Edited By Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan (Pocket; 2009)

The mythology of Clive Barker it seems will never abate in popularity. Back in the nineties we got a series of enjoyable comic adaptations of Barker’s self-directed flick HELLRAISER, and now we have an anthology based on the same material. The comics leaned toward the trashy, whereas HELLBOUND HEARTS’ editors Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan had far more prestigious aims (as the title makes clear, their true starting point was not HELLRAISER but THE HELLBOUND HEART, the novella that inspired it).

With a stable of first-rate authors–Neil Gaiman, Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden, Sarah Langan and Gary Braunbeck–you can count on a good read at the very least. I’m not entirely sure, however, that all the contributors understood what makes the material distinctive.

Quite a few of these 21 stories have a similar arc: a guy or gal commits some horrific crime out of grandiose ambition, villainy or plain stupidity, and is eventually confronted by the Cenobites of HELLRAISER (though never the same ones of Barker’s original book/film) and dragged off to Hell in the final pages. Well and good…except for the fact that, as you may recall, that was where THE HELLBOUND HEART/HELLRAISER began. Clearly the film’s infamous tagline “There are No Limits” had little meaning for this crew.

Some of the contributors get it. Mark Morris’ “Mother’s Ruin” is genuinely dark and surprising, being a squalid account of a socially maladjusted sad sack with a taste for extremes; needless to add, he gets just what he desires (and far more) at the hands of the Cenobites. Simon Clark’s mythic and impressive “Our Lord of Quarters” is set in Constantinople of 1401, where a slave goes up against an ambitious demon. Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder’s “However…” actually casts the Cenobites as saviors of a sort, whose arrival is a welcome relief to a trio of unfortunates suffering untold torture at the hands of a pair of freaks they dub “The Cold Ones.”

The book’s centerpiece, the graphic novelette “Wordsworth,” written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean, is a disappointment. It concerns a satanic anagram that leads an obsessed man to you-know-where, and showcases Gaiman and McKean at their most affected and pretentious. Gaiman’s script for the piece is included as an appendix, demonstrating that McKean’s illustrations fail to adequately convey the story’s intent.

Other stories of note include the intriguing “Prisoners of the Inferno” by HELLRAISER 2 screenwriter Peter Atkins, about an ancient film that leads a collector into a deadly universe of ancient evil. Barbie Wilde, who played one of the Cenobites of the original HELLRAISER, contributes “Sister Cilice,” a potent piece of nunsploitation about a horny nun who calls up the Cenobites with the aid of an ancient manuscript. It contains plenty of grotesquerie, and, unlike the majority of the other tales, doesn’t wait until the end to dish it out.