Hinterkind: The Waking World by Ian Edginton (writer) and Francesco Trifogli (artist)
I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories, but Hinterkind pulled in this reluctant reader — twice. Initially, I bought the first two monthly issues because of the artwork and because it was a Vertigo title (DC’s mature line of comics), but I dropped the title because the plot didn’t grab me, and frankly, there was an abundance of monthly comics coming out — too much for this fan’s budget! However, when I saw the first six issues of Hinterkind collected together in trade and available for reviewers, I thought I’d give it another chance. I’m glad I did. The art is good all the way through and the plot not only improves with each issue, it fully hooked me by the end of the story arc. And now I want to read the rest of the series!
The story takes place after the human population has been vastly reduced, and we are introduced to a small band of humans who have claimed an area of land and stayed put, establishing roots and a small hierarchy of officials with everyone pulling their weight by doing the job they do best — some are doctors, while others have the dangerous job of hunting outside the safety of the camp, and others, some reluctantly, remain inside as gatherers. They have been in communication with a few other locations, but their radio signals have gone silent one after the other. As this series opens, we see the gruesome fate of the last community that our main characters had radio contact with.
This final sense of isolation and fear for others is what starts off the story: A trio heads off to find out what’s beyond their normal hunting range and to check on those whose radio communications were interrupted mid-broadcast. This group is led by Asa, the grandfather of our main character — Prosper — who is an attractive, teenage girl unhappy in her role as “planter.” Since she’s adventurous and good with a bow and arrow, she wants to earn “hunter” status. Her closest friend, Angus, goes with her while she hunts, and after only a few pages into the first issue, Prosper, along with the readers, discovers Angus’s secret, a revelation that sets the duo on a secret journey away from the settlement just after Prosper’s grandfather departed.
Once the journeys begin, we get to see the wonderful world that has emerged after our second fall. Eden returns in a twisted, but beautiful fashion: Zebras run around trees growing on skyscrapers, and old, dead cars are merely there to add a little bit of extra color amidst the flora and the fauna. But there’s an edge to this Eden that makes that one little snake in the first Eden look tame and cute. The planet has been returned to its rightful heirs: “The Hinterkind, the myriad races of myth, hounded to near-extinction, had returned full of rage and righteous fury to reclaim what was theirs.” And that “rage and righteous fury” turns this title into a near-horror comic in places, but more in the tradition of Swamp Thing than Hellboy. There are all types: satyr, cyclops, goblins, trolls, and anything else you can imagine, as well as some creatures that certainly have no names. But most importantly, the Sidhe — the elves — return to rule over all.
I think the scenes with the Sidhe present some of the best art in a book full of fantastical scenery that makes our post-apocalyptic world look beautiful instead of dreadful as do many post-apocalyptic artistic depictions. The message is the same in both types of depictions: humankind is really messing up the environment in our present, and if we keep on, this is what our world will look like. But this is usually a horrific depiction. I like the reverse in this comic; we humans are so miniscule and minor, the earth just needs some recovery time after we get out of the way, or as is phrased at the beginning of Hinterkind:
Calling it the end of the world was a conceit. The world kept ticking on just fine, it was humanity that took the hit. Seven months from top of the food chain to endangered species. Mother Nature breathed a sigh of relief. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Fish and house guests smell after three days.” By extension, after three hundred thousand years, we’d really stunk up the place. It took decades for the payback to come, but that’s what it does so well . . . the Earth abides.
The story starts off slow, but as I said at the start of this review, I was quite engaged by the end of the first six-issue arc of this new comic book series. I wanted to find out what was going to happen to these characters. And though visually I like the scenery the best, I also love the visual depictions of the wide variety of characters, particularly Prosper and several of the lead “bad guys.” Visually, my favorite “bad guy” is a bad girl-creature: Other than a mohawk, she’s bald and sports a complete punk aesthetic, including about six piercings per ear. The final, perfect touch visually is that her black, spiked hair is matched by her black moth-like, wings — no pretty, multi-colored butterfly wings for her! Prosper, on the other hand, has 70s-styled hair and offers the visual counter-statement to this punk look, but she isn’t just another pretty, hippie face — she’s strong, capable, and stubborn — and we want to follow her wherever she might go in this unpredictable and dangerous world-wide garden.
The only potential problem with the series is that there is just too much going on in the first six issues: Other than the two groups of journeying humans and the Sidhe with their conflicts, there are two very specific bands of creatures with unique, key characters. But that’s not all: We also meet a very odd group of human beings who have found an extremely disturbing way to stay alive (you’ll never guess!). And if that’s not enough, the final part of the sixth issue introduces yet another set of characters that are obviously going to come into play in upcoming issues.
To be fair, it’s a little hard to judge a comic book harshly for being too complex when it has only just started. I think it read too slowly at a monthly pace. I am enjoying Hinterkind much more now that I am able to sit down and read all six issues at once. And if Ian Edginton fulfills his ambitions in upcoming volumes, then his laying this complex groundwork will be well worth the effort. I would be wrong to fault a first volume for planting seeds for future volumes that end up bearing fruit as do the greatest fictional works, whether they be long-running comics or novels. And since I am satisfied by the main plot of volume one — “The Waking World” — I’m going to take a guess that the author knows what he’s doing in future volumes. The work is no slower starting than many of my favorite long-running comic book series, so I’d say that Hinterkind has the potential to be a work talked about for a long time to come.