hack slash: back to school mabel
(Image Comics)

HACK/SLASH: Back to School Issues #1-4

Writer/Artist: Zoe Thorogood
Publisher: Image
Publication Date: April 17

Hack/Slash: Back to School reads like Stand by Me for Generation Z. That is, if the movie were set in a Final Girl academy that trains young women to kill monsters that look like something straight out of a Junji Ito horror story. Vulnerable, intimate, and layered with best friendships, Back to School feels like watching the before-and-after moments of an impending murder crime scene. A captivating story about the vibrant lives of a group of girlfriend hunters stopping evil during a moment lost in time and the possibilities of a life that could have been for series protagonist, Cassie Hack

(Image Comics)

In this sense, I think Zoe Thorogood’s prequel story feels rife with great characterization with a younger, slightly more bushy-tailed Cassie, only beginning to see her potential as a slasher hunter amongst Vlad and some brand new friends. Having dealt with her own slasher serial killing mother only recently by this point of the story, there is a sense of trauma bonding unique to this run that gets explored in original ways. Here, Thorogood’s ability to stylishly characterize bereft young women with introspective and traumatic backstories feels genuine, as many of these auteurs in monster slaying are in desperate need of therapy themselves to slay their own personal inner demons… 

Tagging happily along with Cassie for Hack/Slash: Back to School and her notable lady cohorts such as the resident techie Mabel, the blonde ditzy Boo, and the gothic sword-wielding Sam who all study under the tutelage of the Hunter Academy’s headmaster of Darla Ritz. Each character hosts a distinct voice and visual style to contrast with Cassie’s approach to the world giving the reader a unique perspective before the mainline series of events set in 2004. 

What this translates into in the comic is reading issues of Cassie’s potential in the ‘before’ days where she was willing to put down her guard while learning under a wiser woman’s mentorship. More importantly, Cassie is getting to experience a relationship with her friends – and one potential lover – hinting at her future exploration of her own sexuality witnessed in the original run. Above all, we see that Cassie Hack’s life has always been a bit of a hot mess, even since her earliest adventures with Vlad – and that theme drives the series home full circle.

“I’ve been wondering how much of me wanting to be a hunter is like… coming from a genuine want to make the world a better place, and how much of it is me trying to use my trauma as a weapon so I don’t have to feel like such a little bitch about it.” – Cassie Hack

As we noted in our review of issue #1, “It’s fun, weird, and violent, but it also leaves room for personal resonance,” which are sentiments I mostly agree with about this run. However, since that first issue, there have been a lot of laughs, mishaps, and deadly adventures between 8-bit video game-themed haunts, to the tragic motherly monstrosities messing with kids by issue 3. 

(Image Comics)

There’s a delicate balance between humor and horror in the artwork, with narration presented as Cassie Hack’s handwritten notes at the top of the panels that I think distinguishes the series from the other iterations of Hack/Slash. The pacing delineates between borders of frantic and stillness, with adept paneling that flows allowing us to delve into the characters’ voices and the stark differences in tone.

For someone so young, you can probably already write a book about how Thorogood’s art style pays homage to various genres and forms blending manga and Western comics styles so seamlessly. What I think we don’t give her enough praise over though, is the artist’s very obvious love of video games – which is something I rather enjoy as a reviewer of both comics and games. There were references to some of my favorite video games in this series such as Lollipop Chainsaw, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and some monsters from The Witcher series of video games. Though I think the manga-horror-inspired monstrosities make this alone – some of Zoe Thorogood’s best work, as evident in the line work of each monster and murder scene. 

What works well in this regard is the shifting styles that leave us uncertain about what will happen next—a perfect lead-up to the mini-run finale. Likewise, the colors by Sarah Mitrache provide a striking contrast that complements of bright colors of delightful chaos from page to page. 

If it’s not obvious, I’m a big fan of Zoe Thorogood whose career to me has been a delightful disruption in the comics industry. Her voice and style using characters of introspection represents one of the things I look forward to in regarding the art coming out of Generation Z, and as a former mental health specialist, I loved her graphic novel It’s Lonely at The Center of The Earth which delved so well into themes of both anxiety and depression. Yet, what truly sold me as a Zoe Thorogood fan was The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, as about 10 years ago, I was suffering from temporary blindness from undiagnosed cataracts. Billie’s journey of going blind mirrored my questioning of what my life was worth without my art and it’s a question most artists struggle with at some point in their career – which Thorogood did a great job with by the end of the book.

That being said, this is somewhat surreal for me to review this, as I’m also a huge fan of Tim Seeley. Reading his original run of Hack/Slash inspired me to write my first-ever finished comic-scripted series back in 2019 (though the artwork on that one feels indefinitely in production) and I think Tim loves the horror genre, as this series has always been a love letter to 80s horror nostalgia and slasher tropes both in style and form.

I stress all of this because I genuinely believe Zoe did a phenomenal job with Hack/Slash: Back to School and from what I’ve heard from other reviewers, the only issue with this run has been that there weren’t enough issues. To this matter, I’ll say that while a continued run of Thorogood’s take on Hack/Slash would have been nice, it does wrap up rather neatly (in a tragic way) and this so if this is all we get, this stand-alone work stands well on its own too.

Final verdict: Buy