Issue one of The Heathens, co-written by Cullen Bunn and Heath Amodio with art by Sami Kivela, is a remarkably fun and immersive read. Published by Aftershock, it drops readers into a world where some of history’s most notorious deceased murderers have escaped from Hell and are running loose on modern day Earth, where they have slipped back into their old murderous habits.
To capture them and return them to Hell, a group of perhaps not quite as bad criminals dubbed Heathens have been assembled by none other than Joseph Stalin. Unlike the depraved murderers whom they have been tasked with retrieving, these well-known historical figures are told that they have been deemed worthy of redemption and that returning ten of these escaped criminals to Hell will earn them that redemption.
The first such criminal selected for this group is Madam Shih, a brilliant pirate queen who led the Pirate Confederation in the South China Sea in the early 1800’s and is remembered as being one of history’s most successful pirates. Having already retrieved seven of the escaped criminals (by using the blade of her cutlass), Madam Shih is well on her way to earning her redemption when Stalin decides that she is going to require the help of a team to capture the eighth, a man infamously known as Jack the Ripper.
Stalin recruits a diverse group to help her which includes the young gunslinger Billy the Kid, Russian thief Sofia Blyuvshtein who was also known as “the Golden Hand” in the late 1800’s, and two well-known American gangsters from the early twentieth century, Lucky Luciano and Bumpy Johnson. This assorted lot is unlikely to get along as they are thrust into modern day Los Angeles, where the Ripper has already picked up where he left off back in London 1888.
This first issue does an excellent job of getting readers up to speed with both the storyline and the characters. It fits a lot of information into what’s really just a few short pages without making it feel either overwhelming or confusing. Focusing on Madam Shih, the comic gives a quick synopsis of her history while also showcasing her running down an escaped criminal in a well-drawn action sequence. It leaves the reader feeling like they know the character and are sympathetic to her plight as she tries to earn her redemption, albeit in a rather bloody and nefarious way. The other characters’ backgrounds are just briefly summarized, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we got to know them more in depth in future issues. What we do learn at the end of issue one is that there’s more to this story than the Heathens are being told.
Complimenting the multi-faceted plot is detailed artwork by Kivela, which carefully portrays each character’s emotions and actions in such a way that it plays perfectly with Bunn and Amodio’s writing. Furthermore, colorist Jason Wordie’s dark color pallet really helps set the scene for a tale which, at its core, is an account of darkness and the lengths in which these characters will go to earn their redemption.
I think it will be fun to see where this series goes and I plan to pick up the second issue, which releases on December 15th.
Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.