Over the past few years, a Hellboy Christmas book has been one of the nicer holiday comics released. This year, instead of a collection of short stories, we just get one, but it’s a doozy. It also represents the first – but hopefully not last – work by Adam Hughes in the Mignolaverse. Be warned, spoilers follow.
Written by Mike Mignola
Illustrated and colored by Adam Hughes
Lettered by Clem Robins
The only thing more exciting than pitting Hellboy against this Satanic spin on Santa is the team-up of Mike Mignola and Adam Hughes.
One of the best things about a Hellboy Christmas story is that it doesn’t feel out of place in the way that so many other holiday comics feel. “Hellboy: Krampusnacht” is a pretty straightforward tale: Hellboy is investigating an incident in Austria for the B.P.R.D., when he comes across someone claiming to be the Krampus, the European goat-demon who punishes bad children around Christmas.
Mignola presets the Krampus, posing as a human named Wilhelm Schulze, as a character ready to die, who has been through the ringer. He hopes that Hellboy will kill him, freeing him of his mortal life, sending him back to hell where he belongs. The incident that incites Hellboy to investigate – an attack on a church – was staged as a way to get Hellboy to find him and, hopefully, kill him.
Mignola and Hughes do a nice job presenting Schulze as a kind, welcoming sort at first, with his charms falling away as the issue moves along. Both through his words and his image, first bathed in light, then darkness, then shedding its human visage, get darker and darker as the issue progresses. Once he reveals himself to be not just a punisher of children, but a murderer, we never get a good look at the human Schulze again. Hughes bathes him in shadow and reflection, letting the reader picture him as the horrific creature he is long before revealing him in his more feral form.
The Hughes art is, as expected, truly sublime. He captures the tranquility of the Austrian countryside, the coziness of Schulze’s cabin, and the bedroom of a small child beautifully, and then sets about destroying the comfort methodically. Specifically, the flashback to a child murdered by the Krampus is a sequence that will stick with me for a long time, just based on how horrifying it is, despite not showing a drop of blood or even revealing the monster itself. The happy little boy, playing with his toy elephant, is startled; expecting his mother, he turns to see a beast, and screams. That’s all it is, but Hughes captures so many beautiful details, all of which would be used as happy details in another story: the shortness of the boy’s pants, his bright green eyes, the single candle on the nightstand. His use of deep red, splitting the panel in two, is all the horror Hughes needs to really bring out the terror of the memory.
Once the Krampus reveals himself, the issue rushes off the page, with panels exploding into the larger layout, lots of action and blood appear, and all the subtlety of the issue goes out the window. Hughes hasn’t been doing as many interiors lately, and it has been years since he’s drawn this much action in a book, or at least since I’ve seen him do it. He hasn’t lost a step, either, bringing a real brawler’s perspective to the Hellboy/Krampus throwdown. It is almost hard to believe that this is the same artist known for his posed cheesecake covers; his work here is visceral and exciting. I really hope that this isn’t the last we see of Hughes in the Mignolaverse.
The book is also some of the finest writing that Mignola himself has done in some time. There were a number of ‘classic’ Mignola elements at play as well: a skeleton child handing Hellboy a knife, the demon-goat not being a demon really at all, but just a magical goat that forgot it was a goat. This has the fun and verve of many older Hellboy stories, and it was such a treat to be able to spend a little time in that world again. Add that together with Clem Robins’s truly evocative lettering, and the book felt very much like a Mignolaverse title, even if all the non-letter visuals were done by a totally new member of the team. Robins really is the visual glue of the whole line.Continued below
The book also includes some snapshots of ‘Christmas memories’ which, as expected, are lovely and heartwarming. Hellboy is one of the warmest characters in all of comics, despite his lineage, so he seems like such a natural love of Christmas. These snapshots are, let’s hope, previews for new Christmas stories for years to come, because who doesn’t want to read a one-shot about the Christmas that Abe Sapien got drunk?
Final Verdict: 8.8 – A truly fun slice of holiday cheer.