Welcome back to our Halloween special, an analysis of the original “Hack/Slash” run by Tim Seeley from 2004 to 2013. In the last part, we discussed the core concept, some major characters, and some elements of the psychology examined in the horror epic. However, there are still more pieces to go into. So, without further adieu, to paraphrase Cassie Hack herself, let’s “smash the pumpkin.”
Considering the actual genre of the comic is horror, it should come as no surprise that the subject is also a key theme. The terrors inflicted on Hack/Slash, Inc. and the key horror hunters are a major focus, with extra emphasis on the traumas sustained and how people grow from or succumb to them.
Much like in slasher films, the majority of the slashers’ scares are from when they are first arriving or people are unaware of what they can actually do. The actual actions of the slashers are more disgusting and creepy than outright scary for the most part. From the horrific visages of each slasher to the bloody, gory methods by which victim and killer alike are dispatched, there is a lot of focus on the amount of blood spilled over the course of a slasher’s rampage. When the slashers are actually on panel, most of the scares are gone, but their actions are disturbing enough in and of themselves that a sense of unease remains. From the barely-restrained Father Wrath to the maniacal X-O and Mortimer Strick to so much more, part of the horror they invoke is in not knowing what they will do next or how far they will go into the extremes they can reach.
Another element of horror in the series is body horror, a type from the genre that showcases psychologically disturbing changes, mutations, or even violations of the human body. Ranging from being a basic part of the slasher’s arsenal (the Sundermann twins, Mortimer Strick and Acid Angel) to otherworldly species (such as the aforementioned alien hellhound) and more, the images on display are enough to make many people wince in sympathy for the characters who are forced to deal with these terrors.
However, the most prominent form of horror comes from a far more existential source. Due to what Cassie knows about slashers (and what she does not), there is always the feeling that if things go wrong, she could end up becoming a slasher herself, or even simply go mad and become as bad as them, if not worse, on account of her bottled up anger at things like being considered a freak or not being understood. In her own words, a major part of her internalized hatred comes from the terrifying realization that she is just like the slashers she fights after a fashion, merging horror with rage. That entire idea of questioning one’s own sanity, especially with her already present mental disorders, leaves a constant, unnerving air of uncertainty that could possibly be even worse than death.
Aside from the sheer terror or general discomfort caused by the series, “Hack/Slash” has another, on some level equally important component: humor. With a range of characters and perspectives, there is a great emphasis on a variety of types of comedy to break up the despair, ranging from black as the deepest pit to bright and lighthearted.
On the one hand, there’s situational, and “cut to a different scene” types of comedy. These types of moments rely on a distinct setup, but can be some of the funniest parts of the story. For example, a cut from describing how amazing and hardcore Cassie can be, to… well… this.Continued below
In other cases, the humor is more subdued but in a similar vein, such as a rampant, extremely vulgar rant on the phone turning out to be right in front of a woman and her toddler son, or someone catching another person in a very compromising, mature-rated position during an intense moment.
On the other hand, a lot of the comedic moments are in the form of verbal humor, such as awkward phrasing, revelation of far too much disgusting information, or basic malapropism.
In all, the comedy of the series runs on what happens, how it is presented, and at times who is the one presenting it, and can be very mature in theme (such as carnally-based insults) or on the contrary very immature (involving toilet humor).
On a more serious note, there is a heavy emphasis on love and relationships, especially the evolution of Cassie Hack’s experience with romance and/or sex. The series chronicles her complex relationship with the very idea of relationships over the course for at least three, perhaps four years.
Early on, in the first few stories, Cassie’s experience with attraction mostly amounted to being flustered at the very idea of it. She had kissed people before her time as a killer, but always considered herself a freak more than anything. Therefore, when hit on during her hunt for Father Wrath, she was left without a one-liner in response, and when she did get drunk later during that same hunt, she found herself surprised by how people actually liked the more carefree self she showed, even noting that nobody had ever asked her to dance before. These hang-ups about her own self-esteem also led to a lot of friction, such as her mental breakdown upon learning that Evil Ernie genuinely loved her for who she was, despite the fact that he was a slasher she was aiming to kill.
After some initial experiences with attraction (and alcohol) at a club, the overt problems with her self-esteem seemed to be gone, but there still remained some residual problems, to the point that she was uncertain of whether or not she was asexual or some other non-heterosexual orientation. Though she did develop a crush on a girl over time, she views it as nothing more than a distraction from her hunts and another piece of collateral, something for her to worry over and keep her from concentrating on her hate. As she herself notes at one point while internally complaining about her distractions, she actually believes she is unable to fall for someone on an emotional level beyond merely being physically attracted until a point when she converses with someone else who would literally die for love. It took the possibility of actually quitting the hunting business to get her to enter a relationship, and even then it only lasted as long as her “retirement.”
Due to her inability to reconcile her ability to love with the likelihood that she would cause pain to her lover, Cassie rejected the very idea of being in love with a girl, while harboring feelings despite herself. It took the majority of the series to actually get her to admit that it was her own insecurity, rather than her emotions, that caused her problems, leading to quite a lot of drama in the process.
Love causes a lot of problems for Ms. Hack. The first time she actually fell in love, her first act was to go to the police to turn in all of the knowledge she had on slashers, which ended up causing a lot of problems due to a manhunt out for her, and many deaths as well. Even before that, the crush that had emerged caused her to lose focus on hunts and go after someone who didn’t actually need to be given her methods. The second time, the consequences were far worse, but to tell more would be spoilers that would ruin it for potential readers.Continued below
At a certain point, she admits that the only kind of serious, loving relationship she can even contemplate as an option is with someone who cannot die, someone who would not be in danger from their relationship and her job. In fact, her next romantic interest was taken up in part due to him being this “safe” option. While this kind of thought process makes sense from a logical standpoint, the reality is that her attention is on how much a relationship will hurt her by hurting the people she loves, and so shows Ms. Hack as still stuck in her mentality as a teenager.
Keeping in mind Hack’s many mental problems, along with her lack of luck whenever she does fall in love, it should come as no surprise that she has extremely large problems with keeping long-term romantic relationships, even ones she admits to be healthy and good for her. Instead, once she does lose her virginity, her “romance” experiences tend to focus primarily on casual sex, be it for basic physical release or a one-night stand to sate boredom, instead of keeping close romantic relationships, even when she admits to herself that she loves someone. While this type of relationship helps to keep her from hurting others in the long term or dragging many people into her dangerous life for long periods, it also prevents the emotional growth that comes with a more long-term companionship, cutting her off from the emotional part of a relationship in favor of focusing exclusively on the sexual part.
The loving, stable relationship that grows between Chris Krank and Lisa Elsten over the course of the story as a B plot acts as a deliberate contrast, with their devotion to one another being a near polar opposite to Cassie’s reluctance to allow anyone near her life. While they do have their troubles, the focus seems to grow in the opposite way to Cassie, with their originally casual relationship growing into love, and their home in Eminence, Indiana working as a foil to Cassie and Vlad’s nomadic living conditions. While Cassie’s love life seems to concentrate on what can help her, even as she worries about others, Chris and Lisa’s love instead is codependent, with them caring far more about the feelings and interests of one another and making each other happy.
The development of bonds with other people, of the expansion and dissolution of friendships and groups of friends in general, is central to a large part of “Hack/Slash.”
Early on, on account of her mission along with how she was bullied for many years, Cassie Hack has difficulty with the very idea of establishing friendships. To use her words from ‘My First Maniac,’ “If I’m going to take the fight to all of those revenge-obsessed killers, I can’t have bystanders. Family. Collateral. Everyone needs to fear me. They need to watch their backs around me, and talk about me in frightened whispers, and never want to make me a part of their homes.” She actually believed that she would never be able to have a home ever again, leading to her voluntary homelessness for most of her run. Even once she establishes other friendships down the line, Vlad still understands that this mentality is constantly in place, as shown by one of his lines in ‘Cassie and Vlad meet the Re-Animator’: “Once you are alone, it is easier to think it will always be that way than to believe you may have to accept new people into your life.”
At first, her lasting friendships (those made in ‘My First Maniac’ excluded) are seen in her eyes primarily based upon need. She initially “hires” Vlad in order to have some extra muscle for the difficult fights she ends up in, even admitting as much to his face in her sales pitch. She keeps in contact with Lisa Elsten and later Chris Krank mostly to have a source of information for slasher attacks beyond what she randomly finds on the Internet or in newspapers. In fact, aside from developing a closer friendship with Vlad due to their near-constant companionship, Ms. Hack doesn’t even allow anyone else close to her beyond what she absolutely needs until she meets a close friend her own age to call upon, and even tries to shoot down Chris’s idea of Hack/Slash, Inc. when he first brings it up based on pretty logical reasoning.Continued below
With the establishment of that friendship, the series moves away from the purely practical and more toward the emotional and psychotherapeutic benefits of having people to actually be close to the protagonists. Friendly conversations strike up even outside of the slasher slayer business, even about the most mundane, almost Seinfeldian topics, enabling the series to stay relatable to readers in even the most outlandish of situations. The inclusion of friends enables the series to balance the darkness of the job against a lightheartedness of comfort and kindness, or even friendly barbs and jokes. On occasion, there are even moments, as the group grows, of people simply hanging out, be it playing video games or watching a movie, and there are even references to things one character or another may be borrowing temporarily to add to a realism of the relationship with the firmly rooted Chris and Lisa, the primary homeless heroes, and some of their more nomadic allies or acquaintances. Over the course of the series, the primary group, both within and without Hack/Slash, Inc., develops to cover a sizable amount of the mainland of the United States, with agents in Florida, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Indiana, among other places, even developing without Cassie and Vlad’s direct involvement (whether or not the former is willing to allow them into her dangerous lifestyle).
Of course, there are dangers to such a unity among survivors, as comes up time and again. Cassie Hack isn’t exactly one to allow a lot of other people into her life unless she is sure they can at least stay out of trouble for the most part, and even gets angry when they risk their lives or have their lives otherwise at risk. However, the benefits usually outweigh the detriments, and Seeley’s writing, along with that of other writers over the course of the series, allows them to develop into a some kind of bizarre family, especially when it comes to some of the weirder members, such as those with odder physical appearances or origins, or those with unusual psychopathology. For all of the problems with having a group come together, the series needs something like this, a way for the protagonists to have others to relate to, others to speak with and commiserate with, to cry against or sometimes have fights with in their worst times.
On the subject of the dangers of being around such a horror hunter, Dr. Lisa Elsten has her own choice words: “No one can guarantee the safety of anyone, hon. We all know that. We have to do the same thing as everyone else: enjoy life while we can, because we never know when we’re gonna get hit by a bus. … or by an evil, reanimated Good Guys doll with a steak knife…” To paraphrase Cassie herself, they’re just like her and Vlad. They’re each special in their own way, no matter how weird or embarrassing they can be to one another. In fact, it is sometimes these very bonds that save the group, rather than the actions of a lone hero.
“Slices” of Life
Coming hand-in-hand with the romance and friendship angles is the general look at various characters’ lifestyles, in a borderline “slice of life” atmosphere. The sheer difference between the lives of our different heroic units allows for a whole host of different stories to be told, each with their own charm.
On the one hand, we have the roaming, nomadic life of Cassie and Vlad, which occasionally forays into the mundane, with such issues as running out of money, picking apples or other odd jobs for some extra funds, or eating out of the garbage of a fast food restaurant. Their lifestyle is the main focus of the story, so it’s not really worth further expansion here beyond the fact that we have such comedic, relatively mundane scenes as Cassie washing out a gory baseball bat in a sink without any clue as to whom she just beat to death.Continued below
On another hand, we have the primary allies of the Dysfunctional Duo, Chris and Lisa. Initially apart from one another and only really the focus of cases involving them, the fact that they live together in the relative quiet of Eminence, Indiana allows for rather mundane experiences. When Cassie calls in on them, they are often doing rather ordinary things, such as using an exercise bike (in the case of Lisa) or surfing the Internet (in the case of Chris). Some emphasis is even put on how they interact with the local police, and how they are rather friendly with the officers, with the relatively small town allowing for a kindness and familiarity amongst many citizens to the point of them asking about Lisa’s work at the animal shelter. Their troubles, when not of the superhuman or supernatural variety, are very mundane as well, limited to bullying by Lisa’s racist, homophobic ex-boyfriend and arguments over how Chris doesn’t have a job of his own.
Other mundane lives are also viewed, in particular that of Margaret Crump as she looks into acting jobs. Of course, she doesn’t have nearly as much focus as Chris and Lisa (being more a general friend than a source of information on slashers), but the overall chronicle of her rise as a thespian does get enough emphasis to be notable, and for readers to be happy for her successes in life.
Magics and Sciences
“I know that sounds like some X-Men type shit, but just between the people in this room, we’ve seen aliens, ghosts, and a fucking killer doll, so at this point we can’t really throw out anything.”
A multitude of different types of enemies, ranging from sleep killers a’la Freddy Krueger (of A Nightmare on Elm Street) to face-stealing vampires, to people with acidic blood, to various other types of enemies are all covered under slashers, as mentioned before. However, they are far from the only type of antagonist or the only type of power set, with each of the power types having their own apparent rules, from capabilities to limitations.
One of the key elements, brought up before many others, can be explained as “weird science” or “super science,” the kind of thing that was made famous by the likes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The idea of scientific experimentation leading to the depths of madness or the heights of power (or both) is common in two-fisted tales stories of the pulp magazine era, and is as often a source of body horror as it is one of fun, ridiculous adventures, depending on the nature of the experimentation and the results. There are several different ways in which this type of science is used in “Hack/Slash,” but only two will be discussed for sake of avoiding too many spoilers.
One of the most common forms of this experimentation in “Hack/Slash” involves focus on re-animation or otherwise attempting to use slashers for beneficial purposes through science. Predictably, this never, ever is going to work, but it does have its potential uses nonetheless. Injecting some of the fluid that comes from a slasher into someone who is not one, or is not undead, has a habit of turning them into feral, insane beings focused on murder much like the slashers themselves, and for them to reanimate as slashers themselves upon death, and Cassie’s only real solution to them is summary execution if she has the chance. The only possible solution to this situation shown to be partly viable for a majority of victims comes in the form of the work of Doctor Herbert West from the 1980s Re-Animator film series (more on crossovers to be discussed below). However, considering the dangers of involving someone as amoral as Dr. West, coupled with the problems that tend to come up from his research and… a variety of problems that come up when he enters the story, he isn’t exactly available to Hack/Slash, Inc. in general.Continued below
The other form of experimentation is the use of eugenics breeding projects. Highly immoral, these projects can take centuries, but are capable of leading to the development of what are essentially human subspecies, from super soldiers to carnal servants to a host of other potential uses. Due to the fact that this kind of work takes much longer than the regeneration experimentation, it understandably is far less common in the plot, but is still different enough to be notable.
Much like many a well-made magic system, those magic types in “Hack/Slash” are defined enough to almost be a kind of science with their own rules and methodologies, albeit one that is not explored enough to truly be considered as such. The various different types each possess their own powers and limitations. Several of these systems come up only in crossovers with other franchises, and are likely better examined in those sources, but we will discuss only those that are most prominent in the main plot (including one that is in fact a crossover).
First, there are the magical abilities that come from the use of spell books. When not from a particular franchise, these books tend to involve a wide variety of spells, from verbal ones to physical rituals. The grammar of the verbal spells seem to differ depending upon the book, with one sorceress using each word said backwards, but the word order still being the same from top to bottom of the speech bubble, while another’s words are entirely reversed down to their grammar, the sentences working their way up the bubble instead of down it. Meanwhile, the physical rituals also change, with some revolving around incorporeal spirits, whereas others involve far more corporeal means such as blood and murder. Given that Cassie herself does not use these techniques, there is not much to explain how the magic works from the protagonists’ point of view, but there is enough to get a general feel for it.
Taken from the Child’s Play franchise, voodoo magic is much more beholden to the use of artifacts and potions, closest to a real science of the different magical techniques. The Heart of Damballa amulet can be used with a magical incantation to manipulate souls, and at least one voodoo practitioner has access to a variety of other potions with various effects, including total body paralysis or an antidote to the same. Additionally, voodoo can be used to make magical zombies (unrelated to slashers), but the actual mechanism behind their creation is not made clear.
The most important, most prominent form of magic by far, used in multiple different situations, is definitely the magic of the hellish, alien dimension of Nef. In terms of certain fantasy archetypes, this magic would likely be considered that of a warlock, given it is provided by an outside force, rather than learned or inherent to the user. Mostly given to specific “avatars” of the eldritch beings known as the Neflords in the form of musical talent and instruments, this magic, known as “black magick” in some canonical sources, is primarily used through a guitar granted by the Neflords themselves, with particular chords and songs providing power for specific effects. These powers range from the creation of magical portals to and from Nef and other dimensions, blasts of arcane energy, transformation of the user into a demonic form, and mind control, the latter limited only to virgins and primarily used to provide sacrifices for the Neflords themselves. The guitar seemingly can only use the spells if undamaged, and gunfire can cause it harm to the point of being nearly useless. Furthermore, from information gleaned on behalf of the Neflords themselves, granting power for an avatar takes a lot of energy on their part, hence why they only seem to have one at a time on Earth. Most importantly, Nef magic seems to be especially powerful against slashers, given it is not of Earth, and thus not bound by the same rules as they are. As such, damage caused by Nef magic seems to be able to cause significant harm or even permanently kill slashers in certain instances, though a slayer actually coming across it and being able to use it is very rare.Continued below
As stated, there are other types of magic that do come up, especially those involving other sorts of creatures like ghosts (such as in ‘Hatchet/Slash’), but they are only very rarely dealt with, and so are difficult to study for strengths and weaknesses. In fact, Cassie herself absolutely loathes dealing with creatures like demons or ghosts due to not knowing those rules.
According to the word of Tim Seeley himself, there are no real limits on what is available, theoretically, to the “Hack/Slash” universe. From crossovers with other comics to those with various horror franchises, the way in which the series deals with temporary mergers of franchises makes each of them rather seamless and has them each feel very natural to the story. As such, while Cassie Hack and Vlad primarily deal with their own troubles, crossovers show that their adventures, while relatively unknown to the general populace, act as a very small piece of a much larger, stranger world.
Mixes with other comics come in a variety of ways, often through other writers, but tend to fit well into the main plot on the whole. They sometimes are written as a key part of the main story, or are mere “monster of the week” types of threats. They may be brought up time and again, even jump into a key arc of their own in the main series, or may merely be a one-off. At times, crossovers even allow some of the villains that have been finished off or otherwise had very limited exposure to have far more. Not all of the crossovers will be mentioned here, but only those that are important for some reason or another, be it a reintroduction of villains or otherwise interesting in concept.
‘The Final Revenge of Evil Ernie,’ a merger with Chaos! Comics, is an odd, early case. Although it is collected in the omnibus editions of “Hack/Slash,” it is not in the smaller trade editions. This story, despite being ostensibly another tale in the dark unlife of Evil Ernie himself, also serves the purpose of showcasing many of the internal traumas of Cassie and Vlad both, as well as helping to solidify their personalities and struggles. Still, despite the far-reaching implications of its events, this one-shot story is not particularly important on the whole, at least for the duration of the initial run itself.
The ‘BUMPed’ crossover with Fangoria Comics features the tale of “BUMP” from that company and is written by its author, Mark Kidwell. Unlike many of the stories, this one was not in any of the collected editions, and is only seen in issues 12 and 13 of “Hack/Slash: The Series” individually, rather than being a separate crossover miniseries or one-shot comic. This two-issue tale is actually much scarier than the normal stories of “Hack/Slash,” fitting far more into a horror story than any of the others.
On rare occasions, crossovers are part of the world, but while they are not collected in trades, they do spawn sequel crossover arcs within the main “Hack/Slash” comic. This particular case is true with ‘Bomb Queen vs. Hack/Slash,’ which is only collected in the ‘Bomb Queen Deluxe Edition Vol. 4’ trade volume. However, its one-sided attraction of the eponymous villainess to the Serial Killer Killer herself led into a short arc toward the tail end of the main “Hack/Slash” run, making such a crossover, while not essential, definitely a canonical addition to the overall plot. Furthermore, this particular crossover is one of the very few that does not take place in the main “Hack/Slash” combined universe, as it explicitly involves dimensional travel. While this crossover itself is not important to the wider arc of “Hack/Slash,” it does have lasting effects on the hunter, and leads into one of the later arcs of the main series when the supervillain crosses paths with her again.
A particularly interesting crossover is the one with “Nailbiter” by Joshua Williamson. While it is not important to the main story of “Hack/Slash,” the tale is so integral to that other series that it was included at the start of the fifth story arc. As such, that kind of story shows that while the world may not always have an important effect on Cassie Hack, she herself has a definite effect on the world at large, even when she herself is not completely aware of her importance.Continued below
‘Hack/Slash/Eva: Monster’s Ball’ is an odd, but intricate piece in the crossovers present. Owing to the fact that the concentration is on both of the protagonists’ rogues galleries, a lot of time is spent on how they can work together, with seemingly extra emphasis on the “Hack/Slash” part of the equation, including specifying when in the timeline of that story this crossover roughly takes place. Of note, five different villains from the main series, including one that had never technically been seen on panel in his unlife, and another three that had only very limited exposure to Cassie Hack and Vlad, all are brought back in varying levels of importance to the plot. Furthermore, as Dynamite Entertainment owns the rights to Eva, this crossover opened the way to subsequent ones such as the series epilogue ‘Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash’ (released in 2013) and ‘Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella’ (released in 2018).
Unified Horror Universe
The way in which the series deals with other slasher franchises within its story is very interesting, and allows for such a wide range of magical and scientific specialties as mentioned previously. Every single prominent slasher franchise, and many other franchises, are considered canon to the series, with the adventures and misadventures of Hack and her allies only occupying a small segment of a larger world.
On the one hand, we have the actual slasher franchises themselves that are deliberately encountered. One of the first stories has Cassie and Vlad cross paths with Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray of Child’s Play fame some time after his film Seed of Chucky, which actually goes to explain his condition in later films after a fashion. Over the course of the one-shot, there were references to other famous franchises, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween (all of which were also referenced in ‘My First Maniac,’ but without naming the slashers unlike in Chucky’s story). Judging from how Hack and Chucky interact, she is infamous enough in the slasher circles that she is a known slayer among even the most famous such as him, setting the stage for later crossovers. Victor Crowley of the relatively recent Hatchet franchise has a story in the third annual, but his story is somewhat less important to the plot, and isn’t brought up nearly as much as that of Chucky, who not only gets referenced multiple times across different subsequent tales, but also has a “Psychofile” in the collected editions of the comics, and has the physical scars of their encounter brought up in more tangential references.
Then comes Doctor Herbert West, the Re-Animator of not only the Re-Animator film series, but also derived from the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, in the very first crossover that was allowed by the film’s creators. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say his inclusion is one of the most pivotal moments in the entire series to that point, and essential in major changes to Cassie Hack. In fact, Dr. West also has a Psychofile of his own, and is the only one listed who has not actually killed anyone, showing how deeply he affected her psyche. Still, he isn’t mentioned nearly as much as Chucky, with his effect on the others being more of a focus.
A third extremely important encounter with a horror franchise is that with Ashley J. “Ash” Williams and the Necronomicon Ex Mortis’ Army of Darkness. While the effects of this particular crossover are not as widely felt due to it being essentially an epilogue to the primary tale, the world is so thoroughly integrated between the two that it works perfectly well, demonstrating wildly new concepts for the “Hack/Slash” universe and even finding a way to merge the real main plot of the latter half of “Hack/Slash” proper with the dark, demonic magic of the Necronomicon itself.
That is not to say that the only references have been overt. In one case, fear-inducing alien monstrosities called “Dread Drinkers” by one victim come up. Without spoiling too much (given this is a mid-plot storyline), it is very apparent to those who are aware of the related material that the beings are actually the very same Dream Demons that granted Freddy Krueger his nightmarish abilities in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.Continued below
In summary, it seems best to close with Tim Seeley’s description of the series in the “Entry Wound” one-shot comic.
“An epic story is unfolding.
“The antagonist: Murderous, undead entities consumed by hate for the living.
“The protagonists: Unlikely hunters without homes who defend the innocent and the sinful.
“It is a story that has many threads, as the protagonists save lives, and the survivors become saviors.
“It is a story made up of many moments, some intense and terrifying, some small, quiet, and intimate.
“It is a story about the kinds of friends who will wipe the drool off your face when you’re sleeping.
“This is that story.”