The afterlife, if it indeed exists as the ultimate destination for our human souls go to after they’ve left our earthly bodies, is probably not a “place” per se but a metaphysically unfathomable concept. Still, that’s never stopped fiction writers from depicting Hell as an unpleasant physical space, like a lake of fire or a windowless room or Cleveland. Writer Ben Kahn and artist Bruno Hidalgo dive into this timeless trope in Heavenly Blues, a heist tale akin to Dante Alighieri adapting The Italian Job.
The book follows protagonists Isaiah and Erin, two wayward souls stuck in eternal damnation as a result of their wicked lives. We meet them in the middle of their decades-old daily routine of torturing perdition’s new arrivals when they’re approached by an angel who offers them an (after)life changing reward to venture into Heaven to rip off one of its citizens. Armed with Isaiah’s bank-robbing expertise and Erin’s fearless punchiness, the duo sets out to recruit the right crew for the job.
Issue #3, which ramps up the action considerably, finds the team fully formed and preparing to traverse Hell’s slums to find a secret portal that leads to Heaven. Of course, things don’t always go as planned (especially in Hell) and the team is waylaid. Hidalgo’s cartoonish, penciled style is perfect for bloody brawling, creating a gruesomely slapstick bar fight that’s rife with darkly humorous visual gags. The issue also introduces some of Hell’s more colorful denizens, and Hidalgo’s character designs are playfully demonic.
On the very first page of the first issue, Kahn proclaims that the day you die is the “one day that every person shares,” and Heavenly Blues continues the trend of flashing back to its characters’ tragic lives (and subsequent deaths) to explore their motivations. These looks into the team’s former lives is a narrative technique that thoughtfully takes full advantage of the book’s afterlife setting, and it injects a little bit of real-world history into the book as well. The flashbacks have ventured into such varied eras as Prohibition Chicago and Feudal Japan, so I’m intrigued to see at which points in the past we’ll find the remaining crew members.
Kahn’s dialogue also continues to be one of the book’s strong points, organically swinging between expletive-laden barbs and philosophical musings at a moment’s notice. While the juvenile vulgarity reaches the point of excess at times, the quippy, lowbrow exchanges between characters are genuinely funny (provided that’s your brand of humor). Fortunately, Kahn is able to rein it in when the story demands a more sedate tone, and the dialogue possesses an earnest sincerity that does a fantastic job of relationship-building between the crew members without feeling forced.
Another standout element of Heavenly Blues has been its lettering and use of sound effects, and issue #3 is no exception. Panels are filled will bold, emotive auditory lettering that effectively accentuates the book’s cartoon quality. In one particularly climactic panel, blood-red letters fill the entire background, augmenting the visceral horror depicted. And selective use of stylized design elements, like framing the occasional panel in the shape of a sound effect’s block letters, help the book feel distinctive without being gimmicky.
Heavenly Blues is rollicking fun — its motley crew of antiheroes have a lively dynamic, its action is visually engaging, and it possesses some hilariously Divine comedy. If you’re looking for a character-driven caper with a unique setting, then look no further than Heavenly Blues. 4.5/5
Heavenly Blues #3
Written by Ben Kahn
Art by Bruno Hidalgo