Chaos of the Flesh – Hellraiser Nightbreed: Jihad Comic Book (1991)

Two of Clive Barker’s most famous creations, the Hellraiser Cenobites and the monsters of Nightbreed, collide – but only in comic book form. While the author/filmmaker’s Hellraiser was successful enough to launch a franchise of sequels, his Nightbreed wasn’t quite as lucky. Nonetheless, Epic Comics (an imprint of Marvel) spun off both properties into comics in the early 1990s. Naturally, at a certain point, a crossover between the two was inevitable. That happened in 1991 with a two-issue event called Hellraiser Nightbreed: Jihad.

When I rediscovered my collection of Hellraiser comics recently, I initially believed that I didn’t own any copies of Nightbreed. I didn’t remember ever reading or collecting that book. However, a little more digging revealed that I actually do have the first issue of the Nightbreed comic (it ran for 25 in all), as wells as both parts of the Jihad crossover.

Hellraiser Nightbreed: Jihad comic excerpt
Title:Hellraiser Nightbreed: Jihad
Year of Release: 1991
Publisher: Epic Comics
Format: Comic Book

The first few issues of Nightbreed served as a very loose comic adaptation of the film, before later issues expanded and extended the story. The one I have leaves off right as protagonist Boone first arrives at the monster haven called Midian. Up to that point, the comic follows the general story outline of the movie, but with quite a few differences in detail, even from the longer Director’s Cut. It may be based upon the screenplay, or perhaps on Barker’s original novella, Cabal. In any case, I never read further than that issue and don’t have any of the others now.

Jihad was published sometime in 1991, but exact months are not specified. That would put it somewhere between issues 6-10 of Hellraiser and issues 7-12 of Nightbreed. The Hellraiser comic was an anthology with little direct continuity among stories, so placement isn’t much important there. I can’t speak to how the crossover fits into Nightbreed. This mostly seems to be a standalone tale, but some of the plot events seem like they would have had to impact the main book.

Despite its lack of a serial storyline, the Hellraiser comic developed an ongoing premise that Barker’s demonic Cenobites were not necessarily evil, but rather were a particularly masochistic religious sect in service to a god called Leviathan (the giant spinning obelisk thing seen in Hellraiser II), which utilized them as agents of order and control waging war against a chaotic universe. The torture and mutilation of human victims was their method of imposing rigid perfectionism onto a decidedly imperfect species.

The main theme of Nightbreed (both film and comic), meanwhile, was the acceptance and embrace of chaos and wild abandon. This naturally would put the Nightbreed themselves in direct opposition to the Cenobites, thus making an easy narrative hook for the crossover.

Hellraiser Nightbreed: Jihad comic excerpt

In Jihad, the Cenobites find Nightbreed interaction with humans unacceptable and are ordered by Leviathan to wipe them out in a holy war. However, lead Cenobite Pinhead is troubled by the fact that these commands break established protocol and procedure, two things he values absolutely. Conflict brews between Pinhead and a younger Cenobite named Alastor, who has Leviathan’s ear but secretly plots to overthrow it and become a god himself. The discovery of this treachery eventually pushes Pinhead into a grudging temporary alliance with the Nightbreed, whose chaotic nature may ironically be the only way to restore order in hell.

In my recent revisit, I was left a little underwhelmed with the Hellraiser comic. Too many of its issues were cluttered and confusing, in both artwork and storytelling. Its stories struggled with coherency and far too often lacked a point. Although the crossover shares some of those failings, the storyline of the Cenobite/monster war provides a stronger narrative backbone to carry through its short two-issue run. The writing, if not exactly up to the standard of Clive Barker himself, is mostly coherent and has a clear structure with a somewhat satisfying (though predictable) ending. Honestly, after suffering through the miserable Harrowers spin-off, I went into this expecting the worst, but came out not hating it. That’s better than I anticipated.

That said, this is definitely a gimmick story that I don’t think ever really needed to exist. It doesn’t add anything essential to either the Hellraiser or Nightbreed properties. Further, like most of the Hellraiser movie sequels and comics, its focus on developing the Cenobites as individuals with personalities and motivations and petty interpersonal conflicts continues to demystify Clive Barker’s enigmantic creations and rob them of the mysterious allure that made them so compelling in the original film. Unfortunately, that issue is probably unavoidable for any follow-up involving the characters.

Hellraiser Nightbreed comic covers (1991)


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