Two cops walk into a warehouse and it turns out to be a gateway to Hell is the gist of what happened in the first volume of this series from Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka. “A Walk Into Hell” was billed as a horror series, and it was one that I didn’t find all that scary. There were some moral dilemmas that made for interesting drama, like how co-lead Detective Shaw went rogue and killed child murderer Paul Carnahan after he escaped justice on a technicality. Yet for a horror series that also trafficked in the supernatural, it didn’t offer much to be genuinely scared about. Vol. 2 doesn’t offer anything more to that effect. Instead, it has a whole lot to absolutely ruin your day.
Shaw and her partner McGregor are still stuck in the warehouse when the volume opens, and they’re about to get some company. Their boss, Deputy Director Driscoll, is about to head in after two of her best agents, and face down some personal demons as well. They’re also about to meet Carnahan again, after it was revealed at the end of vol. 1 that he was in the warehouse as well. At least… something wearing his skin certainly is. And boy does it have a lot to say about the state of the world, how it got there, and what he’s going to do to it when he gets out.
“The Cathedral,” is essentially the “Talking Killer” trope wrought over an entire volume. I realize that sounds like torture, but fans of Ennis (like me) could certainly be forgiven for believing that he could make this idea work. By the end of the volume, I was glad the experience was over. Not so much because of the length of time spent experiencing this trope, but because of what the writer uses it to say.
It’s not that I’m against any of Ennis’ ideas, either personally or politically. In fact, I tend to agree with a lot of the broader points in what he’s written about even if the actual story they’re a part of isn’t that great. (Looking in your direction “Jimmy’s Bastards.”) With “A Walk Through Hell,” and this volume in particular, Ennis reveals himself to be beyond cynical about the current state of humanity, particularly the strain of it that inhabits the U.S.A. He’s downright despondent about it, and he wants to share these feelings with you, the reader.
So we get a story that explains the awful origin of a child killer (in both senses of the term), and shows us how he managed to get out into the real world and all of the complicity, laziness, and selfishness that allowed it to happen. It’s a story that also shows us how a well-adjusted gay boy was raped by a classmate who subsequently faked the boy’s suicide attempt to cover up his actions. Spoiler Warning: He hasn’t grown any less monstrous as an adult. Then there’s the fact that this story puts a new spin on Ennis’ anti-religion bent in a way that’s initially interesting, and ultimately amounts to little more than admitting that humanity is screwed.
Ennis is a skilled enough writer that he’s capable of realizing what I’ve just described in a way that gets under your skin. With the able help of Sudzuka, who follows a long line of the writer’s collaborators (Dillon, Braun, Parlov) that are excellent at nailing human emotion and drama on the page in grounded situations. So I give the readers credit for getting under my skin with what they’ve done here. The problem is that I’m not sure what the whole point of it was?
Was it to convince me that humanity’s on the wrong path? That wasn’t much of a stretch even before the pandemic. Were they trying to show me the depths to which humanity can sink? Ennis did this better in his “Crossed” stories. Did they actually think they were scaring me by showing me all this? No, but it bums me out just recalling a lot of the arguments and plot points from this volume.
If anything, I’d guess that the creators were just really depressed about the state of humanity and wanted to share that feeling with their readers. Nothing helps a bad feeling more than spreading it around, right? So if they felt better after finishing this series, then good for them. At least they got something out of it.
As for me? I like to think I would’ve appreciated the story more if Ennis had gone through with the crazy twist he set up in the ninth issue of the series. It certainly made the series seem a lot more interesting with the supernatural elements stripped out of it. I couldn’t see a way that the writer could logically pull it off, however, and I was right. While we’re on the subject of actual problems with this story, Sudzuka may be good when the story is sticking to grounded drama, he’s less impressive when dealing with its otherworldly trappings. He’s just too good with making things look like they belong in the real world so when something comes along that doesn’t, you don’t get the intended effect. In other words: The horrifying monster that’s said to live under Carnahan’s skin? Just looks like another monster when it’s finally revealed.
Even with the above issues, I can still respect the craft that went into making this story. Depressing the hell out of me may not have been the creator’s intended effect, yet they still managed to provoke an emotional response within me. Honestly, I would’ve preferred to have been scared sleepless by a proper horror story. “A Walk Through Hell” isn’t one, unless nothing scares you more than hearing someone go on at length about the sad state of our modern (American) society.