The Underworld is Criminal & Literal in Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt's The Damned #1

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The Underworld is Criminal & Literal in Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt's <i>The Damned</i> #1

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Brian Hurtt
Colorist: Bill Crabtree
Letterer: Crank!
Publisher: Oni Press
Release Date: May 3, 2017

damnedig-1-marketing_preview-1.jpg There’s something special about reading the latest work from a long-running artist/writer team. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips come to mind, as do Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt fit neatly into that pantheon: they’re best known for the ambitious supernatural Western The Sixth Gun, but that isn’t their only collaboration by (no pun intended) a long shot. The Damned debuted over a decade ago with the miniseries Three Days Dead, and now the team has returned to this setting for an ongoing series. (The original miniseries has also been reissued in a color edition.) And if the first chapter of this new storyline, “Ill-Gotten,” is any indication, it’s a welcome comeback.

The central concept of The Damned is concise: it’s a tale of warring crime families and underworld activity in which syndicates are comprised of demons engaged in a brisk trade of human souls. For those with their souls intact, the demons look human; those who’ve parted with them in some arcane bargain see the underworld denizens in their true, monstrous form. And they’ve left curses on certain residents of the city, including narrator Eddie, who’s been gifted with a particularly unpleasant version of immortality.

The Damned #1 Interior Art by Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree

The first issue opens with Eddie running through the city, his throat cut, before flashing back to the events that led him to this dire point; it’s a horrific riff on a classic film noir structure, which could be used as a solid description for the book as a whole. As the story unfolds, Eddie’s place in the center of a web of conflicting relationships comes into increasing focus: he runs a nightclub from which demons are barred, and the arrival of an old friend in town who’s trying to dodge some sort of trouble ratchets up the tension even further.

The Damned #1 Interior Art by Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree

In a world where characters share troublesome histories and exchange half-truths in conversation, Hurtt’s artwork fits in neatly: he’s great at body language and facial expressions that feign cordiality. And Eddie’s blend of confidence, weariness and desperation is especially well-captured here. There’s something inherently compelling about the visual of a glowering demon clad in an immaculately tailored suit. Colorist Bill Crabtree opts for a relatively muted array of colors, helping to make the more fantastical and horrific aspects—both the demons and the cursed humans Eddie encounters—seem of a piece with the rich period setting.

The Damned #1 Interior Art by Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree

While The Damned shares certain characteristics with The Sixth Gun, including a blend of period details and supernatural elements, it tells a much more morally ambiguous tale. And for its compelling high concept, the comic doesn’t skimp on the more nightmarish implications of its setup—including the fact that Eddie’s immortality causes the manner of his latest death to be transferred to the first person who touches his corpse, or the visions of the afterworld that accompany his throes. It’s a neatly told opening to a larger story, and there are plenty of sinister twists along the way.