• Reviews 

    Mignolaversity: Hellboy Winter Special

    By | January 29th, 2016
    Posted in Reviews | 3 Comments

    Mignolaversity Logo

    It’s a special issue full of short stories!

    Hellboy Winter Special (Tim Sale cover)
    Cover by Tim Sale

    “Broken Vessels”
    Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
    Illustrated by Tim Sale
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953—Wandering Souls”
    Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
    Illustrated by Michael Walsh
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    “Mood Swings”
    Written by Chelsea Cain
    Illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    “Kung Pao Lobster”
    By Dean Rankine
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    Best-selling novelist Chelsea Cain writes and Michael Avon Oeming draws the first of three snowbound stories. Then Tim Sale visits Mignola’s prehistoric mythology, and in a lead-in to the upcoming issues of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953, Hellboy explores a haunted mine in the barren wastes of Wyoming.

    I love a good Hellboy special. As I said back when I was reviewing the short stories for Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953, there’s something about Mignola’s short stories that I simply can’t get enough of. To me, they never seem to come along as often as I should like.

    Except lately they have. We’ve had five since October and here are four more, so I’m very pleased indeed.

    The first story, Broken Vessels, features Gall Dennar, the prehistoric man linked to B.P.R.D. Agent Howards—although the story isn’t really about Gall Dennar, but rather the T’shethuan shamans (the old guys that have been appearing in Abe Sapien and B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth with a red hand print on their foreheads). This story further highlights that this is a corner of the Hellboy Universe we should be paying attention to. Something’s about to happen.

    Broken Vessels really feels like a prologue to another story. It raises a bunch of questions, teases a bunch of connections, and then ends. For someone that’s familiar with the universe, that’s great. The thing is, for a new reader, this story is completely random. They don’t know about Hyperborea, Gall Dennar, or T’shethuan shamans. A new reader would probably be wondering what this had to do with Hellboy at all. I think even semi-regular readers might be baffled if they haven’t been picking up every issue of Abe Sapien and B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth lately. It just strikes me as a little odd that this story was selected to open the issue. Perhaps this has more to do with it being “the Tim Sale story”, rather than on the content of the story itself.

    It’s not a big deal to me. Obviously, I enjoyed this one—I’m eager to see where Mike Mignola and Scott Allie are going with this, geeking out imagining what plotlines this might be teasing—but I can see other readers would be wondering what it has to do with anything other than winter.

    Let’s move on to Wandering Souls. This story is something extra special: Chris Roberson’s debut in the Hellboy Universe. Roberson’s going to be a big part of things going forward as he shepherds Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., Witchfinder… and other stuff that hasn’t been announced yet.

    And I have to say, this is a very promising start. Roberson takes to this universe like a fish to water. Right away, this feels very natural, building on 1952 and deepening it. Agent Susan Xiang was introduced in 1952, but only as a supporting character. Here, even though this is only a short story, we get to know her much better, and get a sense of both her background and the dynamic between her and Hellboy—the two of them make a great team.

    This could have been just a fun, supernatural encounter and that would have been great, but the choice to make this a character-driven story bodes well for the future. After all, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. isn’t just about Hellboy, it’s about the B.P.R.D. too. It’s a team book, so it’s good to see Roberson building up a character that can be the protagonist in a story without being eclipsed by Hellboy.

    Michael Walsh was a great fit too. There was no adjustment period like there sometimes is when a new artist is drawing familiar characters. Xiang is immediately recognizible as the character we met in 1952 and Walsh is good with body language, which makes this story really move in between panels. There’s an energy in this story that really clicked with me.

    Continued below

    I’d love to see Michael Walsh do more in this universe. Just saying.

    The next story, Mood Swings, is a departure from the stories preceding it. It’s silly and fun. It reminds me of the stories from Hellboy: Weird Tales actually. I’ll admit, this is one where my expectations got in the way of my enjoyment. I have to shift gears when I read Hellboy: Weird Tales, and this being a Liz-focused story (I love Liz), I expected something less lighthearted.

    That sounds like a criticism, doesn’t it? Actually, this is part of my enjoyment of the issue as a whole. All four stories feel very different from each other, and I consider that to be a big plus for this kind of issue. When I did change gears, I got a real kick out of it. Michael Avon Oeming certainly seems to be having fun with the story Chelsea Cain wrote for him. He’s worked on the Mignolaverse before (I really enjoyed Abe Sapien: The Land of the Dead), but here he got to loosen up more. This story isn’t SERIOUS, and Oeming revels in that.

    Lastly, there’s Kung Pao Lobster. This isn’t really a story, more of a gag. I remember in the Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler, there was a bunch of comic strips by R. Sikoryak. They were bizarre and fun, and that’s what Kung Pao Lobster is too. It feels like it’s continuing a tradition: when a special comes along, there has to be a really bizarre comic in there.

    That’s what this book does so well. It explores the Hellboy Universe from different angles. The things is, I want more. I’d love it if there was a special annually. That’d be so much fun. Although it’d be even more fun if it was a “Mike Mignola” special rather than a “Hellboy” special, just so that we could get some Baltimore and Joe Golem in the mix too. (I would kill to see Peter Bergting do a humorous “Baltimore” comic.)

    Final verdict: 8. Obviously, this was great. Can we please make this an annual tradition? That’d be awesome.

    Also worth noting, this was eight pages longer than the usual issue. I approve wholeheartedly.

    Oh, and have you seen the variant covers? Here’s Mike Mignola’s for Dark Horse’s 30th anniversary:

    Hellboy Winter Special (Mike Mignola cover)

    Here’s Michael Avon Oeming’s Fried Pie variant:

    Hellboy Winter Special (Michael Avon Oeming cover)

    And here’s Ben Stenbeck’s Comic Block variant:

    Hellboy Winter Special (Ben Stenbeck cover)

    //TAGS | Mignolaversity

    Mark Tweedale

    Mark writes Hell Notes, The Harrow County Observer, and The Damned Speakeasy. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter here.


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