Senses Five Press will occasionally be posting book reviews and reviews of other media to our site. Eugene Myers recently read DC Universe: Helltown for us and offers his opinion below. This and previous reviews can be found in our new Review Corner.
The third installment of a limited series of novels set in the DC Universe from Warner Books, Helltown is another name for the dangerous and corrupt Hub City. Like many troubled cities in the DC canon, this one has a vigilante protector: The Question. This masked hero is joined by an ensemble of DC characters, including Lady Shiva, Richard Dragon, and, most notably, Batman.
This book will have the greatest appeal to readers familiar with DC Comics. The author, Dennis “Denny” O’Neil, should be recognizable to longtime comic book fans for his work in such titles as Batman Knightfall, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and The Question. O’Neil, however, is more than qualified for the difficult task of making the story accessible to readers unfamiliar with the DC Universe while also appealing to hardcore fans.
Helltown is the origin story of The Question, a relatively obscure DC hero who has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years with the Justice League Unlimited animated series and the ongoing DC title, 52 Weeks. The novel follows Vic Sage as he arrives in Hub City. He finds employment as a reporter for a local radio station, soon discovers a corrupt government headed by the unsavory Mayor Benedict Fermin, and uncovers a terrible plot that extends far beyond the city limits. Along the way he creates his superhero persona: a faceless man garbed in a trench coat and fedora.
Vic Sage seems like he was lifted from the 1980s; he frequently marvels at 21st century technology, including cellphones and “Googling.” He is a socially and politically conscious hero from another era, updated along with his supporting cast to more modern times. O’Neil takes other liberties with the established DC Comics history, seamlessly blending storylines from various comics into a unique story that stands on its own. Though devoted fans might take some exception to his changes, most people will simply enjoy the rideâ€”and O’Neil’s approach ensures that everyone will find some surprises along the way.
At its heart, Helltown is about morally complex characters in extraordinary situations, and O’Neil grounds them firmly in reality even while convincing us that superheroes exist. The novel is well plotted, with frequently witty dialogue and solid action.
In a word: fun.
September 28, 2006 – Eugene Myers for Senses Five Press