Review: Curse of Brimstone Vol. 1: Inferno trade paperback (DC Comics)


With shades of Walking Dead, Curse of Brimstone is suddenly, unexpectedly the horror book that's been missing from DC Comics' Rebirth lineup. Despite that the title is already cancelled, against all odds Brimstone Joe Chamberlain might be among the most viable of the characters to come out of the "New Age of Heroes" initiative, easy to slot into Justice League Dark or elsewhere. In Curse of Brimstone Vol. 1: Inferno, writer Justin Jordan offers a set of stories episodic and terrifying, anchored by a brother-sister team not often seen in mainstream superheroics. This book is surprisingly strong, and if DC can't make it work for Jordan with an unknown protagonist, they'd do well to get Jordan on another title with a similar aesthetic posthaste.

[Review contains spoilers]

Admittedly Curse of Brimstone was the "New Age of Heroes" title I was least looking forward to reading, having seen a preview (which I now realize was from the end and not the beginning of the first chapter) that seemed to eschew character development for a trite "deal with the devil" plot. But Joe's transformation to Brimstone is actually the briefest part of the start, which focuses more instead on Joe, sister Annie, and that their father has apparently given away their money to an unreliable friend. Family drama in the DC Universe, at times nonexistent, tends now mainly to come in the flavor of dutiful super-sons, so this -- father perhaps being taken advantage of, kids who know better but are told to keep their place -- is refreshingly unique. That's before, of course, Joe accepts a deal from the devilish Salesman, becomes the fiery Brimstone, and accidentally turns half his small town to ash.

Four issues in, Brimstone becomes the story of Joe and Annie, crossing the country looking for small towns similarly "cursed" by the Salesman and battling monsters or rendering aid as needed. It's a little bit Fugitive and a little bit Swamp Thing, anchored again by Joe and Annie -- and even though Joe can transform into the monstrous Brimstone, Annie is the brains of the operation, and especially when Joe is Brimstone, it often seems like Annie is the book's true protagonist. Brimstone is set in the modern-day DC Universe, but -- not just a little metaphorically -- in that Joe and Annie's quest has them traversing mainly impoverished coal and factory towns, the scenery often has a gray, post-apocalyptic look that (along with a variety of weird prophets the Chamberlains meet along their journey) reminds of the zombie-ravaged Walking Dead.

Jordan's horror is markedly on point once Joe and Annie get on the road, convincingly endangering a young family in the fourth chapter, "All That Remains," for instance. The final two-part story, drawn partially by Philip Tan and Jose Luis and partially by Denys Cowan, is downright terrifying, involving both possessed children and a demonic child-clown creature. Jordan's final issue with Cowan is perhaps the best of them all, building strong suspense in the question of whether Joe or Annie might kill a child in their attempt to save a town.

If the Brimstone character has a drawback, it's that Brimstone is the familiar kind of hulking creature that Joe transforms into but can then barely control, a la Bruce Banner but also Etrigan the Demon and another "New Age of Heroes" addition, Damage. That said, I'd now love to see a Brimstone/Damage crossover, though it doesn't seem to be in the cards. In their Fugitive-esque attributes, Brimstone and Damage Vol. 1: Out of Control are not significantly different, except that Robert Venditti's Damage so far seems to see Damage solving his problems mainly with his fists, whereas Brimstone's story is more intentional as Joe and Annie try to track down the Salesman, and Joe and Annie's partnership gives this book a soul that Damage lacked.

Jordan creates an atmosphere that feels very viable within the setting of the DC Universe, and I'm thrilled that before this book ends after the next volume, Swamp Thing, John Constantine, and Doctor Fate are all on the way. Perhaps it's Philip Tan's evocation of Tom Mandrake, but Brimstone feels like a place that the horror characters of the DCU could reasonably congregate -- Etrigan too, and the Spectre, the Phantom Stranger, Madame Xanadu, or Zatanna. We learn early on, however, that Brimstone is not supernatural, to an extent, but rather ensorcelled by the sci-fi of Dark Nights: Metal's Dark Multiverse. That's fine too, though actually I was hoping we might find Apokolips had a hand in this, tying this Brimstone into the Brimstone of the early post-Crisis Legends crossover fame.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Curse of Brimstone Vol. 1: Inferno

With just one more volume to go after Curse of Brimstone Vol. 1: Inferno, I'll be satisfied with the guest stars who're coming up. If Justin Jordan had more room than that, I might have liked to see him invest more in spotlighting parts of this fictitious America outside the big cities like Metropolis and Gotham, maybe setting Joe and Annie amidst the Appalachian opioid crisis or such. As it is, the best we can ask for, for quite a few of the "New Age of Heroes" characters, is that hopefully we'll see them in some team book or another and that these short-lived series won't all be the end for them.

[Includes original covers, triptych cover image, sketches and designs]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Curse of Brimstone Vol. 1: Inferno
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I agree that Brimstone is going to be one of the easiest concepts to import into DC's future; I could easily imagine him in Justice League Dark, mostly due to the fact that he's got a cool visual. I worry, though, that he'll get trotted out like those Bloodlines characters like Ballistic or Razorsharp - for a frisson of recognition before he's unceremoniously dispatched.

    I do wonder what you'll make of Sideways. I think he'll make the transition easily too, though he's been kept in his own little corner in a way that most "New Age" books haven't been.

    Sidebar: I have a soft spot for red-headed superheroes. While I am not entirely enchanted by dark horror, I'm a sucker for a book where two protagonists are redheads.

    1. I did read Sideways and liked it, and I agree that Sideways could also make the transition easily. Though, I don't know, I'd hate to see Sideways become just another sarcastic Teen Titan. I don't want to see the "New Age of Heroes" characters be cannon fodder either, but I'm curious about a Blood Pack kind of scenario, team up Sideways and Silencer and Damage and let chaos ensue-kind of thing. Hopefully DC will do *something* with them.


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