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Comic Book / Hillbilly

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Rondel, the protagonist, and the Devil's Cleavernote 

"Well m'am, the story of the Iron Child is always changing. He lived long ago, or is yet to be born. Depends on who's doing the telling. But what everyone knows is that the Iron Child bears a mighty ax with the names of the wicked writ upon it."
James Stoneturner

Hillbilly is a Sword and Sorcery Dark Fantasy adventure series by Eric Powell (creator of The Goon), set in a fantasy realm drawing less from medieval Europe and more from the myths and folklore of rural Appalachia. Unlike The Goon, it's more-or-less kid-friendly, if still fairly dark.

Rondel is a wanderer, travelling from place to place. However, he is armed with Lucifer's own Meat Cleaver, and unnatural sight bestowed upon him by a witch. Wherever he goes, trouble follows.

The first three volumes of Hillbilly tell a single, complete story about Rondel's origins and his war against the witches of the hills. The fourth volume, "Red-Eyed Witchery from Beyond", brings him back for a shorter and more self-contained story about Fantasy Aliens. No fifth volume has yet been announced, although it's not impossible that Powell will circle back to it some day.

There are many tropes about Rondel the wandering hillbilly. This is but one index:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Esther is stated to not be attracted to men, but her specific orientation is never made clear since she's never shown being attracted to women either.
  • Androcles' Lion: The origin of Rondel's friendship with Lucille, although it's a borderline example since she is a Talking Animal.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Rondel is a borderline Horrifying Hero, with his pitch-black eyes and satanic cleaver. Most of the people he meets find him extremely unsettling, if they don't shun him outright. However, he's a deeply noble, moral, stoic sort of hero.
  • Beary Friendly: Lucille is a giant grizzly, who happens to be one of Rondel's only friends. Issue #6 details how their friendship began. Overlaps with Bears Are Bad News, though, since — while loyal and good-hearted — she's also a dangerous wild animal, and the rest of her kind are shown as too distrustful of humans to get involved.
  • Black Best Friend: James Stoneturner is one of Rondel's best friends, although he is never reduced to being a sidekick, and gets his own arc throughout the first three volumes as he realizes the power of his lineage and the history of his ancestors.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Rondel is not evil, but his pitch-black eyes are a symptom of his contact with evil.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The term "serpent" is pretty broadly applied to some only vaguely-reptilian monsters.
  • Came from the Sky: The "Red-Eyed Witchery from Beyond" arc starts with a mysterious object falling out of the night sky.
  • The Cameo: The Buzzard from The Goon shows up in one issue as a Psychopomp.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Lucille's debate with a fish over whether or not she should eat it. It ultimately accepts her arguments as "valid". See Face Death with Dignity below.
  • Cassandra Truth: Esther's attempts to rally the villagers are met with disbelief and ridicule, particularly by one willfully-ignorant bully (who seems to be drawn to look a bit like Donald Trump) and his sycophantic hangers-on.
    "Fake! Fake!"
  • Childhood Friend Romance: A one-sided example; Rondel is in love with his childhood friend and frequent adventuring partner Esther, who does not have an "inclination" towards men.
  • The Chosen One: Rondel is the Iron Child mentioned in local folklore, a barbarian warlord destined to lead humanity.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Often used to humourously undercut a particularly pompous villain.
  • Cyclops: One of them fights for the witches in the battle in the third book. His name is Vernon and he's the Last of His Kind. He is defeated easily by a sort of golem that James creates.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Rondel accepts that Esther can't love him the way he loves her, and is happy being her friend.
  • Dire Beast: Larger predatory animals - like bears and mountain lions - are drawn as much bigger and more intimidating than they are in real life, and most animals are given sabre-like teeth. Animals can also talk in this world, of course.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: James Stoneturner has the magic power to move rocks around with his mind. Just rocks. But he finds some very effective uses for them.
  • The Drifter: Rondel spends most of the series wandering from place to place, dealing with whatever supernatural nasties plague the area. The narration overtly refers to him as "Rondel the Wandering Hillbilly" on many occasions.
  • Eyeless Face: Rondel was born without eyes and lived his childhood blind until he saved a witch, who proceeded to cut eye holes into his face, hence his Black Eyes of Evil.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Lucille catches a fish, which begs for mercy so that it can live out the rest of its days on the river floor. She counters that such a death would be undignified for so noble a fish.
    "Your points are valid. Finish me quick, bear."
  • Fantasy Aliens: "Red-Eyed Witchery From Beyond" quite literally drops an alien menace into what is otherwise a fantasy world.
  • Fantasy Americana: One of the main things to stand out about the comic is its Appalachian-inspired setting for what is otherwise a fairly standard Heroic Fantasy adventure series.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • The setting is a fantasy version of the Appalachian region of the United States. Fantasy Gun Control is in full effect. This latter point was something Powell debated over quite a lot, apparently, since ramshackle muskets and the like are a key part of that old-timey Appalachian aesthetic, but he decided guns didn't fit the tone he was going for.
    • The grassland country across the sea resembles a High Fantasy take on ancient Africa. This world doesn't have a history of trans-Atlantic slavery, however, as the "grassland people" came across the sea willingly to help the people of the hill country deal with an ancient threat. Some of them chose to stay, and the black characters that appear in the comic's main timeline (such as James Stoneturner) are their descendents.
  • Fearsome Critters of American Folklore: The Taily-Po appears as a recurring villain, with a personal grudge against Rondel.
  • Fluffy the Terrible:
    • Darleen the Dreaded. Subverted when Lucille refuses to be intimidated.
      Ain't no bear afraid of nothin', serpent or troll, named Darleen.
    • Lucille herself qualifies, as well, given that she's a truly gigantic sabre-tooth bear. Most other monsters will have pretty ordinary names, too — see Vernon the cyclops, above.
  • Forced Transformation: The only good witch in the series, Alma Rose, is stuck in the form of a giant mountain lion.
  • Good Witch Versus Bad Witch: Alma Rose is the only non-evil witch yet to appear.
  • Grimmification: Hansel and Grendel, as their names imply, have an origin story resembling a very dark take on the Hansel and Gretel story.
  • Half-Witted Hillbilly: Although there are many intelligent characters in the hills, Rondel is frequently frustrated with the willful stupidity and small-mindedness of the people around him.
    Some folks is ignernt, and that's all there is to it.
  • Heroic Bastard: Though the circumstances of how he was conceived remain unknown, Rondel was born to an unmarried mother.
  • Heroic Fantasy: Made more explicit in the Conan the Barbarian-esque Iron Child segments, but low key present throughout the entire series.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: The semi-Appalachian world of the comic is haunted by curses, ghosts, witches, trolls, and all sorts of horrors. Most of the people are okay, though.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: James is by far the youngest of the main cast. The first volume shows him, as a child, being rescued by Rondel, who is already an active monster-hunter. Years later, we see an adult James joining Rondel's crew and traveling with him.
  • Luke Nounverber: James Stoneturner.
  • Magic Is Evil: Zigzagged. Witches are considered Villain by Default (with the exception of good witch Alma Rose), but the magic of The Stone Turner and her descendant, James, is a force for good. The difference between these styles of magic has yet to be explained in any detail.
  • The Power of Rock: "The Fiddle That Screamed For Blood" has a cursed, vampiric violin.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The first symptom of the alien curse in "Red-Eyed Witchery From Beyond". It's ultimately unable to override Rondel's Black Eyes of Evil though.
  • Sword and Sorcery: A distinctly American spin on the genre.
  • Talking Animal: Almost every animal has the ability to talk. This makes it difficult to tell if an animal is actually a witch in disguise.
  • Wicked Witch: Witches are (with the exception of Alma Rose) all twisted crones who serve as the central antagonists of the series.
  • Weapon of X-Slaying: The Devil's Cleaver is lethal to witches and dark spirits since it was touched by the Devil himself.