With Hellboy Day having been celebrated last weekend and the new Hellboy movie due for release in a matter of weeks, for this week’s Evergreen review, I chose to revisit “Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch.”
Story and Art by Mike Mignola
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
On the heels of the second Hellboy feature film, legendary artist and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola returns to the drawing table for this standalone adventure of the world’s greatest paranormal detective!
Hellboy investigates an ancient chapel in Western Europe where an artist compelled by something more sinister than any muse has sequestered himself to complete his “life’s work.”
First Mignola-drawn Hellboy comic since 2005!
“Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch” was released in 2008, shortly after the release of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, with “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola returning to illustrate his first “Hellboy” story in three years. The result of this return is one of the strongest and perhaps most prototypical “Hellboy” stories available, and, taking the form of a one-shot, does so without any significant connections to the wider universe, making it a fantastic story for both long-time readers and newcomers to “Hellboy.”
The story takes place Tavira in Southern Portugal. The year is 1992, two years before the events of ‘Seed of Destruction’ take place and Hellboy is investigating the connection between a recently acquired chapel and Jerry, an artist who has been suspiciously inspired. Given its place within the wider timeline of the Hellboy universe, Hellboy is relatively unencumbered. He isn’t occupied with larger prophecies. He’s only concerned with doing his job for the B.P.R.D. and, given his experiences with similar situations since his arrival in 1944 and, as a result, we’re faced with a Hellboy that is unphased by the situation and is in fact, well prepared for the situation. He comes equipped with a button from Bishop Zrinyi’s coat and this miraculously lands him a “hole in one, baby!” and frees Jerry from his manipulative muse, and his trusted Right Hand of Doom, which comes in handy when Jerry’s Moloch sculpture inevitably comes to life.
Hellboy’s confidence is juxtaposed with the one-shot’s supporting cast member, a nameless art agent. The agent is incredibly concerned for his client, Jerry and naïve to the evil that lingers in the chapel. What I loved about Mignola’s portrayal of the art agent is that his concern is not limited to a professional capacity; he could easily have been a one-note exploitative character who was focused on the financial benefits of Jerry’s potential, but there’s a humanity to him. The art agent has been friends with Jerry for a long time and there’s a strong support for him. He truly believed Jerry had the potential to be the “poster boy for the new gothic in art” and it is this relationship that gives the end of the one-shot a great sense of poignancy.
While Hellboy has no other option but to destroy the evil sculpture, Jerry considers the sculpture all that he has with his paintings not “working.” The ending breaking of the sculpture leaves Jerry “ruined” and we are left wondering what happened next for the duo. Did Jerry’s Goya “rip-offs” still prove a success back in New York? We may never know.
The artwork of the book, of course, excels. Mignola perfectly places each panel to gradually build the story. The opening page presents us with a panel showcasing the landscape of Tirvana. This panel is filled with light, and Dave Stewart’s pastel colours only increase the sense of openness that is presented. By presenting the audience with this panel, Mignola not only establishes the setting, but more importantly provides a reference point for the tension to develop. From this point onwards, the issue, both narratively and visually start to get darker and increase the feeling of claustrophobia. The second page with smaller panels to break up actions which gives the comic an instant sense of delicacy, which increase the tension, as well as being flooded with shadows. It is, of course, these small panels, that Mignola has use so masterfully throughout his career and across his work on “Hellboy” and despite having taken three years away from the title, he’s shows no signs of rust.Continued below
Furthermore, his character design within the one-shot are excellent. Each character is clearly defined, with Mignola’s use of negative space being most effective on Jerry. The plagued artist truly seems like the “zombie,” that the agent described him as, with dark shadows replacing his eyes and when the green creature’s influence is removed, his panic-stricken face is still haunting as he whispers, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” This brings me to the lettering work of Clem Robins, who does an excellent job of making sure the dialogue flows through between the panels, but also clarifying the characters’ voices. He makes sure Jerry’s voice rarely fills the speech bubbles, making him sound strained and distant, but also makes sure Hellboy and the agent’s whispering are read as whispers.
Finally, as we’ve come to expect from Dave Stewart, his coloring work throughout the issue is magnificent. He lights each scene well, increasing the atmosphere of the book and gives the middle third of the book an unsettling green glow before concluding the book with the piercing red of the Moloch sculpture’s heart, which only increases the bittersweet ending of the one-shot.
Overall, “Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch” is an exciting and poignant addition to the Hellboy canon and a story which valiantly stakes its claim as one of the best “Hellboy” stories to date.