The Grey Area: Hell Yeah #1 / by Patrick Smith

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I imagine writing a first issue of an ongoing comic series is pretty hard. You have to set up almost everything you want your book to be within thirty-two pages while at the same time peppering in enough actual character work and action to make sure the whole book doesn’t become a long stream of exposition. And when that setup includes generation-spanning super heroics resulting in an alternate history scenario, the possibility of parallel dimensions, and the relationship between children and their parents, it becomes a nearly Herculean effort. And although I cant say Hell Yeah steps up to overcome all of those obstacles I can say that after reading this issue I felt a sense of tremendous excitement. And it's not so much that I was excited for this issue, I’m excited for what comes after this issue. Which is what the first issue of an ongoing series should do.

Hell Yeah takes place in a world not entirely unlike our own, except for one notable difference: super humans.  Of course this is the fundamental difference in most current superhero titles. However in this universe, the emergence of super humans is a relatively new one, with the first sightings happening in the ninties. Nontheless that was enough time for the world to radically change and for a new generation to come of age in the intervening years, including our protagonist, Ben Day.  Ben’s part of the next wave of super humans but his abilities are about as basic as you can get: He’s kind of strong and kind of tough. But the book slowly reveals that Ben is important despite his seeming averageness, both due to the legacy of his father and maybe even on a Universal level. Which is kind of a drag since all he really wants to do is just go to some concerts.

Writer Joe Keatinge injects Hell Yeah with a real sense of youthful energy, which is kind of a rare commodity in comics. Sure there are plenty of comics starring teenage or twenty-something protagonists but they usually fall into sidekick territory. They characters we meet in this book actually look and act like your average young adult: not responsible enough to be adults but too smart to be considered kids. And a lot of that energy is from the fact that Ben Day is an incredibly relatable character right from the get go. The guy might have superpowers but you also get the sense that, like a lot of college students, he just wants to live his life on his own terms, even if that means screwing up peoples expectations for him by getting into street fights.

Something I kept thinking about while reading this book though is where it stands in the comics world itself. I’ve heard interviews where Keatidge has said he was massively inspired by the early books at Image, and despite what anyone might say, everyone generally agrees that those early years were defined by an incredibly unique energy and Hell Yeah very much feels like a natural extension of that energy. The nods to Image don’t stop there either. The timeline of Hell Yeah, with super humans only appearing twenty or so years before the events of the book, could also be seen as a homage to the fact that Image is currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary (and imply this book can't exist anywhere BUT at Image, even if it is not a company with a universe model). I’m not claiming this is a massive revelation or anything, like I said Keatidge has been pretty open about his influences, but it does add a certain layer to the book if you choose to look at it that way. In my mind it sort of makes Hell Yeah an Image comic about a guy who grew up with Image Comics while living in a universe inspired by Image Comics. And that’s fine by me.

There are also some interesting ideas of how superheroes in a real world setting might affect pop culture, not unlike what happened with the first generation to have easy access to computers. Within a few years the whole cultural landscape had changed. There’s an interesting idea positioned early on that with superheroes around, sports and most visual entertainment like movies would become obsolete. Why would you need escapist type entertainment when you had a world filled with people that can fly and bend steel with their bare hands? Which is honestly something I had never thought of since, while superheroes have no doubt influenced our culture, as essential myths, they have always stood with other types of entertainment without ever overtaking them. Here there’s at least the idea that these people have influenced the whole culture to the point where a band could call itself “The All New, All Differents”.

The art of this book falls to Andre Szymanowicz who is incredibly solid with his visual storytelling, and has a rough textured style to his line work. I have no doubt that he’ll be able to handle whatever challenges this story might have in store but in this issue alone he steps up with the various character designs and some nice weird background illustration that helps define the world these characters live in.

Like I said before though, this first issue serves well as a hook, but there’s also a ton of setup and exposition. All of which is interesting (and a necessary evil), but at the same time, for a comic called Hell Yeah, left the book with very few “hell yeah!” moments. That being said, while it might not deliver that now I have no doubt it will deliver in future issues. So far the book has some great characters and the first clues of an expanding mystery involving Ben Day. This book left me wanting to know what happens next and as far as I’m concerned that’s all a first issue needs to do to be considered a success.

TL;DR: Although it suffers from some of the usual problems of first issues Hell Yeah has all the elements in place to be a title that will no doubt impress in the coming months.

Hell Yeah is a new ongoing series written by Joe Keatinge with art by Andre Szymanowicz. Published by Image Comics, look for it at your local comic book shop, or purchase it digitally. Issue #1 came out March 7.