Hello, and welcome to the first edition of what will hopefully be a new column here on Culture Crossfire. My name is Tim and this is A Novel Opinion. Since I was a young child my favorite things have always been reading, writing, and drawing, so it would make sense that I was drawn (heh) to a certain style of books over many others: comic books.
Comic books are my lifeblood. If I had half the artistic talent I wanted to have back during my teenage years I would be struggling to find a job as a comic artist right now. Unfortunately, that bottom dropped out a long time ago. So now I get to write my somewhat biased opinion about them instead! Win/win all around, I think.
For most of the articles I will be giving reviews on various Trade Paperbacks, which take various issues from a comic series and put them all into one collected edition, making the story being told easier to read in one go for people who don’t have the time or money to buy single issues every month. There’s also a subsection of Trades which feature original stories told in the same format called Original Graphic Novels, which is partly where the title of the column comes from. I may also every once in awhile review an actual book, provided I find the time to read any.
But I’ve rambled long enough, on to the review!
A NOVEL OPINION: HOAX HUNTERS
The Book: Hoax Hunters Volume 1: Murder, Death, and the Devil – written by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley, with art by Jim Ringuet, Axel Medellen and Emilio Laiso, covers Issues 0-5 of the Hoax Hunters monthly series. I, admittedly, have never heard of any of these guys before, so reading this was a new experience for me. And well, I do love new things to read.
The Story: Have you ever watched Mythbusters, or any of those documentary/reality shows where people go around and “prove” strange acts and weird, creepy monsters as fake and untrue? What if it turned out that those things weren’t as phony as the people on the shows told you they were? What if the reality was exactly the opposite? That these things are very real and they are very, very dangerous?
That’s the main hook. The Hoax Hunter’s reality TV show travels around the country proving whatever scary, creepy or weird rumor that has the locals up in arms as “fake,” when the truth is those rumors are usually a lot more real than they seem. It’s the hunter’s job to make sure you never find out that truth, by any means necessary.
Volume 1 introduces us to the team; Jack Lawson, the leader, is a good natured, charismatic host on-camera, while off camera he’s a bad ass “MacGyver” type who always manages to find a way out of a problem. Ken Cadaver is the “Science Guy” on the show, claiming that science will prevail over whatever myth they’re in town to bust. In reality, as his name might suggest, he’s a zombie who also has telepathic powers. Yeah. The third and final member of the team is Regan Tate, the only female member of the crew. She has telekinetic abilities and, supposedly, has had experience with demonic possession in the past.
There’s also the 50 year-old astronaut suit infested by sentient crows that acts as their cameraman. His name is Murder. Because, you know, a murder of crows. It’s pretty cool.
The zero issue gives us Murder’s origins as the team heads to Russia to bust the myth of Murder existing, when they’re really trying to stop an immortal Russian Nazi-sympathizer from destroying the world.
The main story takes place in the Louisiana bayou, where the group gets an anonymous tip about animals randomly turning up dead, which brings up the side-plot that runs through the story about Jack’s past. When Jack was a child, his dad was working on some big project for the same people Jack now works for. Whatever said project was, it had similar side effects of leaving random large groups of animals dead with no reason for the cause. And then one day, Jack’s father disappeared. As one would suspect, Jack hasn’t been able to let that go. And, oh does he never let you forget this fact, either.
From there we meet the local tough guy sheriff. He was a character that I really liked and I kinda wish he would’ve ended up joining the team in the long run as their “small fish in a really big pond” type. The sheriff leads them into a run-in with Durand, the local “swamp monster,” actually a real life Bigfoot, who for some reason blames Jack for the fact his entire clan of Bigfoots/swamp monsters got murdered by whatever killed all the random animals in the swamp. We don’t get much time to worry about that though as the group quickly learns of something that chills Jack to the bone: The Carnival is in town! Dun dun dun!
The Carnival, apparently, is a lot crazier than we like to think they are in real life. Stocked full of actual monsters and outcasts, it’s quite a sight. It’s there that our heroes meet the main heavy, Clive, cult leader extraordinaire. Clive, it seems, is well known by Jack, who doesn’t seem to take Clive too seriously, at first. This is until Clive reveals he’s enslaved all of the carnival-goers and makes them attack the Hoax Hunters. This includes what is probably my favorite part of the book: a comparatively crazy scene for a comic book where Clive orders the townspeople to douse themselves in gasoline and light themselves on fire. If you have any reason to check out this book, do so for this scene. It’s strongly creepy and cool.
Jack does the smart thing and tells the team to hightail it out of there, not wanting to hurt the poor, mind-controlled civilians, flaming heads or no. From there, it’s a race against time throughout the bayou to stop Clive and his gang from unleashing some almost Cthulhu-like entity from another world, which it turns out in the end, is also connected to all the bits about Jack’s dad and his past.
The Review: I was sent this book by a friend from another online community. A lot of people in the community had given it a big thumbs down, so I was curious as to just how bad the book could possibly be. These are people I’ve chatted about comics with for years and I generally respect their opinions over most, but everyone gets it wrong every once in awhile, you know? So I asked about the book, and said friend happened to have a copy laying around and was kind enough to mail it to me.
It’s…not a bad book, actually. I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I think the catch of the whole “fake reality TV show covering up actual monster sightings” is a pretty neat idea, and something that I haven’t seen a lot of anywhere in fiction. The story moves pretty smoothly from one act to the next, and there’s plenty of drama to keep you entertained throughout.
That being said, I can see where people might have some problems with it. I enjoyed the art in the zero issue, it’s gritty and sketchy and something you might expect from this kind of series, but then you flip to the actual first issue of the series and it features bright, clean, cartoon colors that kind of throws you for a loop. The main story’s art isn’t bad, not by a long shot. There’s a scene later in the story where the big bad commands his zombified, possessed villagers to set themselves on fire, and they do, and it’s a pretty awesome visual. But overall, it still feels…off and unfitting for the vibe the book wants to give off.
The biggest problem I have with the book is how anyone besides Jack comes off throughout it. Aside from Jack, the Sheriff, and Clive the cult leader, nobody really gets any sort of character progression or development. The zero issue introduced Murder, who went on to do a whole lot of nothing in the next five issues. It also brought up the point of Regan’s powers and how she may or may not have them due to something demonic from her past, but none of this is ever touched upon aside from one scene in the second issue; one actual panel in the book.
Then there’s Ken, who aside from a scene where he uses his weird zombie telepathy powers to jump-start a repressed memory from Jack’s past, and the big battle with the big bad at the end, does a whole lot of nothing, as well. We’re given no reason as to why he can do these things he can, or even how he’s alive, other than that he can and he is.
There’s just too many questions left unanswered. This is fine in most cases. You’re supposed to make the reader wonder about things so they keep reading your book. But it also helps if you answer some questions to give people something to chew on while they wait for the next installment. In five issues the only thing we learn is that these guys are badasses who work for some shady group and that Jack has daddy issues. Everyone else on the team, and in the story itself, seem to exist to be backup for Jack. This would be understandable if the book was called “Jack Lawson, Hoax Hunter.” But it’s not.
Again, it’s a good story. It’s one I did enjoy reading while I read it, but I don’t think I’d go back and read it again after this column is done and posted. It’s a neat hook and I want to like it, but there’s just too much left in the dark for me to really care about anyone besides Jack, and I just don’t care all that much about Jack.
Final Grade: C+. I liked the story for what it was, and I’ll admit the flaming villager scene knocks my grade up a bit, but otherwise its just an okay book when it could be so much more. If you’re like me and you hate reality TV, but you also have a love of the supernatural and you still sometimes find yourself watching those “supernatural conspiracy theory” reality TV shows when they’re on, check it out. It’s worth a skim through at your local Barnes and Noble at least.