Well, it’s right around Halloween, so it seems time to analyze a horror series. In particular, let’s go through the intricacies of the horror-hunter series “Hack/Slash,” specifically the series under Tim Seeley’s pen (and a few others) between 2004 and 2013, collected in five “Omnibus” editions and two additional trade paperbacks for a Year One storyline called ‘My First Maniac’ and an epilogue crossover called ‘Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash.’ This run benefitted greatly from both longevity and relatively stable high quality, and contributed to “Hack/Slash” being seen as among the greatest, if not the greatest, horror comic series.
This analysis, while intricate, will avoid any massive spoilers about major developments in the second half of the series, though not without touching on those parts at all.
Quotations, where used, are primarily those of the protagonist, Cassie Hack, but also include some of others, with the speaker unlisted to avoid spoilers for any potential readers. In order to prevent spoilers on when things do happen, there will be no mention of arc in images below.
As a note, certain stories have been written in the time period presented by this comic run that were released years later, most prominently ‘Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella’ in 2018, but they are not included due to not being released during the 2004-2013 span of the series’ releases. Furthermore, while crossovers in other comics’ volumes will be mentioned, the only ones with further attention will be those written into the trade paperbacks or omnibuses of “Hack/Slash” itself.
As a major notice: “Hack/Slash” is a mature comic book series. As such, many images may not be suitable for younger audiences, and quotations will use liberal curses, especially those by the protagonist herself.
First, it seems best to go into the absolute basics of the series, before we even go into the individual characters. Where better to look than the opening narration for nearly every issue?
“Cassie Hack is the lone survivor of an attack by a slasher called the Lunch Lady… a slasher that happened to be her mother! Now, she travels the world with her monstrous partner and friend Vlad, hunting down and destroying slashers wherever they find them!”
As such, there are two major elements: the slasher threat itself and the interesting way in which it is presented to the audience.
What are slashers? Well, imagine your basic slasher movie villain. Revenge driven, extremely durable and at times supernatural. Commonly able to survive and escape if you don’t keep them in your sights. In many cases having additional supernatural abilities, most commonly superhuman strength and at least some level of physical regeneration to come back from death again and again. These villains focus on hurting those who are often guilty of some vice, mostly in terms of sexual activity.
Some of these villains, including many in “Hack/Slash” itself, focus on a specific day or a specific set of circumstances, in particular a holiday or otherwise a single day a year, before returning to their graves. These types of slashers are definitely the most predictable, and so are only very rarely dealt with, but do come up, in particular ones for Groundhog Day, Memorial Day, and Christmas each having some time devoted to fighting them in the story, and some others being mentioned as having been fought off-panel.
Common to the slasher type is their eventual bane, the “final girl.” Often a virgin without vices, and thus exempt from the killer’s wrath for the most part, the almost-always female character is the last person left alive from the slasher’s rampage, and likely the one to kill it, after developing from a scared girl to a slightly more hardened survivor. In the case of “Hack/Slash,” that character is Cassie Hack herself, though she is far from the only one.
As defined, the slashers in “Hack/Slash” are also known as revenants, an older variation on the zombie archetype from European folklore as early as the Middle Ages, if not earlier. These undead are reanimated corpses that are believed to have revived to haunt the living. In the case of the slashers, as far as Cassie Hack knows from the beginning, they are reanimated by their sheer unstoppable hatred and insanity, their need for revenge, and are drawn to the things that they miss from life, mostly the aforementioned sexual vices. Furthermore, they often (but not always) retain intelligence on some level, enough to remember their past lives in spite of their new (or perhaps not-so-new) murderous obsessions, with their homicidal tendencies geared toward those memories, or even just basic impressions on the moments prior to or directly involved with their deaths in particular.Continued below
Additionally, several slashers tend to develop a skill set associated with the method of their death, making for a range of different types of villains. These powers range from someone who can kill others in their dreams, to secreting acids when sexually aroused, to the ability to detach one’s own limbs and move them independently, to transmission through the Internet like an electronic ghost. Each of these powers connects primarily to the manner of death, but also sometimes connect to the users’ personalities, in particular with respect to the acid user and the Internet transmission. The powers eventually tend to evolve over time and with subsequent appearances, developing new means of utilizing skill sets like the acidic secretions or a merger of dream-based powers with general psychic illusions, but on the whole, the power sets stay within set parameters in terms of what kinds of things they can accomplish.
While they do have a variety of powers, there are also some weaknesses that often do not come up in slasher movies. For instance, the most common slashers can be taken down with gunfire if in sufficient amounts, and can also suffer greatly from other forms of damage including blunt trauma or being cut up. In essence, while some slashers may have incredibly high healing abilities, they still can only take so much damage. One especially powerful weakness is fire. Whether or not it is truly the case, fire and explosions seem to do more damage than most other things. Those killed by fire have a tendency to have far more difficulties coming back from the dead again. The weakness is potent enough that Cassie tells others that “fire is your friend” when it comes to slashers. How exactly it works is unclear, but there are a high quantity of stories (which Cassie researched in the process of learning more about slashers) that include fire being used to keep things dead, especially zombies or vampires, so perhaps the same rules of “purifying the unholy” follows, as far as she can initially understand.
Or at least, these elements are the entirety of what Ms. Hack thinks is the way that they function. But that’s a whole other thing that would delve too deeply into spoilers.
In “Hack/Slash,” being a hunter of monsters, or as the parlance of the series says, a “horror-hunter,” is not portrayed as glamorous. It is not portrayed as something anyone should ever want to do unless there is something either seriously wrong with them, or they have nothing better that they can do with their skills. Much like some seasons of Supernatural, hunting monsters is shown in “Hack/Slash” to be an absolutely horrible life and a large part of the series itself explores just how harmful that life is to the hunters, especially Cassie Hack herself. The entire series seems to be, to a degree, an examination of three core concepts: what kind of person would engage in horror-hunting, what would that kind of experience do to such a person (psychologically, physically, financially, and otherwise), and what would their profession do to others who associate with them.
First, there come the problems with basic necessities. Ever since running away from her foster home at 17, Hack has been homeless simply because of her cross-country mission, living in her van for the most part and sleeping on its floor. On top of that are her money problems. What money gained from odd jobs that she doesn’t budget for gasoline or weapon ammunition is almost constantly very low, and she often doesn’t have enough money for even a hotel room, resulting in needing to pawn off her possessions to have enough for even the worst rooms at a motel. The fact that her possessions tend to be weapons taken from other slashers (and thus covered in blood or otherwise battle-damaged) does not help either. Furthermore, the cheap food Hack opts to have on the road, including that from fast food garbage, is definitely not good for her, and sometimes even results in bizarre nightmares (though it is not as if she does not have nightmares anyway). While she does have some free money (such as for collect calls to a friend or funds to see a film), the budgeting issues still persist for much of the series run, requiring her to lean on a fluctuating friend network for support at times. All of this isn’t even taking into account the fact that she has to help do the work for two, with Vlad as her partner who, due to his deformities, has rather poor health in the best of times.Continued below
Furthermore, there are the problems with the hunt itself. Between her trauma at the start of her career, the constant danger she puts herself in, and the very nature of the vengeful, resilient, homicidally insane slashers, Hack develops no small number of psychological issues, some of which could even be potentially diagnosed. While this view changes, she initially seems to view everyone as “killer, victim, or potential victim” and treats anyone she comes across as tools accordingly, to the point of utilizing innocents as bait for killers. After all, the hunters never claim to be heroes, but rather hunters, with all of the trapping and unsavory planning that involves. Otherwise, she uses herself as bait if there is nobody else readily available, but that’s another issue.
On the subject of tactics, Cassie is very different from other heroines of her type. Rather than able to jump around practicing kung fu or utilizing super strength or some other specialized anti-supernatural ability, Cassie’s style of hunting (barring the debut in ‘Euthanized’) is very grounded. Every bash of the bat is brutal and bloody. Every gunshot is loud and violent. Every stab of a knife, slice of a throat, what have you, is portrayed in a very realistic way, or as realistic as the setting allows. What makes this so different is that while she can dish out a lot of punishment, Cassie is still a teenaged (and later 20-year-old) young woman, and not a particularly tall one at that. As such, all it takes is one hard blow to knock her down and out, meaning that instead of being able to fight slashers at close range on a regular occasion, she has to utilize her environment and anything in it to scramble through various fights, using everything from alcoholic drinks to kitchen knives to various guns and anything else she can grab on a moment’s notice. Vlad acts not only as her best friend, but also as necessary backup, fighting slashers at close range on their own terms and acting as basically her allied slasher in and of himself (his vague resemblance to Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame having a lot to do with that). While Cassie claims to be “mean and hard to kill,” the latter is mostly due to sheer luck, much like would be the case for many people in such a situation.
Then there is the issue of bringing in allies, especially a general support team. The team that comes together around Cassie Hack, if not combat capable, inherently put their lives at risk by associating themselves directly with a slasher slayer. By their very nature, slashers are filled with a need for vengeance and extremely difficult to permanently kill, to the point that when they come back after being defeated once, Cassie doesn’t even bother to act surprised. When forming a team from people who have survived those encounters, like Hack/Slash, Inc. (to be discussed below), these people are easy targets, either to get back at Cassie or to kill the personal “final girl” type each of them has developed. The danger is so severe that Cassie even calls out the founder of Hack/Slash, Inc., Chris Krank, for how stupid the idea really is from a realistic perspective, noting “When some psycho we bust comes back from the dead and goes gunning for revenge, he can do all his shopping in one place. […] The second we set up a Hall of Justice is the second every slasher looking for a sequel knows where to go!”
Cassandra “Cassie” Hack
The protagonist of the series is Cassandra “Cassie” Hack, a self-motivated “horror-hunter” since the age of 17. She is extremely adept at combating her chosen prey, the kind of slasher villains that were especially common back in the 1980s, with the use of a wide range of armaments including, but not limited to various firearms, dynamite, knives, and her apparent favorite weapon, a wooden baseball bat with nails hammered through it that has the words “KISS IT” carved into the head. Quick on her feet and good at researching slasher culture (such as it is), she proves to be a very capable hunter, even when hampered by her small stature and completely human durability.Continued below
While her “purity” (so far as sex and drugs are concerned) does help to settle her as the classic final girl archetype on paper, the rest of her identity is… not. At all. Her attire, which consists of highly revealing goth outfits on almost all occasions and very often shows her underwear easily, is not anywhere close to the more chaste outfits associated with the type of character she used to be before her mother’s second death. On a bad day, Cassie is antisocial, rude, openly antagonistic, and has a mouth that would make a sailor blush. That last one isn’t even constrained to bad days, and can be a source of comedy at times.
There is a lot of emphasis on the fact that while Cassie might try to help take down the slasher menace, this does not mean she is a hero, let alone a good person. In particular, she will, if necessary, execute people who are slashers or close enough to them even if they seem to be relatively innocent, or of an age that could be construed as innocent. This fact does not mean that she will not feel guilt for her actions, but she is completely willing to ignore the moral implications of her actions if it means killing some more slashers.
Voluntarily homeless and reluctant to engage with almost anyone on a long-term basis, Hack’s issues could probably fill the van she lives in if they were physical objects. She openly disdains most relationships, with her own personal insecurities leading her to hurt others, whether physically or through their feelings.
The combination of her trauma, her troubled home life, and her young age lead Cassie to have rather stunted development. In many ways, she remains stuck at age 17 mentally, blushing at her crushes, making crude jokes, and getting flustered around others finding her attractive, even humorously kicking her feet up like a little girl to write in her diary about being noticed at one point early in her career. The arrested development is so great that if it were not for certain comments within the story or by Tim Seeley himself, it would be difficult to tell she is actually physically growing up. In fact, her immaturity leads to a lot of major problems, including hypocrisy in her methods based on personal feelings.
Readers might notice that, despite her chosen profession including hunting down revenge-driven, nigh-unkillable undead serial killers, Cassie never develops a defined arch-enemy (excluding an arguable case in the last few arcs). However, her nemesis is right there in front of us for all to see: herself. For better or worse, much of the story is driven by her psychopathology and resultant hang-ups and mistakes, and even her awareness of this state does little for her but make it even worse as she tries to accommodate for these problems.
The muscle of the main, to quote Cassie herself, “Dysfunctional Duo,” Vlad is a giant of a man, taller than almost everyone else in the series and physically deformed to the point of having discolored skin (rendered as grey, green, or a very dark brown depending on the colorist) and a very misshapen skull. He is so strong, so durable, that he is sometimes misconstrued for a slasher (such as Cassie herself confused in their first meeting, knowing him by his other alias of “the Meatman” at the time). While his younger partner is the brains of their operation, he is the brawn, be it through close combat or through physically bashing down doors.
In many ways, Vlad is Cassie’s opposite number. He always takes the high road in a moral quandary, whereas her morality is more flexible. He is a child at heart, enjoying comic books, toys, and video games, while she buries her inner child under a mountain of angst. He is practically a giant, whereas she is a rather small girl. He is more than twenty when he starts out, while she is a teenager. He has a limited grasp on language, whereas she is able to use her skills with speech to manipulate others. He focuses on close combat with his machetes, while she tends to try to keep a distance with gunfire. He is very durable and able to take a lot of punishment, while she is weaker in that regard. He is a kind man, while she is a rude, antisocial girl. He has physical disabilities and deformities, while her problems tend to be more neurological in nature. He is physically unattractive to the point of disgusting many people in the series, while many people in the series note her physical attractiveness throughout the series, regardless of their age or gender.Continued below
Their distinctions from one another help to highlight each of their struggles. While Vlad serve as an emotional heart to the team, his focus on the high road helps to illustrate how far off of it they can be. His limited grasp on language and social interaction provides a very large helping of comedy, such as unintentionally sexual innuendo or just minor mistakes in wording such as mistaking “troubles” for “truffles.”
Due to the series showcasing how much of a hell horror hunting can be, even his enhanced durability is at times not enough, and Cassie worries over him in some moments that led to harm, at times caused by her own skewed priorities. The fact that he has hidden, unrequited feelings for her does not help at all, as he is willing to do anything for her, while she at times takes his aid for granted.
As a side note, he has his own one-shot “Year One” story, ‘Me Without You,’ which acts as both an origin and a distant prelude to one of the final storylines of this run, ‘The Good Son.’
The organization known as “Hack/Slash, Inc.” is a somewhat loose collection of allies formed around Cassie Hack and Vlad. The idea to come together first emerged from Chris Krank, survivor of a dream-based killer, in order to make Cassie’s job easier. Together with his girlfriend Lisa Elsten, another survivor of a different killer, they took up a kind of base of operations in their home located in Eminence, Indiana, even taking in others ranging from the relatively normal to the outright bizarre.
Seeing as the group is mostly bound together by trauma, it is rather eclectic in nature. Notable participants include the aforementioned duo, an alien hellhound, a stripper (later actress) in Florida, a roaming rock-and-roll groupie, and eventually a high-functioning, autistic young woman. As Cassie herself says at one point about the latter in relation to herself and Vlad, “She was just born that way. She’s just like us. She’s… special.” A similar assessment could be said of any number of this ragtag bunch of misfits, each in their own way.
The mix of different people also provides a wealth of different types of expertise. Chris is a geek, and has access to a deceased friend’s files on slashers even before he took to researching on his own. Lisa is a veterinarian and thus the closest thing Cassie and Vlad have to a consistent doctor to stitch them up. Each of the other members provide their own benefits to the team, no matter how limited their addition is.
However, their most important function is one not connected to their aid in slasher hunting: a resemblance of normal life. Chris and Lisa especially add much needed stability to Cassie’s roaming, violent lifestyle, acting as a kind of home base and a life that, while not devoid of weirdness (see also: the aforementioned alien hellhound, Pooch, and what comes with it), at least demonstrates that Cassie can have friends to rely on in a semi-normal suburban setting, and sometimes might even need them for, if nothing else, emotional support when things get too hard. The fact that she comes by for Christmas tells a lot about how much they mean to her.
On another note, the actions of the various members of Hack/Slash, Inc, especially the members in Eminence and “Georgia Peaches” (real name Margaret Crump) in Florida, are further shown through the lens of an actual normal existence, from mundane harassment on the part of the former to an audition for a film in the case of the latter. These glimpses into a more or less normal existence help draw readers into their lives much as the sheer ridiculousness of slasher hunting does for the primary duo, and allow for the further development of their personalities and stories without requiring supernatural undead killers at every turn, acting as a common B plot (or on rare occasions, even the A plot).Continued below
Cassie Hack is not okay. To paraphrase Sir Terry Pratchett, she has an absolutely fascinating mind, but in a way similar to a fractured mirror: it has many intricate facets across a wide spectrum, but it is impossible to get around the fact that it’s still somehow fundamentally broken.
In fact, a large part of “Hack/Slash” examines just how warped she really is, how far off the deep end she can be due to her many, many issues. In most cases, she would have probably required therapy, and probably still does… just not from a psychologist who also happens to be a slasher, which seems to be rather difficult for her to find.
In order to examine her issues, direct diagnoses will be assessed using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, text revision (DSM IV-TR), which was the most recent version of the manual at the time of the comic being written.
Note that other subjects in abnormal psychology, such as high-functioning autism, are present in other characters (and several more issues in Hack herself, including her complex feelings about both of her parents and her recurring problems with her arrested emotional development), but this is just a sampling of the types of issues present.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The original disorder she developed, Cassie Hack’s post-traumatic stress disorder stems from the actions she was involved in regarding her mother. When the single mother Mrs. Delilah Hack was driven to madness by the bullying inflicted on her teenaged daughter and began killing said bullies and butchering them to put into the school “mystery meat,” Cassie was the one to bring the police to the school and try to stop her, resulting in Mrs. Hack dunking her head in boiling gravy to commit suicide rather than be arrested. Though traumatized, Cassie’s troubles were far from over, as she faced her mother again as the “Lunch Lady” slasher in her next, all-girls school. Despite several murders beforehand, she saved one potential victim, a girl who was also bullying her, by shooting her mother in the face several times to kill her again, then bringing her corpse back to her grave and re-burying her. To quote ‘The Strange Story of Cassie Hack,’ a three-page introduction to the protagonist, her decision to become a slasher slayer was the result of being “[d]riven by guilt, and lacking any connection to anyone or anyplace.”
With exception of some bizarre dreams brought on by eating the wrong food, Cassie re-experiences the second death of her mother every single night, with exception of drug-induced unconsciousness. As she notes at one point, she generally wakes up screaming. While these nightmares do change with time after several years after the fact, they seem to more often change to a different trauma that is more recent, rather than actually get any better.
Restricted Range of Affect
On various occasions, it becomes apparent that while it is possible for Cassie to have a good time, her general emotional range tends toward anger, frustration, guilt, and bloodcurdling rage. In fact, she cultivates these feelings when not just relaxing with Vlad in order to keep from feeling anything else to confuse her, and is frustrated when she has to spend time on things beyond her hunt that cause her to be distracted by more carnal feelings. As one character (whose identity will remain unstated for sake of spoilers) notes, she is not unlike a slasher in that regard, seeking out rage and her own emotional pain to keep from feeling anything else that could hurt her. The difficulty actually extends to being unable to even really recognize loving emotions, but perhaps that distinction is more human by comparison.
Feeling of Detachment or Estrangement from Others
As noted earlier, Cassie has a fundamental problem with allowing others into her life, primarily due to the dangers it imposes on anyone else. However, her issues with any resemblance of closeness go far deeper, to the point of ruining her relationships with others or even dissolving friend groups, along with many other problems. At her core, even as she develops a friend network, she feels that she needs to be alone, to be feared, to be effective, with the sole exception of Vlad.Continued below
Irritability or Outbursts of Anger
At her darker moments, especially when worried, Cassie has a tendency to scream at others and push them away, even when (or especially when) it would be best not to do so. There is more to say on this fact, but it is best left to the description below on her other primary disorder.
Exaggerated Startle Response
When surprised, Cassie has a tendency to turn a weapon toward the person who surprised her, who is, more often than not, actually not there to harm her at all. While her instincts are good for a horror hunter, the decision to draw a knife on someone coming to say hello, or similar reactions, is still indicative of an unhealthy mind.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
With one exception, Cassie Hack is very nearly diagnosable as having antisocial personality disorder, commonly known as “sociopathy” in media. While the idea of sociopathic characters gets thrown around a lot, often with little more than gleeful mayhem and bloody violence, Hack actually shows a sizable amount of the symptoms of the disorder throughout the run. The main element she lacks is having had a related disorder, conduct disorder, since before 15 years old, though she was unofficially diagnosed by Doctor Edmund Gross at age 19, above the 18 year old mark that is one of the major criteria.
Repeated Illegal Behaviors
For this criterion, look no further than her decision to delve straight into serial killing, as well as at least one count of thievery (including shoplifting and motor vehicle theft) and multiple ones of breaking and entering in the course of said killings. It says a lot that rather than look for other ways to fight back (if at all), she immediately went into illegal activity instead, including some other examples such as vandalism out of boredom. Yes, the ends to these means result in stopping the killers (sometimes), but she actually does get in trouble with the police on more than one occasion as a result of her actions.
Of particular note is the fact that her illegal activity began within days of her mother’s second death, even reaching to the point of threatening her foster father’s life to scare him into not following her.
Deception for Personal Profit or Pleasure
From bribing guards to stealing from stores to her undercover actions to locate and neutralize some slashers, Cassie Hack isn’t above much of anything in regards to deceiving others to get what she needs or wants out of a situation or a target. Even her practically trademarked bait tactics rely on deception, whether just of a slasher or of a slasher and a near victim.
Irritability and Aggressiveness
While this criterion may seem to explain itself, the issues of Cassie’s aggression run far deeper. She picks fights with others on a regular basis, especially deliberately antagonizing slashers in combat, and will beat someone up on a moment’s notice if they push one of her buttons. Her irritation with being touched early on in her career is a major example, as getting close to her could lead to being knocked unconscious, and she is liable to make vicious threats about physical harm to anyone who irritates her at all, such as her calm ones to Emily Christy in ‘Slice Hard’.
The reasons for this aggression are actually out of her control and a part of her, but that is neither here nor there.
Reckless Disregard for Safety of Self or Others
The bait tactics apply to this criterion to a certain degree, but the primary focus is on reckless disregard for Cassie’s own safety, which is shown no fewer than two times, and likely far more often. Lacking any real fear of death, Hack has shown herself willing to act as a sacrifice to stop slashers’ rampages, even planning on using herself as a distraction to pull away several other slashers (each one able to deal a sizable amount of damage individually) or planning to draw a slasher’s spirit into her own body and kill herself. All of that, on top of her apparently common tactic of acting as slasher bait personally, shows a blatant and worrying disregard for any kind of safety.Continued below
Remorselessness and Rationalization
This criterion comes and goes, but is apparent often enough that it bears mentioning. When things go wrong, when her relationships sour or her situation takes a turn for the disturbed and her behaviors a turn for the even worse, Cassie has a tendency to either ignore her own blame in things, rationalize them as never having been a problem to her, or deny there ever having been another option, very often in the form of a self-serving memory. From blaming a harsh breakup on denying ever having had feelings for someone, to claiming that a particularly unsavory execution is the only possible option and not even trying to come up with another one, to pushing the blame of people’s deaths on others to cut herself off from any responsibility, Ms. Hack’s actions show a disregard for any consequences to her actions in terms of either the feelings of others or even their very lives, even if the worst of it does sometimes get to her.
Cassie’s lack of empathy even carries, paradoxically, into her care for her loved ones. While on the surface it seems that she is worried for them and their wellbeing, her concern extends only as far as how her dangerous lifestyle’s effect on them will in turn have an effect on her, to the point of pushing people away to avoid having their pain cause her worry or desiring an indestructible love interest to avoid having to deal with a lover dying, ignoring the fact that she herself is mortal and would cause emotional distress to such a person if she were to die.
Stay tuned for the second half of this analysis (which, much like a victim in a slasher franchise, is sliced down the middle), wherein we will discuss several themes, systems within the world, and more.