Hellishly Dumb – Clive Barker’s The Harrowers Comic Book (1993-1994)

For as uneven and frequently disappointing as the 1990s Hellraiser comic could be, the book at least managed some pretense of being artistically motivated with ambitions of literary merit (however rarely achieved). In contast, spin-off title The Harrowers was a straight-up embarrassment in all respects. Its short six-issue run was six too many.

In the early 1990s, the powers in charge of Marvel Comics decided they wanted to be “in the Clive Barker business,” as entertainment industry parlance goes. In addition to the Hellraiser and Nightbreed books published under its Epic Comics imprint, Marvel signed Barker to create his own sub-brand, called “Razorline,” consisting of four connected titles that would all launch together at the end of 1993. Although not technically part of Razorline, a fifth book (this one, The Harrowers) also moved forward into publication at the same time to piggyback off the promotional campaign. Despite Barker’s name on the covers and a “Creator” credit, the author didn’t actually write any of these comics himself. Not coincidentally, all five of them failed and were canceled within a year.

Clive Barker's The Harrowers comic - Pinhead
Title:Clive Barker’s The Harrowers: Raiders of the Abyss
Years of Release: 1993-1994
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Format: Comic Book

As I wrote previously, the Hellraiser comic was a horror anthology comprised mostly of short stories with few direct connections and little attempt to build any sort of ongoing narrative. The “Harrowers” characters were introduced late in the run, in a very blatant backdoor pilot to set up a spin-off. Revisiting it recently, that two-part introductory tale was, in my opinion, the worst thing published in the entire Hellraiser book. It’s so bad I can hardly believe Marvel actually went through with the spin-off. Yet it exists, and I bought it, and now I’ve forced myself to re-read all six dreadful issues of it.

Unlike Hellraiser, The Harrowers (full title Clive Barker’s The Harrowers: Raiders of the Abyss) is a much more traditional comic book, written and drawn in standard comic book style, featuring one core set of characters in a serialized storyline. The first issue barely bothers recapping the origin story told in the pages of Hellraiser, so Issues 17 and 18 of that comic are more-or-less essential reading before starting this one – if, that is, any of this were essential reading.

In essence, the title characters are a ragtag superhero team operating within the Hellraiser universe. Hand-picked by an immortal goddess named Morté Mammé, the six leads are charged with breaking into hell and rescuing lost souls from the clutches of the evil Cenobites. To accomplish this, they’ve been granted mostly-useless super powers. One of them is pretty good at throwing a boomerang. Another can switch places with his cat (really, that’s his power). A pair of annoying teenage twins can create instant doppleganger copies of themselves, and are followed around by a little flying imp only they can see that farts toxic gas. As far as superhero squads go, this is definitely not the A-team. They’re not even the B- or C-teams.

All of the characters are thinly-sketched, unlikable stereotypes (the badass biker, the dumb oaf with a kind heart, the sassy Black woman, etc.). The story and plot are lame. The art is cluttered and confusing. Worst of all, the never-ending prattle of dialogue is inundated with inane puns and failed catchphrases.

Clive Barker's The Harrowers comic - Vera
Seriously. Ugh.

The whole thing is also infused with an edgy attitude that’s truly insufferable to read. It’s basically the worst of every terrible 1990s comic book trope smashed into the tapestry of the Hellraiser franchise. Needless to say, it does a great disservice to Clive Barker’s creation. The comic turns his iconic horror villains (including Pinhead) into a bunch of bumbling dipshits.

Knowing that the Hellraiser comic was already canceled before the first issue of its spin-off saw print, The Harrowers was doomed from inception and never stood a chance at success, even if it had actually been any good. That it wasn’t good – that in fact it was quite awful – obviously didn’t help any. Marvel pulled the plug on it after six issues, leaving the story on a cliffhanger ending that will never be resolved.

I can’t say I’m disappointed in that. Frankly, good riddance.

Clive Barker's The Harrowers comic book issue 1


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