In a follow-up to last week’s magic-oriented pick, I decided this week to take a look at a series by one of my favorite creative teams: The Damned. Rather than wizards and fantasy magic at play, this time we get a new take on both the infernal and the noir detective story. The Damned is written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt and colored by Bill Crabtree. If any of those names sound familiar, it’s because it’s the same team that gave us The Sixth Gun a few years ago. Drawing on that talent for the occult and the demonic, this time the team brings readers to Prohibition era America but with a twist. Rather than Italians, the mafia families profiting off of greed and vice are none other than the demons and they’ve collected more than a few mortal souls. And it’s up to one of those damned souls to solve a mystery that the demons themselves cannot. The story was originally released as a five issue limited run back in 2007 but has recently been revived to continue the trials of Eddie the human fixer. The second volume with another five issues is being released on April 17th. Thanks to the kindness of Netgalley and Oni Press, I was given access to an advanced reader copy in return for an unbiased review.
The first half of The Damned (the one that was originally released back in 2007), introduces readers to the strange, demonic noir style world in which Eddie finds himself. Cursed by a group of demons whom he double crossed, Eddie cannot die. Or to be precise, he cannot stay dead. He does odd jobs for the demonic mob families, jobs that require a bit more danger than the average man might prefer. After being reminded of all that he owes one particular boss, Alphonse “Big Al” Aligheri, Eddie is given the task of investigating the disappearance of a demon who was supposed to broker a peace talk between Big Al and his biggest competitor, Bruno Roarke. No easy task, even for one with Eddie’s particular talents.
The second half of the story picks up where the first ended, with Eddie in charge of the Gehenna Room, the only club in town in which demons are persona non grata. When an old friend named Pauly Bones shows up with a treasure wanted by many of the demons in town, Eddie is offered the opportunity to provide sanctuary. But will he get a better deal and double cross Pauly? Eddie isn’t exactly known for his altruism and Pauly has put him in a lot of hot water by showing up just as Eddie got his feet under himself again.
I ended up picking up this story for two main reasons: I absolutely loved The Sixth Gun and another review I had seen compared The Damned to Fatale, a similar horror-driven noir style story. After having finished the two volumes thus far of The Damned, I’d have to say that my feelings on it are mixed. The first volume is interesting largely only if you’re a fan of the noir style. It’s very much the hardbitten detective story with femmes fatales who exist only as eye candy or sexual interest and a main character who relies heavily on his tricks to get out of all kinds of sticky situations. It improves significantly in the second volume, when Eddie’s motivations become more clear and he starts to have an intriguing history with the demons beyond just owing them money and favors. The interactions of the demon families themselves are even more compelling and I was very interested in the world building by Bunn as the story expanded. While I don’t like it quite as much as The Sixth Gun or Fatale, the second volume convinced me that The Damned was well worth my time as both a noir and an occult fan.
Perhaps even more so than with The Sixth Gun, Brian Hurtt’s art is an absolutely pitch perfect match for Cullen Bunn’s writing in The Damned. I loved the way the different demon families were depicted and it strikes the perfect balance between realism and horrifying monsters in the shadows. Not to mention Crabtree’s talents for only coloring what needed to be. Much of the art is dark, with a lot of grays and sepia tones that fit the forbidding nature of this demon filled story. And of course, this makes the more limited colors really pop when they’re utilized. Overall, I was very impressed at how well the art fit the story.
The Damned isn’t my favorite by this creative team or even necessarily my favorite occult noir story. That said, it’s still damned good and certainly well worth your time if you’re at all a fan of the detective noir style. The demon families and the slow reveal of Eddie’s less savory side made the story compelling and intriguingly dark for all that it started as a very standard noir tale. I very much look forward to seeing more from the team about Eddie’s ambitions and what the demons have in store for him!