When two prolific publishers like Madius Comics & Mad Robot Comics join forces you can be sure that something special is coming and having already seen a preview of this a while back, I was overdue a dive back into it.
Taking one of the brutal & bloodiest battles in history we see the Germans & Russians stuck trying to inch their way forward in every conflict to make some sort of gains. Those gains are of course not for the soldiers themselves, or even their families, but for those in power and following German soldier, Ernst, and Vassily, his Russian counterpart, it’s clear that the brutality of war is only just the beginning.
In the midst of those battles where survival seems to be purely fueled by luck, we see things go from bad to worse as the cruelty of war proves an ideal catalyst for something darker to emerge. Cue the arrival of demons and we soon see a new power take hold of both sides & tear it’s way through armoured battalions on both sides. That leads to Ernst & Vassily trying to make sense of both their orders and the new foe they find before them and as that relentless new enemy rips apart comrades and enemies alike for them both they’re quick to see that they’ll NEED to form an alliance to have any chance of survival.
The pace of the book quickens as we move from prison interrogation, to war battle and onto an ACTUAL Hell on Earth and the Matt Hardy/Rob Jones combo truly takes steps towards becoming a pairing up of significance in the indie world as a result. The dialogue charges the air just as well as the bullets flying overhead or the demons being unleashed but rather than go all out horror on things they use the reality of war to fuel what’s happening. That grounds things in reality and makes the arrival of demons all the more unsettling.
To match that stellar writing combo is Russell Macewan & William McLaughlan WASM on art and they absolutely nail the brutality of both war and the death by demon that spills out to engulf the battles being fought. Grizzly scenes are etched into your mind as things unravel and with black, white & greys being punctuated by an increasing presence of red it all takes on a life of it’s own to capture the insanity that’s erupted around those foes/allies at the centre.
In the end, Hell in Stalingrad goes beyond my expectations even after the preview and becomes an entity unto itself. Matt & Rob prove to be a creative duo that make all kinds of sense and with the quality in the plot, pacing and dialogue that’s on show here they HAVE to do more titles together. Similarly, the artwork from Russell & William is a revelation that really hammers home the hellish elements with an energetic & almost experimental style that comes at you head on before ripping the head of the guy next to you and staring into your soul. Rob breezes in with his typically effortless lettering that maintains the flow that the story & art are dictating and that cracking cover by PJ Holden rounds things off perfectly.
This could well be seen as over the top at first glance but the intricacies in the conflict and between Ernst & Vassily, in particular, take things to another level….and that’s before they up the ante with the demonic foes that are taking no prisoners from either side. Brutal but beautiful in it’s own visceral way, this stands out in a list of books I can read, recommend & revisit before those pesky demons get the chance to track me down.