“Hellboy in Hell” has been a totally unique reading experience thus far, and #3 amps up the singular experience that is a Mignola book to extreme levels, including some absolutely bewildering moments and head-scratching sequences.
Written and Illustrated by Mike Mignola
Hellboy meets more of his family members, and it’s not a fond reunion, as blood sprays through the air in Hell.
Brian: It feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve had the chance to talk Hellboy, old friend. And here we are, walking along with Hellboy and, through his experience, understanding a little bit more of the bizarre, disorienting world of Hell. What was your initial assessment of this issue?
David: Less understanding, more disorientation, but I liked it. This found Mignola bringing the camera back often on his art with great results, and it was an issue where the art did a lot of the storytelling. Yet, the ending was super confusing. Am I dumb Brian?
Brian: If you’re dumb, then so am I. The whole issue had the feel of a fever dream, where everything is just clear enough to follow, but then there is a jarring turn and you’re left with your mouth open, feeling like you somehow skipped a page. I think part of the issue, on our end, is that we read digital advances of this book, and this seems like a book that you should be able to pull in close or hold at an angle to check out, and we’re somewhat limited in how we can read it (or, at least I, the iPadless one, am).Continued below
You mentioned the art, and rightly so. Mignola has been clear that this is his magnum opus, and that he is able to break free of the shackles of the normal world and draw whatever tickles his fancy which, artistically, has to be absolutely liberating. However, from a reader’s side, it takes some getting used to. While I am generally enjoying every brush stroke and panel, I do admit that this isn’t the easiest comic to read front to back. Do you agree?
David: I definitely agree, but I wouldn’t necessarily that is art related. The art is spectacular. I love how often he brings the camera back and shows things like the “angels” if you will attacking pandemonium, or the crazy underwater creature that takes a big ol’ bite out of Astaroth and Lusk. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and it shows the scale and scope of what we are working with – things are big and they are crazy, and Mignola artistically nails that.
That said, the fever dream statement is right on point. It’s often hard to follow, and honestly, when did they tell us these characters names? Half the issue we’re dealing with characters we don’t know besides as Hellboy’s uncle and two brothers, but we know nothing else about them. It was a strange issue, and it just seemed to go from escalating through the fight to drifting through the ending. And apparently Hellboy slit Satan’s throat? What?!
Brian: One of my traits in my readership is that I always assume I’ve forgotten something. This happens all the time; I’ll take a point meant to be ambiguous (or poorly written), and I’ll just assume that this was introduced a few months ago and my brain was too busy trying to remember the lyrics to “Take the Skinheads Bowling” or remember David Wright’s slash line from last year to remember all the pertinent details of every comic I read.
That is a masturbatory way to say yes, the characters’ names and identities were somewhat confusing. Through context clues you can figure out most of the broad strokes, but there were moments where I’d have to double back and re-read entire sections just to make sure I wasn’t missing something essential.
Ultimately, while this may be difficult in the short term, I think it bodes well for the long-term health of the series. Any book that is this dense and obtuse will shine in subsequent readings, and by that I mean a year from now, as well as by the third time I read the issue to write this review.
David: Absolutely. If anything, this book proves that additional readings bolster the experience exponentially in this case. You start drawing everything together better, and it just exists as a whole as opposed to seemingly disconnected elements when you first read it. Having reread the issue a bit, it fits together better already, but it is an incredibly challenging book.
One thing I do want to praise it greatly for though is the amazing atmosphere Mignola creates in this book. It continues to feel like a twisted fairy tale, with fractured families and monstrous entities looming around every corner. I love how Mignola is working in random characters – like the little demon from The Wild Hunt – in at random. This really feels like Hellboy meeting and making his legacy, and there’s a lot to be said about that.
It’s strange how bifurcated by feelings about this book are. It’s like I simultaneously don’t grasp exactly what is happening, but it is so mysterious and exciting I still kind of love it.
Brian: I agree. In a way, this is a nice parallel to “B.P.R.D. 1948,” where the series was a fun place to hang out in during the first few issues, before properly revealing its plot and kicking things into gear. The difference, here, is that I don’t see Mignola ever having this story be anything close to a straight line.
If “all” that this ever amounts to is a beautifully illustrated, fractured version of Hellboy that doesn’t really go anywhere, I’m ok with that. Of course, I think it will be much more than that, so I am doubly excited.
David: The way I see it is there is a Point A and a Point B, but it will be a treasure map of insanity inbetween. Beautiful, near poetic insanity, but batshit crazy no less. The weirdest thing is I see this as just the tip of the iceberg, and that it will get all the more undefinable as we move along.
Can you address the “did Hellboy kill Satan without knowing it” plot point? Was that what happened, or am I crazy?
Brian: I would like to draw your attention to something Mignola said in an interview with Comics Alliance:
CA: How far are we into the Hellboy saga? Halfway? Two thirds?
MM: There’s no way to know. You’re basically asking, how long am I gonna live? I have an ending to Hellboy but it’s not necessarily the last issue of the comic. That’s because I don’t trust myself. “Oh, I’ve only got six months to live so I’d better draw the last issue of the comic!” Especially since I created Hellboy in Hell, because it’s my world, everything I want to do, everything I could possibly imagine, everything I want to do in comics, I can do in that comic. It’s not just Hellboy’s story, but Hellboy can sit at a bar or sit on a beach smoking a cigarette with some other guy, and that can be that guy’s story. I’ve done it once or twice in Hellboy. When you want a puppet show [like that seen in Hellboy in Hell #1], that can be in that story. There are so many different devices in that world to tell stories. Right now most of what I’ve plotted involves Hellboy directly, but I’m open to the idea of saying, this is about this other guy. And some other story I want to adapt that I just can’t figure out how to bring Hellboy into. There’s no ticking clock, it’s just the comic I plan to be doing as long as I’m doing comics.
So, even though I agree with your basic assertion, I don’t know if there’s as clear of a path to the end as we might have assumed. I think there is a real possibility that “Hellboy in Hell” never really ends.
But, onto the question at hand: Hellboy killing Satan. The way I see it, there are three options: a) Hellboy was possessed by someone else at the time (his facial expression seemed unlike him), b) he had a moment of violent temporary insanity, or c) he didn’t actually do it, and is being played by the demon. I guess there is also d) Hell does crazy things to you, but that seems too easy. I don’t know which one I think it is, but I’m leaning towards a or c. Any ideas?
David: I have no idea, nor do I know if that is remotely important. It seems to me that perhaps one of the greatest issues that this book has is people will approach things like the storytelling and Hellboy killing Satan and knowing who Astaroth and Lusk are, and apply their typical comic book reading thought process to them. But the problem is, that doesn’t work. This isn’t a typical comic, which is shown quite well by Mignola’s response there. It’s almost like, we need to adjust as readers to properly read this comic, which is a challenge, but something I am interested in doing.
Brian: I concur; comics as a medium can, often times, get stale and formulaic. And, while there may not be a ton of clues and winks to guide you along, “Hellboy in Hell” is nothing if not groundbreaking and challenging. I applaud it.
So what are you rating this, David? I’m going to give it a solid 8.
David: I’m going to give it a 7.5, because while I absolutely admit that some of my issues may be because of my own difficulties as a reader approaching it, it still made me feel stupid which makes me sore with it. That said, the art was marvelous and the feel of it is just so spectacular it’s hard not to be enthralled by it.
Brian: They’ve finally done it, David. They’ve made us feel stupid.
Final Verdict: 7.75 – Buy, but read it a couple of times before casting judgement