It’s so easy for a creative team who work well together to fall into a trap of repeating themselves ad nauseam. While knowing each other other’s strengths and weaknesses undoubtedly helps boost the former and diminish the latter, far too often we see creative teams start to get too comfortable with each other. Their projects become boring, all the shrugworthy at best. That’s not the case with “Heavenly Blues” by Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo. They go off in a completely different direction with their new series — following the detective superhero team up, “Shaman” — and end up turning out a new comic bristling with humor, imagination, and cool.
Written by Ben Kahn
Illustrated by Bruno Hidalgo
What happens when the souls of the greatest thieves in Hell team up to pull the ultimate heist in Heaven? The answer (and so much more) can be found in HEAVENLY BLUES by Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo, the creators of the critically-acclaimed book SHAMAN.
“Heavenly Blues” #1 is set in this hellish purgatory, a pit where even if you do manage to find retribution, you end up escaping right into another pit. Isaiah Jefferson, a former up-and-coming gangster, and Erin are stuck in such a pit. They spend most of their time tormenting newcomers to this netherworld and wallowing in self-pity. Their life has been like this for decades and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better . . . that is until an angel shows up, clandestine-style, and offers them a chance for retribution.
Both Hidalgo and Kahn do well at structuring the story around reactions and emotions. They take the time to show why these characters have fallen into their melancholic moods and it makes each scene all the more sad and each reaction all the more hysterical. They also revel in the absurd and anarchic, and the whole issue has this distinct atmosphere about it. For instance, they start the story with a fake-out character, who’s quickly forgotten and abandoned within the first ten pages.
Another part of this comes from how well they control the information. It helps that they play the material straight-faced, finding ways organic to the story to introduce concepts of this world, never drawing undue attention to any given element. Kahn’s scenes are familiar, especially in a tale about retribution, but he knows when to enter them and where to exit them; he knows that the characters don’t really do much for most of “Heavenly Blues” #1, but he delivers it so even their smallest actions seem to have major significance.
Hidalgo peppers the city with odd architecture and actions that laugh in the face of physicals (ah ha ha ha). His wild and loose style gives the book this cool factor, complete with images that you’ll remember even after you’ve finished reading the issue. He’s much more concerned with you falling into the rhythm of his story rather than delivering that one perfect image to linger over for hours and hours. He keeps his compositions and staging restrained, making the unhinged parts land with that much harder of an impact. It’s a comic that reads well, with a well-established flow and sensibility throughout.
Unlike “Shaman,” where Kathy and Hidalgo were doing a bunch of one-and-done stories with a recurring cast of characters, “Heavenly Blues” #1 introduces a structure that leans heavier on serialization. Because of this, they’re playing a lot of elements close to the chest, from characters to plot to setting, that most definitely do not pay off by the end of the issue. In fact, I’m not sure they even provide that many questions or problems for Isaiah and Erin. This is more like a chapter than an episode. And even then, I’m not sure this has a “To be continued . . .” feeling by the end of it, opposed to sort of just running out of pages.
Of course, this does leave the creative team a lot more opportunities for narrative elements. Hidalgo and Kahn are certainly able to get more ambitious with the material. Something like the scene in Isaiah Jefferson’s previous life, which is a wonderfully realized sequence, probably never would have appeared in a project with a tighter focus.Continued below
While I don’t think there’s enough to say “Heavenly Blues” #1 is a satisfying story, it is a fairly strong first issue. It’s funny, thrilling, and somewhat melancholic, with empathetic characters and a plot to pique your interest. It may feature some of the most unhinged mayhem since the first issue of “Chew.” The bigger canvas has given Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo more room to work, and the story’s more breathy and confident for it, but by the end of it, you end up wishing there was immediately more of it.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Great storytelling and style, hampered somewhat by a feeling of not being completed.