It has been almost 16 months since we last saw our pal Hellboy in “modern” times and, as always, absence has made our hearts grow fonder. But could anything live up the the expectations that we have built up in our heads for the Big Red Guy’s return?
Written and Illustrated by Mike Mignola
After saving the world in The Storm and The Fury, but sacrificing himself and Great Britain, Hellboy is dead, cast into Hell, where he finds many familiar faces, and a throne that awaits him.
Mike Mignola returns to draw Hellboy’s ongoing story for the first time since Conqueror Worm. It’s a story only Mignola could tell, as more of Hellboy’s secrets are at last revealed, in the most bizarre depiction of Hell you’ve ever seen.
Brian: Until I was about 10 pages into “Hellboy in Hell” #1, I didn’t realize how much I had missed Mike Mignola drawing Hellboy. Absence must have made the heart grow fonder, because I enjoyed every single panel of this comic more than I expected to, and it has kept me thinking since I stopped reading. Wow.
Were you as impressed as I was?
David: The weird thing about this comic is, on the first read I was a little put off by it. It suffers from a lot of things I find troubling about Mignola’s work often, but when I reread it, a lot of those troubles went away. I think part of the reason why is the second time, I stopped really looking at it as a story like I like stories to be and more as a fable of sorts. That’s the thing that Mignola really is skilled at – creating larger than life (even after life) imagery and ideas that almost touch on a mythical level.
It’s like, at first glance, it’s pretty abstract, but when you read it again and start looking at it through a different prism, it really comes together. It’s actually a pretty damn special issue, initial reading reservations put aside, and I like the write-up in Hellmail that basically tells readers “you’ll need to work at this book to gain its true value.” It’s dead on with that suggestion.
Brian: I think your analysis is pretty spot on. Month after month, you and I analyze the “B.P.R.D.” corner of the Mignolaverse, where things tend to unfold in a pretty traditional way. We’ve been doing this column for over a year, and have done exactly one Hellboy story, and that was a very linear flashback story. It has been awhile since we’ve had to review (in our Mignolaversity duties) a story this abstract and shrouded in mystery and mythology.
In addition, we haven’t really had Mignola on pencils in quite some time, and his style is such a stark contrast to the work of the art team on “B.P.R.D.” that it can seem jarring at times. Take that with the fact that, and not to reveal too much of how the Mignolaversity sausage is made, we get water-marked digital advances that may require scrolling and/or less than ideal page placement on our screens. So, the art, which needs to be taken in on a macro level on many of these pages (as they simply don’t have too many panels), suffers a bit in the way we read it for review purposes.
I guess that is a long winded way of saying “you’re right, David!”
David: Well thanks! Speaking of Mignola’s art, I wanted to really applaud him for the framing of so many of the panels and pages here. I loved the Baba Yaga open – that was phenomenal stuff – and I loved all of the pages of Sir Edward just blasting everyone with his mad magic skills. At first, the hardly details iterations of him casting spells bothered me, but then I recontextualized it based off of the fact that we’re just dealing with things of an entirely different scope and scale here. It’s pretty astounding work throughout, and some of the imagery is absolutely haunting.
What were the spots you mainly enjoyed, artistically?
Brian: Well, I loved the challenge of not knowing exactly what I was looking at on any given panel. I liked having to place myself into a headspace where I couldn’t really listen to music, or toggle back and forth between reading an answering emails. This was a totally immersive reading experience, and those are rare nowadays.Continued below
As for particulars? The imagery of the puppet show was interesting (and seasonally appropriate!) and I thought really broke down any barriers that may have been assumed as for how big the scope of this story is.
Let’s talk plot – was this the type of story you expected when “Hellboy in Hell” was announced?
David: Yeah, pretty much. I figured it was going to be a veritable walk through of Hellboy’s history. I mean, he’s HELLboy. He’s got a lot of connections there. I loved that the first issue started with some Baba Yaga action, and then it kicked into people like that crazy hammer man from The Wild Hunt. We’re going to see a who’s who, and it’s cool to start thinking about the possibilities (RASPUTIN?!) that are out there.
As far as the way it is told, I’m kind of used to how Mike tells stories, but this one, maybe because he has his own sandbox, is really quite beautiful and larger in scale than we’ve even been previously used to. It’s pretty rad stuff. What about you?
Brian: Well, I for one am glad that the story, while epic in scope, is small in execution. We don’t see Hellboy going through a Dante-ish levels of hell scenario, we instead get to see him attempt to figure out how to be dead. Which, as a concept, is pretty imaginative and unique. This book, to me, is all about Hellboy’s place in the world now that he is no longer of the world.
Let’s talk puppet show. I have an analysis of it, but I’m more curious to hear your take.
David: I took it as a metaphor for what he’s going through? I don’t know. I’m a dumb reader. What was your take? Isn’t that how Hellboy took it too?
Brian: Well, that is one way to take it but, as our pal Scott Allie said in Hellmail, things aren’t always going to be so apparent or easy to understand.
I think that Hellboy is actually going to have a role not unlike one of the ghosts of Christmas past/present/future. He is more like Marley than he is like Scrooge. He doesn’t need to be guided anymore, he’s done fucked up and is dead. But he can still be a presence in the world.
David: So do you think that could be how he may play a role in B.P.R.D. in the future? Could he be Abe’s Ghost of Christmas Pamcakes?
Brian: I don’t think it would be that overt (or adorable), but I think Hellboy’s presence will continue to be felt throughout the Mignolaverse, and I don’t think it will be from others seeking him out, but him seeking out others. Just a crack pot theory of mine.
The theologian in me was going crazy throughout this issue, as there was so much rich symbolism worked in, specifically with Hellboy’s heart resembling the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but I want to wait a few issues before getting too involved with the imagery from a theological standpoint.
Anything else to add before we grade this sucka?
David: Maybe just that, because this review didn’t get too specific, that everyone should read this book at least twice. It pays off quite a bit more if you give it a couple shots to get more in-depth with it. Honestly, I’ve been reading Hellboy for years and there were parts where I was saying “WTF.” It’s not even in what it is happening either – it’s how it’s being told. It’s a challenging and very good book, and I feel the key is to give it more of a chance than readers may give other books. I think it’s safe to think you’d agree with that sentiment.
Brian: Yes, I completely agree. This is a book that requires a deeper look, and it isn’t the sort of thing that our review can even really help with. It isn’t as if there are dense plot points to untangle; this is just a knotty book. It takes time to unravel, but is worth the time and effort to do so.
The more I read it (I believe I’m at 4 or 5 reads now), the more I appreciate it, and I’m glad that I read it a few times before we began discussing it. Again, not to get too inside baseball here, but my pal Harper here actually had a very different reaction after the first read, and we re-did parts of this review after subsequent reads. I don’t say this to throw him under the bus, but rather show how this is a book that demands and requires more than your standard quick read.Continued below
So, what do you rate this issue?
David: How dare you do that to me, Brian?! I thought we were friends.
But really, he’s right. After the first read, I actually had a mostly negative view on this comic from both writing and art. Then I sat down for another read and it was like I wasn’t even reading the same comic. It was a perplexing experience for me, I must admit, but after that second read I’m comfortable giving this bad boy an 8.5 out 10. Really strong start. I think it will only get better with more crazy. What about you?
Brian: I’m going to go even higher. 9.5 is where its at for me. Spoiler alert, this has jumped into my top ten single issues of the year, and I truly can’t wait for next month’s installment.
Should we even mention what we’re doing next week?
David: Do it! We tweeted about it! Get that cat out of the bag!
Brian: Next week, we have an amazing exclusive interview with the three headed beast behind the Mignolaverse – Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Scott Allie! The three guys were nice enough to give us an hour of their time to chat about all things B.P.R.D. and Hellboy related. We are very excited for you guys to see it, so check back in a week and enjoy!
Final Verdict: 9.0 – Buy