“Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #2 continues Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Pernilla Aickman’s journey through the corpse of Norse mythology, picking and choosing elements from its original prose form to create a visually stunning and unique adaptation. Warning: this review contains heavy spoilers.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Matt Smith
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by Clem Robins
Acting as an involuntary vessel for the Norse god Thor, Hellboy and his ragtag team pursue the ancient evil that’s been unleashed on the world. But even the might of Mjollnir and the aid of mythological beings may not be enough to prevent the destruction that is to come.
Mark Tweedale: Before we launch into the story, I just have to say how much I love the cover on this issue. Matt Smith draws a horde of Svartalves, but he finds ways to make each and every one of them unique. And it’s not just in their literal appearance either, but in how they express themselves. This is one of those cases where, as much as I love the cover, I’m looking forward to seeing it as a chapter break in the eventual collection more, because it won’t have the logo covering so much of the Svartalves at the top—the detail is there and I want to see it all.
James Dowling: Yeah, Smith has such a talent for picking the perfect few visual elements to exemplify in his covers and then giving them as much creative attention as he can muster. It means we’re being spoiled with a great line-up of uniquely striking work.
Mark: Yeah, we really are. As I’ve said before, this project is wish fulfillment.
In our last review we mentioned the pacing of the comic and how drastically different it is from the novel. If that was true for the first issue, it’s even more so for the second. The chapters this issue covers (five through to eight), aside from the action sequence with the Svartalves, is generally a slow burn and the comic does not have time for that.
James: Yeah I definitely clocked on to the distinctly different pace of this issue too.
Mark: While the first issue cut a lot out, I didn’t feel like I was missing much, but in this issue there were definitely things I’d latched onto from the novel that I lamented losing. It may seem strange, but one of those moments was simply Hellboy waking up and talking to Pernilla in the kitchen without Abe being there. Given his relationship with her father, and everything that happened the previous night, it was Hellboy’s gentleness in that scene that made those characters click. Pernilla suddenly saw Hellboy more clearly, and for the rest of the story I never questioned her trusting him because that scene sold it so well.
With Abe in the room and all the story points they have to cover, that’s something that unfortunately fell by the wayside. But it totally makes sense because after that opening action sequence, this is almost entirely an issue of conversations, and the focus is on the ones that move the plot forward.
But, I miss the road blocks and dead ends. At this point in the novel, the characters don’t know what their next move should be, and so it slows down as they explore their options.
Was this the right move to make for the comic? Absolutely. That sort of stuff would not make for a compelling story told with month-long breaks between installments. But it further cements in my head that this comic is a companion volume—it is not a replacement for the novel.
James: Even having not read the novel, this stood out to me very quickly. The comic is rich in plot movement, but feels like the thematic core is falling to the wayside. I understand not being able to match the thematic depth of that first issue, but when you’re squeezing so much prose into so little comic script it feels like it should be easier to prioritise the resonstant the human connections and textual comments on the mythology at play, rather than burying it in fights and detective work.Continued below
That said, all throughout the issue it’s never felt like we’ve compromised on the bright camaraderie between Abe and Hellboy, it’s such a joy seeing them living their lives outside of a very sterilised B.R.P.D. environment, and just enjoying the scarce ability they have to interact with the world around them, even if it wants to kill them.
Mark: Knowing just how much detective work the comic has had to cut out, what survives in the comic is just a tiny fraction. Really, this section of the novel falls into the urban fantasy genre far more than “Hellboy” usually goes into. And when I see things like the breakfast scene with Hellboy and Abe, it’s clear the Hellboy/Abe relationship is the priority for this adaptation. And they nail that stuff beautifully.
The other element from the novel that gets lost in translation is the atmosphere. No surprise, as that’s often very expensive in terms of page real estate. So when Mist (the Valkyrie) appears to talk to Hellboy, it loses the dreamlike quality it had. What I like about this is that Christopher Golden is aware he has to take things out, so it would be very easy to only see the holes, but he finds other elements in the scene to play with, bringing a different spark to the comics page. So the Mist sequence focuses more on Hellboy apparently talking to thin air and how weird that is for Abe and Pernilla. It’s a fun beat and it gives the comic its own unique energy.
James: I think that’s my main focus when it comes to this book as an adaptation. It gets really easy to look for the cut-off story elements around the edges and what different directions it takes, but this book is read best when you focus on all of the assets it has that sit completely removed from the book.
Matt Smith’s art is beautifully textured all throughout here and, it might just be my brain tricking me, but it feels like he’s settled into a better middleground between his own style and Mignola’s in this follow-up.
Smith is one of the best artists for drawing Hellboy in any state, his grip on the character is amazing and when he’s possessed by Thor, he makes that violently apparent with a style of movement built with boastfulness and threat you would never expect from the character.
Mark: Absolutely. You can tell Golden trusts Smith to carry important story points in body language alone—it’s emblematic of how wonderfully this team works together. Golden and Smith seem to naturally click on the page.
I loved the layers of performance they were able to wring out of Hellboy talking to Ratatosk, for example. That only happens because we’re seen how Abe and Hellboy are around each other, and then we get to contrast this with how they are now. Abe is no longer jesting and saying, “This way, God of Thunder!” It’s not just that Abe is weirded out by the weird conversations with no one and then a squirrel. He’s worried about his friend.
Plus I loved the little touches in the art, like Pernilla holding Abe’s hand for comfort. It’s not made a big detail of, it’s simply there.
James: Yeah, the ability to have those little vignettes sit without further address is comforting in its own melancholy kind of way.
The expression of all the Norse elements in this book is a real treat. I love the Svartalves, their unique dialect and how every encounter with them leaves Hellboy looking like a pincushion. Their appearance especially helps give the issue’s opening a great comedic punch, with Abe rushing out of his bed-bath and Hellboy casually apologizing for the noise despite grappling with a horde of little Svartalves.
This series never stops being fun, even when it’s immersed in mythology. A large part of that is the strong technical mastery Smith and O’Halloran use to compliment the character acting happening on the page.
Matt Smith’s ability to use shadow and page composition to lead the reader and enhance all the other images within it is a beautiful example of the power of negative space, one that Chris O’Halloran only exemplifies with his color palettes.Continued below
Mark: God, coloring a Hellboy book when you’re not Dave Stewart has got to be intimidating, but O’Halloran absolutely rises to the challenge. It helps that he uses a similar language, like a sudden background color change to reinforce a connection or a sudden change, something Stewart often does. But he uses his own style to express this language. It certainly helps that O’Halloran and Smith already have a strong working relationship. If you’ve read “Folklords,” then you know they pack a punch together.
In the scene when Hellboy is talking to Mist, O’Halloran has two different versions of the scene side by side, and they’re similar enough that they feel unified, but there’s also a distinct shift for the vision with Mist. It’s a coloring choice to orient the reader into specific points of view and it does so seamlessly.
James: Yeah absolutely, it uses that slight shift to not only show the change in the world around Hellboy, but also sort of how he’s viewing it too. This whole journey for Hellboy is one of investigating how he perceives divinity, and that was a great visual element to reinforce it.
Mark: I thought it was a strong choice to handle Aickman the way they did too. If you look at him in issue #1, we see his face. He’s a person. But after he runs away, we don’t see his face anymore. He’s a figure. Even in a scene where Smith has to show him drinking from a tankard, the panel is composed in such a way that it hides his face, and his skin is grayer when contrasted against Pernilla’s. You get the sense she doesn’t recognise him anymore, yet all she says is, “Papa?”
James: Yeah, it definitely is making a conscious choice to distance and de-empathise him compared to Pernilla, Abe and Hellboy. It makes sense that you can’t really rely on classic hints in this book, just because of how heavy the emphasis is on the growing understanding and connection there is between everyone involved in this mystery (even unwilling connections like Hellboy’s one with Thor).
I like how effortlessly this format has achieved that too. Mystery stories always sort of put characters under a microscope to take them apart, but this series has instead used it to emphasise the strong histories between each player in the story, despite juggling that with action and so much else.
Mark: When this adaptation was first announced, I figured this section would be the most difficult to adapt to comics because it is so driven by the investigation element. It’s slow (in a good way) and full of deadends, but in the process of exploring those deadends, it lays all the groundwork for everything to follow.
And so I have to admire Golden’s craft here. Even little things, like introducing readers to the word “Svartalves,” is handled in a way that tells story, not just blunt exposition. The term is first used by Hellboy, Pernilla, and Abe in conversation and from context we know they’re talking about the little dudes that just attacked. And no one goes, “Svartalves?” It makes all three look like professionals that know their shit and more importantly, it shows that they’re all on the same page.
James: Plus you can tell they’re letting the reader come along with them at a good pace without holding their hand.
Mark: Later, when the term is used again around Klar, we get the explanation that Svartalves = elves (just for readers that aren’t big into Norse mythology), but it serves the double purpose of showing how Klar is not on the same page. The two scenes are in contrast with one another to efficiently tell us who this guy is and how he feels about everything he’s been told.Continued below
James: Yeah, the whole thing is managing to build a rich collection of Norse figures all while keeping the story a fast-paced mystery.
Mark: And with this issue doing so much of the heavy lifting, you’re going to get a lot more of the Norse stuff in the latter half of the miniseries. . .
James: ‘The Bones of Giants’ #2 does leave me with a lot of hope for the trajectory of the series. It’s funny, mythologically rich, and has some great momentum in terms of character dynamics. I wish we were left with a less stilted cliffhanger, but in the grand scheme, it will probably read well in the collected edition.
Mark: I didn’t have a problem with the cliffhanger. “Monster wakes up” is a classic comic ending practically as old as comics itself.
For all my talk about what was left out, what I really want to emphasize is that this is a necessary part of adapting to any medium. There are upsides and downsides to practically every choice. This issue was smartly handled, and while the pacing is a bit of a whirlwind, I can’t help but see the changes as they serve the greater story rather than this issue in isolation. It would be so easy for characters to get buried under condensed plot information, but that doesn’t happen here. Hellboy and Abe remain the top priority, so much so that space was carved out for them to have a talk before breakfast—what they talk about isn’t nearly as important as the way this moment highlights that these two guys are checking in on each other and seeing that they’re OK (while characteristically doing it in an indirect manner). I love that.
In my recent interview with Christopher Golden, he mentioned how he liked writing Abe, and honestly, I love reading his take on him. If he wants to do some Abe stories, I say go for it. The joy shows on the page, and I’m seeing a lot of joy in “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants.” The character stuff that pushes the issue up for me, so I’m going to give it an 8.5. I’m enjoying seeing this creative team work together so much, and I’ve already got my fingers crossed for more beyond “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants.”
James: A mid-80s Chris Golden/Matt Smith/Chris O’Halloran “Abe Sapien” series would absolutely be the dream outcome from this. I think that human element was the absolute stand-out of this issue, punctuated by some incredibly well-defined and creatively articulated art. That said, in parts it’s held back by a thematic drop compared to the first issue, and a more scattered interpretation of its action/mystery story structure. I’d give it a 7.5.
Final Verdict: 8 – “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #2 is a frantically paced issue, but it never loses track of what’s most important in adapting the original novel.