cenobite get here? Was it summoned by someone with a box? Why is he from the future and now appears to be about to kill people in the past? What has Deadeye done to earn his wrath? Who are we supposed to root for?

I can look for answers to these questions all I want, but the pages of this story are NOT going to provide them until MUCH later on. Too late, by my estimation, as the first cursory reading I performed had me dumping out mid-book and placing it in the pile of incoherent messes. I seriously did not understand the story. What brought me back was the pages were already scanned (a HUGE timesaver) and a bit of web research to fill in the missing gaps from issue one. Note that this was released in the early 1990’s and some of those internet sources might not have been around yet to help others. Those poor, poor bastards.

Moving on story-wise, the mini-gun toatting, sadomasochist smurf begins shooting…

… slicing his target in half. And the guy his target had hidden on a second floor as some kind of backup shooter…

…and some random horses…

…and this passer-by that I’m not even certain was in on the gunfight…Basically anyone and everyone on the street at that moment. All the while the narrative explains that he’s a Cenobite who has traveled back in time and his name is Atkins. Like the diet where you can eat all the bacon you want. 

Also, it puts out that lame “body count for something” joke that had me debating running the book through the shredder. Seriously.

And before we get a handle on who Atkins really is or what he is doing here, his gut gun jams. Then a rider approaches bearing him ill will. Atkins gets ready for a little close combat by drawing a knife.

But the surprise is on me! The rider is another Cenobite, a female called Fan Dancer. She’s a one-eyed Indian lass who is part of “The Scarred Hide” gang of western day Cenobite daemons. 

Along with her is another of the Hide, a chap by the name of Dixie, who wears a Confederate uniform but has his legs and lower torso removed in favor of a set of sharp knife-like appendages. We can’t see them (and they are never really visually well established), but we can tell he has them by the dialogue of those around him. Here he uses them to slash at Atkins, causing him to drop his knife.

All of this is well and good, but doesn’t explain WHY we have Cenobites fighting each other.

Which they stop doing the very next instant. Appears Fan Dancer and Dixie are working for Leviathan’s agent sent back in time, Pinhead. Maybe Atkins is too, VERY hard to tell at this point. What isn’t hard to tell is that Atkins get dragged up on the horse with the pair who gallop out of town because they are afraid a few gunslingers might have survived Atkins mow-down.

They are undead, demon-things. Since when has a few bullets been a problem for them?

I mean, they aren’t like this poor chap, who appears to have been the town telegraph operator.

No clue how any of those four panels tie into the larger narrative, but let’s keep reading, shall we. Although be prepared, because NOW the story starts to get a bit convoluted.

We flash forward in time and end up in Hell where “Face” and “Gehenna” stand over the prone, empty vessel that was Pinhead strapped to a machine created by Sinistrari and powered by the destruction of that Cenobite’s body. The machine is how Pinhead has time and body leaped back to his ancestor in the wild, wild west. At least that’s what I make of all this…

…also that Atkins apparently was sent back via the same process, but with his body intact and these other two Cenobites will join Pinhead when he time leaps for the next two jumps or something. It’s beginning to become a muddle, but I think I get it. 

So back we go to Atkins, Fan Dancer, and Dixie, just in time for Fan to give us a better understanding of what the Sufferer’s Hide Guild is, exactly.

From this I glean that Fan Dancer, Dixie and the other two Sufferer’s Guild members we are about to meet, are NOT Cenobites as I earlier surmised. They are just…blue skinned humans who can withstand mutilation? I don’t get it? They aren’t Cenobites but don’t appear to be humans either. The book has no explanation of what they are exactly, but they can be killed, as we will see in just a bit.

But first Atkins has a flashback of his Vietnam days before entering the mine shaft. A vision that is tied to his Cenobite origin, we will see in a moment. Also you get one of the few looks at what is going on with Dixie’s lower half, which just isn’t there. 

And further down the mine shaft we encounter Pinhead for the first time in the book. He is “instructing” these two other members of the Suffer’s Guild: Snake Oil (in the top hat) and Hangman. They are torturing a few cowboys while Pinhead gives them a…ahem!...pointer or two.

The dead cowpokes were members of the sheriff’s posse sent after Pinhead, it appears. Pinhead and the two Sufferer’s Guild members caught them all but the sheriff. Pinhead sends Fan Dancer and a reluctant Atkins, here called Armorer by Pinhead, after the missing sheriff to determine who sent the posse after them. The senior Cenobite’s hope is to find the Aggregate before he destroys another puzzle box.

Meanwhile, the Aggregate is “striking” a deal with the sniveling Father Donovan. The puzzle boxes are a means to an end, and the end that the Aggregate wants is control over Hell’s Leviathan. So our bad guy in this book is the guy torturing those cowboys back a page, because the Aggregate here is an even worse threat. 

The Sheriff, goaded on by Father Donovan’s preaching, led the way into the mines after the Sufferer’s Guild and Pinhead. When they found nothing but death at the hands of the ultimate torturer, the poor sheriff’s mind checked out. Now he’s wandering the mine like a crazy person until he happens upon the skeleton of Jim Kelly…

…that watch will become important later, but first we’ve got to get it in the right hands. To do that, we go through this trip down memory lane where Atkins relives how he became a Cenobite, which owes nothing to him seeking out the pleasures and pains of the flesh…

…and everything about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This revelation shocks Fan Dancer, who has earnestly been seeking the wonders of pain and torture. But they have little time to discuss it as they happen upon the sheriff holding Joe Kelly’s cursed pocket watch.

And while the sheriff wobbles near the edge of a deathly drop, in town a high-stakes poker game will win this dealer a chance at a grand reward. Mainly because the player he is playing against isn’t human. Note our Rev is watching in the corner. 

But because this story wants to torture you much as Pinhead himself would, we go BACK to Fan Dancer, sheriff, and Atkins, as the old lawman makes a final, fatal decision. 

So now Atkins has his targets: the Aggregate and Father Donovan are the pair that caused all this death and the vanishing of the other Cenobites. Armed with that knowledge …

Nope. You aren’t going to get an uninterrupted plot thread from this book. Back to the card game we go, for an update.

I honestly can see the structural errors in this story now. My first read through was all confusion, but this time…this time I see the flaws. Too many concurrent storylines and too little exposition or narration to thread all of these into one bow. It falls apart due in part to whiplash and a dash of confusing plotting.

Anyway, at the card game our dealer has won all his hands, so that means the Guardian owes him something. That jackpot takes the form of the entity walking out and taking the puzzle box with him instead of allowing it to fall into the hands of the dealer.

And then back to the future! No, seriously. We needed to break the flow even more…

This Cenobite apparently has tattoos of their history and one of them disappears before their very eyes. That means the Aggregate has in some way won this round.

So, back to the past we go!...

Where this covered wagon is rushing into town to find Father Donovan and the Aggregate before they can cause any more puzzle boxes to go missing. All four of the Sufferer’s Guild are in attendance, as well as Pinhead and Atkins. Atkins asks if Pinhead knows what is coming up and he gives one of those long, rambling answers that amounts to “Yes, and it’s going to be bad.”

Then we jump to the town of Legacy, where they are headed to, where that poker game took place, were the puzzle box bearing Guardian is about to make his escape…right through the body of Father Donovan, who uses a strange book given to him the Aggregate. It’s nice to see this demon-transformation bit again and for the first time, I feel like the book is back on track with things from the movie series.

And then the Aggregate shows up and kind of “WWF”s the Guardian before he can get far with the puzzle box. Before the A-Man has time to do much of anything with it though, he is snagged by a hangman’s noose from off panel.

Which is our covered wagon of torn up blue people…which leads me to the question I’ve had throughout the entire book: who am I supposed to root for? Seriously. Pinhead is a sadist demon who likes to torture people. His troop of weirdos here were last seen strangling and poisoning duly deputized members of the law. Atkins LOOKS to be the audience’s hook due to the accidental nature of his Cenobite-hood. Also this weird blossoming romance with Fan Dancer (even though she weirdly likes cutting people up) humanizes the Cenobite even more. Or is it the Aggregate, who we know has motives that don’t really include giving a crap about humanity? 

And I only ask that because without a sympathetic character, you end up watching a bunch of things happen that have no emotional impact. Like here, where Hangman is run over by the wagon and probably killed.

Not having a real “In” to root for makes battle scenes like this one kind of boring. We should be invested in their outcome, but really? Who cares? One of these assholes will survive…

…and the others won’t. Even when it feels like we’ve disposed of all the minor side characters and we are on to the REAL monster battle, I can’t find myself cheering for either side. I just want this to end.


And “end” it does. In a reverse of his creation, Atkins gets handed the puzzle box by Aggregate, but not in the way the vet expected.

Because the Aggregate has somehow activated it and undone Atkin’s origin, in a way sending him to a peaceful end. Atkins has a trick up his sleeve, however. Before vanishing in a blue glow, he shoves the cursed pocket watch inside the cube.

Thus as the Aggregate scoops up the box and flees while vowing to carry on to the next puzzle box, his foot gets trapped in the train track…

…and he ends up catching the 11:45 out of Legacy. Right in the cowcatcher. 

Pinhead gives his blessing to Fan Dancer, left all alone since the rest of the Sufferer’s Guild have moved passed suffering. Then the blue weirdo vacates the body he’s inhabiting…

And we get a one page teaser for the setting of his next escapade in attempting to defeat the Aggregate.

Shit! No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

And that’s where this tale ends.

It’s an ending that mirrors the movies arc as well. This is far from the cerebral painted story books that were the first Hellraiser tie-ins, the same way the movies after Hellraiser II were silly, schlockly horror dreck. It’s worth noting there are six of these, as audiences still had some knee-jerk buying of this franchise even when it clearly wasn’t in the same vein as the original movies. And again, that’s exactly like how the last five movies bear the Hellraiser title, but really very little in the way of the Hellraiser feel. I suppose it is all some kind of cosmic serendipity.

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