This is one of the weirder “Hellboy” stories out there, but then as the final “Hellboy in Mexico” story, nothing else could be more appropriate.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Mike Norton and Paul Grist
Colored by Dave Stewart and Bill Crabtree
Lettered by Clem Robins
Two legends meet face to face! Who will survive when Hellboy and Lobster Johnson meet . . . in the RING OF DEATH?
Hellboy’s infamous misadventures in Mexico are revealed in this double-barreled one-shot! Mike Norton draws Hellboy’s ill-fated turn as foe to Lobster Johnson in a luchador movie, while Paul Grist returns to draw the Visitor as he lurks in the shadows with troubling doubts about his decision to spare Hellboy.
This is going to be wall to wall spoilers.
There really isn’t much more to “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson: The Ring of Death” than its premise. I don’t mean that as a negative, only that this issue plays the story skin deep and no further. That said, the creative team has so much fun with it. Just like a lucha libre film, if you’re going into this thing expecting a nuanced character study, you’re going to be disappointed. “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson” knows exactly what it is and runs with it.
The framing device sets this up beautifully. In 1962, Vic and Hellboy sit down to watch Lobster Johnson and the Ring of Death, a 1957 lucha libre film starring Adolfo Flores as Lobster Johnson and Hellboy as the Devil. From then on, we simply watch the film unfold in glorious black and white.
Back in 2007, when “Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus” was coming out, there was a back-up feature called ‘The True History of Lobster Johnson,’ which chronicled the journey from the Lobster, the real-life 1930s vigilante, to Lobster Johnson, the pop-culture version of the character that survived into the modern consciousness. This issue is essentially a single paragraph of that back-up feature extrapolated into a full issue.
In short, this issue is gloriously ridiculous. A single panel is used again and again to tremendous comic effect. I laughed harder with each new appearance. The way the fights are staged is perfect, with villains falling down when they aren’t even hit.
Plus there’s a deliberate continuity error with the Devil holding a knife, and then not, and then holding it again. It’s really hard to tell how much of this was scripted though. I mean, there’re some scenes where Chris Roberson could’ve essentially written “They fight. Go to town with this.” Or maybe he had a list of things he wanted from the sequence like “make sure you’ve got a few Dutch angles in there.” Or maybe each campy panel was very meticulously scripted. To me, it feels loose, and artist Mike Norton seems to be having a lot of fun, so “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson” captures the energy it’s trying to evoke very effectively.
Clem Robins goes overboard (as he absolutely should) with the sound effects—practically everything makes a sound. Oh, and I have to mention Patrick Satterfield’s book design, because the interior credits page set up the issue to follow perfectly. I mean, look at this thing!
The issue also includes an epilogue of sorts, with “The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed” artist Paul Grist returning to draw Michael Mathers as he visits Mexico to check on Hellboy. Grist is joined again by his colorist, Bill Crabtree. ‘Down Mexico Way’ is very much the perfect capper to the issue. I know technically this is billed as two separate stories, but you can’t really separate them, since Hellboy’s final line in ‘The Ring of Death’ is essentially the set-up for the ‘Down Mexico Way’ punchline. “You don’t know the half of it” indeed. As embarrassing as Hellboy’s appearance in Lobster Johnson and the Ring of Death is, the actual shooting of his scene was far worse.
We have never seen Hellboy as undignified as we see him here. Wow.Continued below
‘Down Mexico Way’ is very, very different from the classic short story ‘Pancakes,’ but the way it juxtaposed the serious and ponderous narration from Mathers with Hellboy lying face down in his own vomit certainly demonstrates a similar comedic touch. Grist and Roberson’s timing here is masterful, milking the most from the moment.
The “Hellboy in Mexico” stories always have that element of the ridiculous about them, and it seems only fitting that this final story bows out on the most ridiculous moment of all.
I did have one stray thought while reading this issue though. Writing for Mignolaversity as I do, I was already well aware that these two tales will be collected in the trade “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956” alongside the ‘1956’ arc… and yet there’s a framing device set in 1962 with Vic and Hellboy. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this, after all “B.P.R.D.: 1948” had a framing device set in 1983 and the original “Hellboy in Mexico” story had one set in 1982, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. As you may already know, next month’s ‘The Beast of Vargu’ is set in 1962, breaking the pattern of “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” gradually working its way through the 1950s. And there are more time-skipping stories planned, like the three-issue ‘Saturn’s Return’ beginning in August.
This doesn’t mean the Occult Cold War plot line is being forgotten—as far as I know, ‘1957’ is still happening—but we’ll certainly see more jumping around the timeline in future, and it’ll free up the creators to tell new kinds of stories. “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson: The Ring of Death” is something truly unique, and while it’s not something I’d like to see all the time, I love that the format is flexible enough to accommodate a story like this.
‘Down Mexico Way’ would’ve been funny on it’s own, but the 1962 framing device from ‘The Ring of Death’ heightened it, and it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the time jump. I think this sets an interesting precedent for stories to come.
Final verdict: 8 – “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson” is utterly and gloriously ridiculous.
And finally, a word on the future of Mignolaversity. Since May 2010, we’ve reviewed practically every single issue (and even most short stories) that Mike Mignola and company have worked on. That sort of coverage on any comic series is rare. I’ve been doing this for six years now, and at the moment I’m the only active member of the column. While I’ll continue to be involved, I’m going to be limiting how much I do. Rather than reviewing everything, I’ll be picking and choosing a bit, and with multi-volume arcs, I’ll probably review the full arc when the final issue comes out.
In short, Mignolaversity is still around, but shifting its focus a bit.