Story: Dave Franchini, David Wohl & Pat Shand
Writer: Pat Shand
Artwork: Hakan Aydin & Giulia Pellegrini
Letters: Taylor Esposito
What They Say:
Liesel Van Helsing has spent the better part of her life hunting all types of monsters that have threatened the lives of innocents and the people she loved. But when a long-dormant evil returns from within someone she holds dear, Liesel must decide whether her faith in her friends outweighs her duty to the world. Guest starring Julie Jekyll!
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
Upon returning from their latest harrowing adventure, Liesel voluntarily confines herself to the one place where she can do the most good, her laboratory, for it is here from which this beautiful genius has found the solution to several perplexing puzzles by studying the body and soul of both human and monster, whether dead or alive, and while she has solved many a complex conundrum with expected breakthroughs due to her brilliance, it is the current issue from which she finds the least satisfaction. Lying in a hospital bed under an expected stupor, Julie awaits news about her condition, but as Van Helsing bluntly states her friend may not like what she is going to say, both insightful women know the information would not be welcomed, particularly when after a week of scrutiny, the Brit saw the transformations were becoming more painful and making her friend weaker, hardly able to move after returning to normal. Perhaps it was due to the after effects of the shifter’s venom somehow interfering with Hyde’s appearances, and yet the only conclusion she could reach was this alter ego’s cells were slowly killing Jekyll. While Van Helsing slowly confessed her detailed observations of what was happening to her friend, her fellow scientist also knew Liesel had found a remedy to the problem, but after running extensive tests to make sure there was no other way, it was a dejected Julie who understood the same inevitable solution – Hyde had to die.
Yet as Liesel calmly disagrees with the rigid semantics for Julie’s definition of Hyde being alive, it is the white haired woman who stoutly states this British inventor must find another way, for while Van Helsing might see as the primordial force as being a part of her friend, Jekyll cannot but boldly proclaim she is her, and while it might sound crazy, it is something Liesel would never understand, in being that Hyde is alive and separate from herself, thereby compassionately asking for her partner to find another way while she endures the pain. However, it is then when this genius declares if they wait any longer, the transformations will increasingly spontaneous, and every time it will place her life in more danger, until eventually both she and Hyde will die if the cause is left untreated, with Liesel tearfully confessing they have been through a lot together and she does not want to live in a world without her. As Julie finally promises to give her companion an answer tomorrow, the next morning arrives as Van Helsing enters the room with a fresh mug of tea, only to find the bed empty and Jekyll gone aside from a note lying on the mattress, the missing woman regretting her deception, boldly proclaiming they are both fighters and she will not accept the accepted solutions, knowing there is a third answer which neither has yet found.
It was not long ago when we were introduced to a beautiful white haired woman at the beginning of Van Helsing vs. Dracula’s Daughter, being presented as an inexperienced companion to Van Helsing and new to the nocturnal dealings of this Brit, but it did not take long for this fledgling protector to learn the ways of hunting creatures that hide in the shadows, and yet she did not idle away time between missions, fully utilizing her expertise as a biochemist to adapt a vampire treatment into an experimental infusion which might successfully staunch these endless battles. However, Julie foolishly opted to skip successive trials of her breakthrough, instead choosing to save Liesel when she was surrounded by numerous foes and grieving over fallen comrades, boldly utilizing the serum on herself to boost her strength and turn the tide of battle without fully grasping the tragic side effects, thereby releasing the darkness hidden within and unleashing Hyde unto the world. While they did eventually learn to share a mutual coexistence within the same body, it was the poison of the shifter which caused the transformations to become painful, thus leading to the current predicament from which story creators Dave Franchini, David Wohl and Pat Shand cleverly mold the suffering of Jekyll into a tragic narrative, and thus permitting writer Shand to weave the emotional challenges which face Julie into the touching tale of Van Helsing: The Horror Beneath, one from which readers might never look upon the complexities of mental torment the same ever again.
While most knowledgeable readers might recognize the foundation of Jekyll’s struggles are based upon the Gothic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the depth of her anguish is not as deep as those of that vile persona, contrasting someone who commits violent acts of depravity and murder against a menacing guardian which lashes out against those who would harm Julie, now turned into a reluctant protector who secures the safety of her alter ego and helps Liesel whenever possible, yet oddly no longer tied by the restrictive need to be freed by an injection of the obligatory serum. Yet as we pleasantly overlook that minor detail, one cannot recall the times Hyde saved this bold pair from imminent danger, her overwhelming strength brutally crushing anything which stood in their way, with accelerated healing normally negating the injuries she incurred during those battles, only to have that tactical advantage nullified once the shifter proved to be the most dangerous rival they ever faced. Now with that dominance slowly dwindling away, we cannot but attempt to relate to the physical and psychological vulnerability which both sides of this shared persona feel closing in, after Julie spent so much time trying to push away Hyde, only to have Charlotte met her during a time when she was emotionally insecure, with the reader attempting to relate to being unable control the superior strength which could crush her dearest friend. Yet as future battles forced the former partners to face each other in the most dire of straits, it is Van Helsing’s enduring determination to bring her partner back which wins over of the primal hostility of Hyde, securing a powerful force for future adventures.
Yet is it due to the prevailing need to rely on Hyde’s overwhelming strength which made her vulnerable to attack, for while the shifter may have killed a normal Jekyll, it is perhaps due to the overt usage of a muscular tank barreling over anything which stood in their way which made her a target, risking the fleeting sense of security for a brief need to brush aside what would have been a struggle for weak humans such as Liesel and Julie. It is that regretful toll which they now must face, with Shand elegantly opening the special with a touching conversation between friends, forcing them and the audience to face the grim reality of loss, not just one person but the need to sacrifice an overbearing beast to save her humanity. While Van Helsing may see rational consequences as a scientist, with the genetic anomaly something which should be eradicated to save her patient, it is Kenzie who must deal with the loss of her other self, a reflection which she at first wished she never unlocked as a means for brutish power, but now is seen as the unseen side of a divergent personality, almost as if Hyde is her more robust and evil twin which she never let out in public. It is from this point of view where the audience can comprehend the profound struggle which Jekyll faces, all having an embarrassing secret or raging temper which we keep hidden from those close to us, and while our nearest friends may understand, it does not mean we can so easily concealed once revealed, with it being an essential part of the darkness that is a part of us all, almost as if Liesel is asking Julie to cut away her more primal emotions, thus causing the predictable departure we expected after being asked to make such a painful sacrifice.
However, as we are warmly welcomed into witnessing unsettling Julie’s past, it is Shand’s odd choice of experimental research for this talented biochemist which immediately triggers insightful readers to question the leading narrative, Herbert praising his employee’s clever modification of synthetic blood being resistant to ultraviolet radiation, with a confused audience wondering why such a curious addition is made to this essential life fluid, the real thing not having such an unusual quality. Yet as we recall being this special a Van Helsing title, it is only in retrospect when we make the obvious connection to her primary foes, their need to be able to walk in sunlight, thus this alteration essentially making their primary source of nourishment a form of liquid sunscreen for future excursions, supposedly transforming any who are brave enough to imbibe into a day walker. While we might be unsure of this leap of intuition, it is the sanguine attackers in the underground garage which secure our shaky supposition, these hungry attackers eliminating the only person who might understand what they are planning, only to have a supposedly coincidental hunter leap in to save Jekyll at the last minute. Yet as this formulaic molding of circumstances may seem a bit tiresome, we cannot but become emotionally invested as this traumatic flashback leaps back to the present, as a concerned Liesel chases her transformed friend, the bestial woman obviously trying not to hurt anyone during her controlled rampage, with Julie’s confused mind wishing to go back to a simpler time when she was tormented by an incensed version of herself, lashing out against her partner for something she had no knowledge of and blaming this mirror version Van Helsing. It is appropriate how this traumatic encounter reflects upon her present circumstances, with the monstrous Hyde lashing out against everything, even as a frightened Jekyll struggles with the violence, not wanting to hurt anyone, particularly her caring friend Liesel who only wants the best for her, even if she does not understand the mental conflict continuing within a troubled mind.
Within such an emotionally poignant special, it is the moving illustrations of talented artists which allow the audience to become invested within the telling of Julie’s plight, permitting Hakan Aydin’s captivating depiction of Liesel to cause the reader to be entranced by the intensity of this beautiful woman, for while we may be touched by this initial determination, it is the intense contrast portrayed upon Julie’s grim face which wonderfully balances the scene, with Hyde’s intimidating persona in the background allowing us to reflect upon how this gentle woman houses such a bold beast, even as Grostieta’s grounding selection of colors shifts the frenetic transition between moments to become more pronounced, with dense touches of grey to show the solemnness of what Jekyll must do against tender applications of dusty rose when Liesel reveals how empty her life would be without her dear friend. Yet when we transition to the wild action of the chase, with the clever usage of close-ups to intensify the hectic pacing of what unfolds before us, it is the painful resolution of Van Helsing confronting a frightened Hyde which makes the reader mildly remorseful upon seeing this hulking form with the regret filled face of a confused Julie, the ingrained anguish of what she has done making the moment so much more painful. But as these dynamic women battle with unfiltered resolve, it is the meaningful tension etched upon each which makes the confrontation so genuine, with both sides trying to survive amid the powerful emotions tugging each side apart.
Yet as we are given a sobering look upon Julie’s past, it is new artist Giulia Pellegrini who creates an earnest impression of this dedicated scientist, with wondrously subtle visuals creating an intense sincerity to her studious life, one where this artist’s creative combination of heavy framing linework and delicate internal detailing denotes a focused beauty from this researcher, her piercing blue eyes looking forward, all while Grostieta’s almost suffocating veil of earthen tones mutes any enthusiasm we would normally see, as if to communicate the seriousness of the coming situation. With a brusque transition between panels helping to push us forward, it is foreboding glowing eyes in the dim background which teases the reader away the monotony of the moment, allowing the shock of an assault to signal something is coming, with the clever usage of static close-ups to haltingly pressing the tension, even as a menacing face with pointed teeth grins with satisfaction, allowing all to know trouble is coming. Although some of the scenes are hard to define due to heavy tones swallowing up the details, it is the stuttering progression between images that captivates fans of classic horror to enjoy this thrilling unfolding, only to have what might have been a deadly attack become something wildly entertaining, sudden thrusts of excitement punctuating a one-sided fight, with confused foes unsure of what to do, even as Pellegrini teasingly disguises the identity of the attacker behind purposeful placement of signature props. Knowing fans cannot but chuckle as each shrewd image reveals more, from an ebony trench coat hugging pleasing hips with fishnet stockings, an infuriating pistol hiding a face with flowing raven hair, plus the telling top hat cresting over all, and yet when everything comes together upon the welcoming smile of Liesel’s gentle face, we cannot but return the same expression, as a pleasing portrayal of our dynamic vampire hunter is unveiled to a delighted audience.
Van Helsing: The Horror Beneath is a moving special which presses forward the struggles of mental anguish, one which all readers may not innately recognize. Yet it is the central core of emotional struggles that presses forward our understanding, with the audience profoundly understanding the duality of balancing our anger against the rationality of civilization, even as our own beast struggles to get out once rage overcomes patience. With outstanding illustrations and sometimes suffocating colors which work against the clarity of sanity, it is a leading narrative which warmly creates delicate nature of the relationship between Julie and Liesel, for while the unfolding of the past is informative, it is the predictability of how it occurred which makes the audience almost sigh in exasperation, if it were not for the profound struggles of between Jekyll and Hyde, resulting in a simplistic conclusion. Yet as we look forward to what comes next in this trying relationship, it is the looming danger that threatens a dedicated scientist as she longs to settle things with her darker half which makes us wonder who will succeed, and whether Van Helsing will ever be able to, or wish to defeat, a monster who is also her best friend.
Rating: T (Teen)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: September 06, 2023