If you've been keeping up with the New Age of DC Heroes, you probably came to this comic expecting a superhero story—I mean, no one could blame you. The word "hero" is right there in the name. But as THE CURSE OF BRIMSTONE #1 makes instantly clear, that couldn't be further from the truth.
The Curse of Brimstone is, truly, a horror story—and I'm not just saying that because of the gloomy, haunted house vibe York Hills gives off.
Which, speaking of… Hey, welcome to York Hills.
Don't worry if you've never heard of it, no one has—at least, not until now. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the DC Universe is an awfully big place, and there are corners of it that haven't been completely charted yet, and not all of them are huge and cosmic like the Dark Multiverse. I mean, there are whole swaths of land between major cities like Gotham, Central City and Coast City sprinkled all over America.
I can't be totally sure, but I'd like to think that York Hills is somewhere in Appalachia, making The Curse of Brimstone #1 a very specific brand of regional "gothic." Coal mines, ghost towns, dead ends—depending on where you're from, you may have seen this sort of story unfold in real time. I certainly have, though it’s luckily been in a world where superheroes and demons and magic don't actually exist. Small favors, right?
There's a certain kind of creepy that comes from this sort of town, one that makes it feel like everybody's hiding some sort of secret, and that the balance holding everything together, keeping order, is just about to fall apart at any moment. Even if it's not actually dusty, these towns always feel dusty, sort of like an antique store. There's an age to them, even when they're new.
In other words, they're the perfect settings for scary stories, and the perfect place for curses, for strangers, and for things that go bump in the night.
Of course, York Hills as a town is only part of our equation here. The real moving part we need to consider is a kid named Joe Chamberlain who seems to be caught in the city like a mouse in a glue trap, but all that might be about to change.
...Emphasis on the "might."
The often horrible thing about dead and dying towns is that they sink their claws in you. It's easy to dream about leaving, but harder to actually make that happen. Anyone who’s relocated his or herself can attest to how expensive it is. It’s pretty much impossible to do on your own if you don’t have a job or a fair amount of money saved up. And if you don’t have a job, looking for work in a dying, rural town (what little there is of it) requires a car, something that costs money to maintain. If you’re jobless and without a reliable form of transportation…well, it becomes pretty difficult to change that and get yourself to a place where your job and life prospects look a lot better. So, while Joe may dream about leaving, making that dream a reality is proving pretty difficult for him. It’s a dispiriting existence that becomes even more challenging once the stranger rolls into town.
Dealing with devils is a pretty tricky thing, but it gets trickier when you don't actually know that they're devils in the first place. We can't be sure what the strangers' whole situation is…at least, not yet. We can tell that he's not alone when we meet him and whoever he's with has got a serious case of icy bloodlust. We can tell he's working for someone, but we don't know who it is. We know he's absolutely not what he seems to be, something that becomes exceedingly obvious to Joe too, albeit just a little too late.
So, now Joe's made a bargain to put York Hills back on the map, and it may have cost him everything. (The symbolism here—that the quick path to changing your fortune will likely cost you your soul—is pretty clear.) But that's only one of Joe’s major new problems. The other is swirling around what could have attracted the stranger to York Hills in the first place. He says he sees potential, that he can change the town into something the world has never seen, but what, exactly, does that mean? And more importantly…why would he even want to?