Love Everybody, Trust No One in “Hinterkind”

by Matthew Derman

23 January 2015

Hinterkind focuses on characterization, developing its cast intelligently and deliberately so that everyone is fully formed and multi-faceted.
 

When I first heard the premise of Hinterkind, I figured I had a pretty good sense of what to expect from it. In an imagined future where humanity has been all but wiped out, mythological beings such as elves, centaurs, vampires, and the like are starting to come out of the woodwork, slowly reclaiming their place in a world where they’d been forced to hide while humans were in charge. My assumption was that the center of the series would be one or more surviving human characters learning about the existence of the hinterkind (the name used to refer to the various fantasy creatures), so that the reader would be introduced to this new world through the eyes of someone equally ignorant. Indeed, for the debut issue, that did seem to be where things were headed. As it has progressed, however, Hinterkind has steadily expanded its cast and added new details and storylines so that, by now, the human characters are but a small part of a large ensemble, every member of which is important, complex, and relatable. There are entire threads, significant ones, in which no human has yet played a role, meaning Hinterkind is less interested teaching its human characters about the new rules of this reality than showing its readers as much of that reality as it can, and doing so as quickly as possible. We already have a greater understanding of the history and culture of the hinterkind than the humans in the comic do, and in fact, we know more about what’s going on than any individual character present, human or otherwise. The result is a dystopian fantasy tale that can easily transform into a political thriller, war story, and/or family drama without skipping a beat. It is all of those things and none of them, meeting my expectations and bucking them at once.

In order to play in so many genres simultaneously without being beholden to the rules of any, Hinterkind focuses on characterization, developing its cast intelligently and deliberately so that everyone is fully formed and multi-faceted. Because of this, there aren’t a lot of clear-cut heroes or villains in the series. Some people fall firmly in one category or the other, but most of them are somewhere in between, possessing good, bad, and ugly sides to their personalities, which come out in different combinations depending on the circumstances. What’s nice about this is that it makes it easy to find something to like about pretty much everyone. Even the totally villainous characters have personal backstories that give the reader some small insight into who they are as individuals and why they behave as they do. You may not be in their corner, but at least you understand their perspective. On the other hand, there are so many shifting allegiances, half-truths, and secret schemes in this series that it’s nearly impossible to fully trust anybody, even the supposed heroes. Impulsive teenagers, self-serving loners, and power-hungry nobles are all on hand, and none of them are easy to predict or count on. The level of untrustworthiness varies greatly from character to character, and I would say that overall so far the humans are a bit more forthcoming and consistent than the hinterkind, but nobody is wholly reliable.

If an exception to that rule exists, it is undoubtedly Asa Monday, the grandfather of ostensible protagonist Prosper Monday, and thus the only major player who is a human to have lived in the pre-hinterkind days. Asa is the steady voice of reason, always trying to find a compromise, to make everyone as happy as possible in every situation. He is also fiercely devoted to his granddaughter and wants to keep her safe above all else, since she is the only family he’s got left. So unlike most of the other characters in this book, we always know where Asa’s loyalty lies, and it’s never difficult to guess how he’ll act because he’s the constant peacekeeper, negotiator, and do-gooder. He’s also a doctor, which folds right into everything else about him; like any good healer, Asa wants to help people, and doesn’t discriminate as far as who is worthy of his help, offering whatever aid he can to anyone he encounters in need. Even when kidnapped by a short-tempered, trigger-happy fairy, Asa helps to mend her injured wing, seeing her in that moment not as his captor but simply as a living being in pain, and thus deserving of assistance and relief. Asa stands out as the one person who never really switches sides or pulls any tricks or even tries to lie. He is void of dishonesty, a trait that’s dominant in many of the characters, and it sets him apart from the rest of the cast. At the same time, Asa’s openness and even-handedness help underscore the secrecy, suspicion, and prejudices of everyone else, so while Asa is, as I said, the exception, he still contributes to the general air of distrust and unpredictability in the comic by shining a light on it wherever he goes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jon Hobb. He is a Sidhe (the Hinterkind word for “elf”) who, in the days of humanity’s reign, cut his ear points and otherwise altered his appearance so that he would fit in with the humans and could be part of their world. This marked him as an outcast among his own people, called an “untouchable” by the Sidhe community, but because he’s a Sidhe by birth, he was always something of an outcast or at least and outsider while living with the humans, too. Not only that, but we’ve learned in the most recent issue (#13) that at some point Jon came back around and began working for Telesche, queen of the Sidhe, as a spy or something similarly clandestine, making a living off of the Sidhe despite not being accepted as one of them. So before the narrative of Hinterkind even began, Jon had already flip-flopped twice, first rejecting his roots and then returning to them in his time of need. Since then, within the present-tense of the series, he’s switched sides many times again, and often his reasons for doing so are rather obscure. He is introduced as a potential guide for the young human characters who know nothing about the hinterkind (Propser and her friend Angus, see below), but soon reveals himself to be a deceitful trapper, planning to sell the humans as slaves. From there, he shifts between being a useful source of knowledge about the world who helps the less-informed characters survive, and a totally selfish prick who’s only concern is whether or not he makes it out alive. He does seem to be skewing more and more toward legitimately helpful good guy as the series progresses, but it’s hard to believe in that side of him too completely when we’ve already seen him revert to self-preservation mode a few times along the way. He is the toughest character to get a firm grip on, but also one of the most charming, funny, enjoyable people to spend time with, and in that sense I think Jon Hobb captures the spirit of Hinterkind most succinctly out of anyone in the cast.

As I mentioned above, there are some obvious bad guys in this comic, primarily Tersia and Severin, the daughter and son of Telesche, respectively, as well as Captain Graf von Orlock, the leader of a band of militant European vampires who are traveling around America in an airship looking for new sources of blood. All three of these characters are devotedly working to advance their own power and influence, and none of them are particularly concerned with who they have to kill or steamroll to get what they want. But they all have histories that make their actions and motivations, if not sympathetic, at least understandable. In the case of Tersia and Severin, they’re just doing what almost everyone does in their youth: rebelling against their parents. Specifically, the siblings conspire to kill their mother so that Tersia can become the new Sidhe queen, but it’s not just the appeal of power that drives them. They genuinely believe that their mother’s time to rule has reached its natural endpoint, because they want her to be harder on the many surviving humans who the Sidhe have turned into slaves. Tersia would like to kill them all, burning them in a massive fire, a single glorious act of rage and vengeance for the way the humans treated the hinterkind in the past. Telesche takes a softer, more considerate approach, and her children interpret this as weakness. To the reader, it is presented more as wisdom and patience, and Telesche is in now way depicted as being weak, but kids often misunderstand their parents, lacking the experience to see a more mature point of view, and too close to the conflict to see it clearly. These particular kids happen to have the resources and ambition to turn their typically angsty, self-important feelings into murder, which makes them undoubtedly evil, but their reasons are merely an extreme version of something almost everyone can relate to.

For Graf von Orlock, it’s all about restoring his family’s reputation, about being accepted by his own kin for probably the first time in his life. The details have not yet been explained, but Graf’s grandfather was evidently some kind of traitor to vampirekind, though whatever he did also supposedly saved their race from dying off, so that’ll be an interesting story to hear in full someday. Whatever happened in his family’s past, Graf has to carry to burden of it today, and his mission to America is his chance to change the way he’s viewed. The vampires of Europe (specifically Paris) are experiencing a blood drought, and Graf is sent to the U.S. to refill their stores. He and his unit fly around finding isolated farms belonging to ogres, and wipe out entire families in the night, draining their blood into buckets. Presumably this is just the start of the vampires’ plans, and the knowledge that Graf and his crew are just one small part of a much larger military sets them up as a potentially major threat. Yet Graf himself is merely a man trying to do right by his people, struggling to overcome the obstacles placed in his path by his family’s previous misdeeds. He wants to be given a fair chance to establish his own identity, to be judged by his own actions alone. Yet another near-universal motivation for one of Hinterkind’s top villains.

Other than Asa, the most obvious good guys are his granddaughter Prosper and her best friend Angus, and it makes sense that the human characters would be the stars and the heroes of this comic, since the reader is automatically going to relate to them more than the hinterkind on some level no matter what. Both Prosper and Angus are also relatively honest, too, at least compared to the rest of the cast, but because they’re teenagers, they’re not to be trusted entirely, either. That’s truer of Prosper than Angus, in part because she gets considerably more time on-page than he does, since she is the real protagonist of the series. What they have in common is their age; both of them are adolescents, which means they’re a little reckless and rash. The whole reason either of them get involved with the hinterkind and wrapped up in the adventure of this comic is that Angus runs away to keep a secret (he has a tail) and Propser insists on joining him, even though she promised Asa she wouldn’t venture out into “the Wild.” The kids soon encounter a troll, and then Jon Hobb, and after that they’re swept up in the madness for good. Eventually they get split up, and at that point Angus goes away for a while, but we follow Prosper as she and Jon travel together, each one trying to control the other. Prosper learns a lot from Jon, mostly through being tricked or manipulated by him. It makes her sharper and more cautious but also more dangerous and a better liar. She picks up good and bad traits from Jon, and her youth, intelligence, and preexisting predilection for getting into trouble make her an especially good student for him. Propser’s intentions are always good, and mostly she just wants to find Asa and Angus so they can all go home together, but to some extent, she creates her own problems, and she is often bold to a fault, using extreme and unfamiliar methods with a disconcerting confidence. I like her but she makes me uneasy, because I’m never sure what stunt she might pull next or where it will land her.

Everyone in Hinterkind is trying to either determine or decide where they stand in the new world that is emerging in the wake of the fall of humankind. They all live in an uneasy, chaotic, lawless reality right now, a time of transition. This means they cannot or will not trust each other, because there’s too much at stake and everybody wants to come out on top. So they form tentative alliances for the sake of living through another day, and this means that, for the reader, the character combinations and loyalties change all the time. Meanwhile, some of those alliances are false up front, and we often get to see behind the facade, so there’s even more disruption and even less trust from our perspective than from that of any of the characters. That’s what fuels this book—it’s the story of a bunch of people with earnest, believable, very human reasons to want what they want, to be who they are in their time and place. And the reader feels affectionate, annoyed, and angry toward each of them at different points during the story. We’re invested in everybody, but we cannot firmly ally or align ourselves with anyone, and that’s a compelling conundrum to have as a fan.


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