Start your Halloween reading list with Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad
If you’re like me, then you treat Halloween as a year-long affair, a way of life, that requires a special read or movie to open the best month of the year: October. Some people have a kind of ritual, something they repeat year in and year out to mark the occasion. For some it’s watching John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), others might prefer a candlelit reading session composed of classic horror short stories from authors that are synonymous with the season (be it Poe, Stephen King, or Lovecraft).
I start October by reading something I’ve never read before, be it a comic or a short story. Last year it was a short story written by Scott Derickson and C. Robert Cargill called “A Clean White Room,” about an Iraq war veteran that becomes a sin-eater in a building that lays atop a crack in the world that has a straight line to Hell. It’s included in The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City (2015) anthology, a great option for those who prefer their horror to have been published more recently.
This year, Halloween begins with a crossover horror comic that features two uniquely terrifying worlds created by legendary author Clive Barker and it’s called Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad. It was published in 1991 by Epic Comics but those interested in it can find it in the Clive Barker’s Nightbreed Archive published by BOOM! Studios, along with a comics adaptation of the movie by Alan Grant, John Wagner, and Jim Baikie.
Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad is written by D.G. Chichester and illustrated by Paul Johnson and it centers on a war Hellraiser’s cenobites want to wage on the Nightbreed given the latter’s existence threatens Hell’s eternal mission of bringing agony and suffering to the souls of the damned.
The Nightbreed, a race of magical creatures that live in an underground city called Midian away from humans, are apparently disrupting the balance of chaos in the world by merely existing. A purging seems the only sensible way forward for the tortured lords of Hell, although there are different schools of thought as to how to deal with the problem.
At a glance, the story carries the look and feel of a Clive Barker tale. It’s ambitious in its worldbuilding and it fuses dark fantasy elements with dangerous magic to dive into taboo topics and subvert them. As is characteristic of Barker’s work, sex factors into the story and is presented as a kind of transcendental experience that courts pain to repurpose pleasure as a ritual that both punishes and rewards.
Paul Johnson’s art is exquisite, leaning heavy on the fantasy elements of its already dream-like worlds to establish a sense of danger and wonder that’s unique to these licenses. This carries over in the new creatures and monsters accompany the already well-established characters seen in the film adaptations of Barker’s books. They expand upon the possibilities of the horrors they embody in each world and give Johnson ample space to experiment with design.
Chichister’s writing is finely tuned to the sights, sounds, and voices of both sides of the war, relying on the complex vernacular of each world’s reality to provide a very lived-in sense of story early on. It captures the constant state of violence that governs the two groups quite well and it sets up some wonderfully macabre moments that show no intention of holding back on the bloodletting.
Based on what I’ve already read and seen throughout the pages (I couldn’t help myself), Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad looks like it will set quite the tone for this year’s Halloween season. The challenge, then, will lie in trying to find something that compares or surpasses this horror comic. It’s a hard one, but there are 31 days-worth of opportunities to indulge in the search.