Hellboy Library Edition Volume 6
Reprinting "The Storm and the Fury" and "The Bride of Hell"
Writers and artists: Various
Dark Horse, $49.99, color, 376 pages
I may have Hellboy fatigue. If that's true, then I may give an unfair review. I'll give my reasons, and let you be the judge.
I gave up the individual Hellboy series a while back in order to switch over to the Library. Because, as even my LCS owner says, "If you're going to read Hellboy, that's really the best way to do it." The Library is comprehensive, collecting even the Hellboy short stories that have run in oddball places like Dark Horse Presents, the DH "Book of ..." series of horror shorts and Dark Horse annuals. The Library editions are also gorgeous, with oversize pages, beautiful reproduction and high-class hardback binding.
But because I gave up the regular Hellboy series, I've fallen a bit behind, and I wasn't sure where to dive back in. So I waited until this volume -- which wraps up just about every Hellboy idea, theme, concept and character in one gigantic finale, plus some short stories in the back from Hellboy's early days -- to read the stuff I'd already missed. Not knowing where that was, I just started at the beginning. And why not? I love Hellboy! So I read all six Library volumes in three consecutive nights after work.
Which should have been enormous fun. Instead, it seemed a little like work. I found myself sort-of not especially enjoying the biggest Hellboy story ever made.
One reason is that what drew me to Hellboy wasn't really the focus here. And that is this: Hellboy was a comic-book supernatural character who didn't talk or act like a comic-book supernatural character. You've got your Dr. Stranges and Dr. Fates, who mutter incantations and make dire and abstruse warnings and are deadly serious about everything and are more than a little pompous.
That's all right, you know, in a traditional sort of way. But what made me sit up when I first read Hellboy is that he didn't act like that at all. In fact, he didn't even seem to be in the same class as the upper-crusty types who usually inhabit these types of stories. Hellboy was unabashedly, unashamedly blue collar. When he got hit, he'd yowl "Oww!" When he hit someone else, he'd enthusiastically embellish with a loud "BOOM!'
He used a gun. He wore a toolbelt. He liked beer. This was my kind of supernatural investigator! I mean, Dr. Strange is cool and all, but can you imagine spending more than 10 minutes with him without strangling him? (And, yes, Constantine is another blue-collar supernatural character, and yes, I like that about him, too. But he's also a jerk, whereas Hellboy is not.)
And, yes, there were plenty of dire and abstruse warnings in the Hellboy comics, especially about H.B. himself. Apparently, he's destined to become the Beast of the Apocalypse, as described by the Book of Revelations. Which could be a source of lots of angst, and typical comic-booky self-pity. But not in Hellboy! Our guy just shrugs and says "Not gonna happen."
Perhaps that's why I disliked the gigantic finale: It was Hellboy on a big stage, all those dire warnings coming true, a huge Biblical epic. But big isn't what I liked about Hellboy!
Another thing I loved about Hellboy was Mike Mignola's art. For some it's an acquired taste, but I have always loved Mignola's work from the very get-go. Even his apparent dislike of drawing feet -- I can only assume -- has led to a accomplished skill at drawing figures emerging from fog or smoke. There are other odd aspects of his work that turn some people off, like exaggerated torsos and skulls that look like they were drawn by a 10-year-old (and there are a LOT of skulls in Hellboy). But I genuinely like those things. It's all of a piece; all part of a coherent Mignolaverse where everything fits together on the page as it must in Mignola's head.
But here we are with a gigantic Hellboy epic (all of Hellboy Library Edition Volume 5 and half of Volume 6) drawn by ... somebody other than Mike Mignola. The substitute, Duncan Fegredo, is pretty good, I admit. And he does a pretty good Mignola impersonation (especially on those goofy skulls!). And I'd probably love this guy's Batman. But this is Hellboy, which means Mignola. And he ain't here.
Well, he is in the writing department. And you can't fault him for thoroughness: Just about every character you've ever seen in Hellboy comics has a role to play in this story. I'm not sure that's an entirely good thing; some minor characters had to be stretched or transformed to have a purpose on this larger canvas, and I rather liked them as minor characters.
Remember the baby-stealing faerie changeling Hellboy burned with a horseshoe (iron!) in his first story, "The Corpse"? That was hilarious! Oh, but now that faerie is a major player, transformed into a boar and a servant of Nimue and a grim character who suffers eternally. Not hilarious. Not funny at all.
I'll also say this: This epic covers a lot of territory, from Norse myths to Russian folklore to Biblical hoo-hah to the Greek goddess-of-just-about-everything Hecate. One thing's for sure: You learn a lot about folklore, myth and legend from Mignola, from all over the world. That's very cool.
But Mignola hasn't done much writing outside Hellboy, and came to the job late in life, which is to say that he isn't a typical writer, using the usual writer tricks and shorthand with which we're all familiar. Which is a nice way of saying that sometimes Mignola doesn't tell me all I need to know, assuming I'll pick it up from an odd detail panel or maybe by atmosphere. Or maybe he doesn't know himself (often his plotting seems stream-of-consciousness), and the reader is expected to make a story of it. Now, I usually do pick up the gist, although sometimes I have to go back and look for a clue. And sometimes I just have to make assumptions that the story doesn't really support, in order to make sense of things. Which, as I said above, becomes uncomfortably close to work.
Which it wouldn't be if I was still as enthusiastic about Hellboy as I was when I first read "The Corpse." (Which, incidentally, is still a gem.) I'm not that enthusiastic any more, though, and I genuinely don't know if I've just read too much, or if the strip has just changed too much. I suspect the latter, but I love Mignola and Hellboy too much to diss it out of hand.
And besides, the next chapter of Hellboy's life is being written AND drawn by Mignola. So I'll probably enjoy "Hellboy in Hell," which will begin in Hellboy Library Edition Volume 7. And I'll be there to read it.
I've gotten Hellboy fatigue myself lately, although I really enjoyed the last three TPB collections when I finally caught up with them recently (which includes most of the material in this Library Edition, I think). But I have to disagree about Duncan Fegredo. He really caught what Mignola was after visually, I think. By the time he got to his second story arc I actually liked his Hellboy better than Mignola's, impossible as that seems.
I remember liking Fegredo's work when it first appeared in Hellboy (apparently that happened before I dropped the floppies). I liked it less in these big collections. Maybe because I'd just OD'd on Mignola work, and it suffered in comparison? Maybe just too much of it all at once?
It may just be what I said at the top, that I was just burned out, and probably wouldn't have liked anything!
I can't believe you read all six volumes in three nights. To me, that's like reading a thick book of poetry all in one sitting. I've just finished volume four, and I spread it out over a few weeks, reading a story or two in the evening, then taking a few minutes to admire the relevant pages in the sketchbook section, and then not coming back to the book for a day or two. The publication of the stories you read in three days took almost twenty years, and I think the reading of them is suited to a slower pace.
Despite what would be, for me, an insane approach to reading the material, I thought a lot of your criticisms had merit. Some of what you seem to consider problematic, I just consider to be examples of what makes Hellboy unique. I like that there is often a fuzziness in Mike's storytelling, leaving the reader to ponder the possibilities. I have the same response in reading poetry, not that I read a lot. I don't want to see it in all my comics, but it's part of the Mignola experience and, I think, part of what makes him truly an artist.
Your speed read did do a disservice to Fegredo, though. Despite the similarities, I think the differences from Mignola's style define the experience and it is too much of a shock to the system to go straight from Mignola to Fegredo in a short period of time. By the end of his time on Hellboy, I wasn't sure I wanted to see Mike come back, I'd grown that accustomed to his work, and it did continually get better over the course of his time spend on the series.
I think the big mythological adventure is something Mike probably felt he should do to do justice to Hellboy, and I agree. The short stories are fun, but knowing there's a big story there too, if you're interested, gives it more weight. It also gave Mike a reason to shift the paradigm of Hellboy's adventures a little, something I think he felt he needed to do to have the character remain fresh. I would agree that probably too many elements from past stories popped up. Sometimes things happen for no reason. Not everything needs to be connected.
Thanks for sharing your rthoughts.
Thanks for sharing yours!
And the speed-read isn't the way I'd like to have read Hellboy (or anything, really), but it's something of a necessity in today's world. I think I was working three jobs in August of 2013! Hopefully I can linger over Volume 7 a bit longer.