Writer: Nicole D'Andria
Artist: Monika Maccagni
Colorist: Joaquin Pereyra
Letterer: Justin Birch
Publisher: Self Published (Kickstarter)
WHAT IS IT?
Not a road trip, strangely, but a weird inversion of a supernatural buddy cop/bounty hunter story where the greenhorn is a fresh-faced human crowned the new king of Hell and the old veteran is Joan of Arc.
Think Hellblazer meets Smokin' Aces.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Francis Rhoades has visions, usually bad ones, that always come true. So far, he's been able to use his "gifts" as a psychic to support himself and his sick sister, Star; however, after telling people things they don't want to hear for the umpteenth time, he finds himself out of a job and in a bad spot in his life.
Then, he finds a demon in a bathrobe waiting for him in his home that casually informs him he's Satan's son and he's just been crowned king of Hell. As a stipulation in the contract, anyone who kills Francis will be named king of Hell in his stead, starting a chain of history's biggest villains from Atilla the Hun to Ted Bundy to come after Francis in an attempt to claim the title. Luckily for him, God is on his side and he is sent a guardian angel, Joan of Arc, to help him get to Hell and assume his new responsibilities.
Will Francis be able to get to Hell with his head still on his shoulders? Does he even want the job? And how will he keep evil men from hunting down his sister? Heavy is the head that wears the crown...
D'Andria's dialogue is snappy and fun to read, particularly between Francis and Star, who come across as familiar and authentic even in extreme circumstances.
Maccagni's bold and expressive linework is easy to follow and a joy to look at. It's reminiscent of Rebekah Isaac's work with a stronger manga slant to it.
Pereyra uses atmospheric color to back up the emotion of every panel with great care. It's only upon close inspection that you discover there's very little background detail beyond the establishing shot, the color completely removing the need for it.
Birch employs just the right touch in his lettering, particularly in this comic. Subtle touches, like a gothic font for Joan of Arc's speech, help give texture to the universe while big bombastic FX and shout balloons are saved for when the story needs them most.
Most media dealing with demons and divine intervention are self-serious and difficult to swallow; Road Trip to Hell takes a much lighter approach, embracing the absurdity and having fun with its premise, which makes the reading experience more enjoyable.
Panel layouts are dynamic and, at times, chaotic which not only makes the page itself more interesting to look at, but makes the action feel weightier and more significant when it occurs.
There is some moral ambiguity with the characters despite many of them being angels, demons, or literally sent from Heaven or Hell. Francis's guardian angel has no qualms killing people and applies a Machiavellian worldview to achieving her goals, which is unsettling when both the reader and Francis attempt to put her in the box of "the good guy."
The jokes, particularly those delivered by the main characters, are solid and definitely liven up the experience. The last line in the 3rd issue in particular (no spoilers) made me chortle out loud, which most comics fail to achieve.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
CW: Violence and blood. Just enough that I wouldn't feel comfortable giving this to a child. Like 16 or over.
The tone is a little all over the place and, as much as I want to like it for being lighthearted and humorous, some really messed up stuff happens in this comic both visually and in the actions of the protagonists, and I'm not certain the comic does enough to balance that and fully address its more dramatic aspects.
The perspective viewpoint in some panels is extreme and jarring, making it difficult to interpret and disorienting for a reader. While you could argue that this was the intended effect, it was more distracting in my experience than anything else.
The manga influences in the character design, particularly in faces and expression, is at times detrimental. Facial expressions are oftentimes so extreme and overdone that they shoot the moon and make the intended emotion difficult to interpret and take seriously.
There's an exchange between two Nazis that only serves to spoon-feed the exposition. It's lazy and I hate it.
While we're on Nazis, the chief antagonists of the first three issues are the historical Nazis, which frankly comes across as low-hanging fruit. There's an interesting twist on how they treat Hitler, but personally, I'm tired of seeing Nazis used as a shorthand for irredeemably evil people (which they are, but it's quickly becoming cliche).
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Road Trip to Hell is a visually rich experience with a cool premise, snappy dialogue, and an action-forward mentality that makes it impossible to avoid getting swept up in. The heart of the story, the relationship between Francis, his sister, and his guardian angel, is strong and elevates a roller coaster of a story to something that feels worthy of digging into.
It's not perfect, but what comic is? There are plenty of comics that are technically better put together and more tonally consistent that miss out on what D'Andria and her team bring out in spades: Fun. I had fun reading this comic and sometimes that's all you need to make the experience worth it. If you're looking for something self-serious and Earth-shattering in scope, there's plenty out there for you, but if you're looking for a good time, Road Trip to Hell will get you there (even if it isn't really a road trip, yet).
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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