After a long hiatus (and before another one, we fear), we get another issue of “Hellboy in Hell!” Here, we get a standalone story that helps us to get a greater sense of just what Hell is like for our pal Red.
Written and Illustrated by Mike Mignola
Hellboy helps a confused man who sold his soul for a magic whip—a story inspired by one of the stranger Grimm’s fairy tales.
David: After quite the wait, Hellboy in Hell from Mike Mignola returns with issue #5. Brian, how excited are you to have this book back, and how did this issue, titled “The Three Gold Whips”, sit with you?
Brian: Excited doesn’t begin to cover it, David. “Hellboy in Hell” has been such a fascinating experience thus far, and this issue acts as a nice intermezzo before the next arc begins. Since there isn’t an announced return date for this book, this issue has to tide us over until #6 comes out sometime in 2014. So, let’s get into the story: Hellboy encounters a 19th century French Army captain named Dulot, who had sold his soul, on the night he dies, where has is given the opportunity to win it back. That’s the story in a nutshell, but really tells you almost nothing about the issue in question.
So, Monsieur Harper, how did you enjoy this issue?
David: I thought it was more of a throwback, classic Hellboy style story. It really read like it was just a more straightforward “Hellboy goes on a quick adventure” type story while also throwing in some information about what the current state of Hell is and how that power vacuum is going to be filled. It was a fun little story, but man, is it just me or was that deal the three guys made awful? 7 years of a whip that gives you gold each time you use it in exchange for your soul? The gold coins part is pretty awesome, but 7 years? Jeez, drive a harder bargain.
All in all, a rock solid Hellboy issue though, with very strong Mignola art and, like I said, a nice throwback style story. What did you think?
Brian: I concur – it felt like an old-school Hellboy story wrapped up in the modern setting of Hell. I thought it hit on a lot of the strong aspects of the Hellboy character – the humor, the kindness – while still establishing just what sort of place Hell is at the moment, and how Hellboy fits into that.
The art, of course, is the star here. Having Mignola drawing Hellboy again continues to be an absolute joy. His style has gotten even more sparse in Hell, and there were some beautifully simple panels that evoked more than could reasonably be expected from entire pages.
David: Yeah, this issue really feels like Mignola boiling the book down to what he wants to be doing, aka not drawing cars. It works really well for his art – even though traditionally, I’m more of a Guy Davis/Duncan Fegredo guy (blasphemy alert!) – and allows him to tell the story in the way he really wants to. Lots of really pulled back camera shots, sparse, simple panels, deft manipulation of scale and, as per usual, incredible coloring by Dave Stewart highlight the issue, and for Mignola super-fans it is an absolute bonanza.
Besides the art, what did you enjoy in particular about this issue?
Brian: Well, I think it is hard to separate the art from the story in this case, as the two are so intrinsically linked here. I think what makes the story so interesting is how the art and the story play off each other – the story, on the surface, is a simple one, but the way Mignola attacks it makes it so much more interesting.
That said, I think it is interesting that despite dying in 2011, the Hell that we find our boy in is somewhat timeless. We know that because Hellboy greatly influences the circumstances surrounding Dulat’s death in 1819, so time is a miasma here, which can lead to lots of interesting stories.Continued below
We also see Hellboy get two running mates, in the two soldiers that didn’t desert along with Dulat. Do you think they’ll be sticking around for very long?
David: Well, to be fair it’s hard to separate art from story in any comics case, as they’re both story in any comic. It’s not like Hellboy is one-of-a-kind in that regard. I just meant if there were any plotting/character notes that stood out in particular to you.
The two running mates…I wouldn’t bet on it. I think they’re kind of just with him for a time. I think an underlying note here is Hellboy is lonely but not in such a way that he’s announcing it. He’s welcoming of any comers, including those two soldiers and Dulat. It’s hard to tell how long they’ll stick around, but I highly doubt they’ll be around for long as based off Mignola’s work so far here, he’s certainly economical in his storytelling and adding two randoms for a prolonged period doesn’t seem high on his agenda.
Time for Hellboy himself though has always been a bit atypical in the way time works around him, but I have to ask what you mean as to how Hellboy influences Dulat’s death in 1819? I didn’t follow that.
Brian: Of course it is difficult to separate story from art, but in a book like this, from one creator, where the art is clearly the engine that drives the story, it becomes even more difficult. That’s all I meant.
As for how Hellboy influenced his death, let me rephrase that – he influenced the circumstances involving his soul: when his body is found, it is found with the inscription “His soul, His own” on a nearby stone. This means that he won his soul back, via Hellboy helping him to meet the demon’s grandmother. Since Hellboy died in 2011, and Dulat in 1819, it means that time in Hell is even more elastic, since Hellboy was able to help Dulat almost 200 years before he himself entered Hell.
What would you give the book?
Brian: It is always tough to grade these books, because they are of a class of their own. There is literally nothing I would change, or suggest needs improvement in this issue, but I also don’t think this deserves a perfect score.
I’ll say this is a 9.0 comic, even though that simultaneously feels low and high to me. You?
David: It’s a good Hellboy story, not a great one. Honestly, I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve traditionally been a bigger fan of B.P.R.D. than Hellboy, and while I enjoyed this, there wasn’t anything that really floored me. There wasn’t anything that left me thinking “WOW!” like the classic stories of yesteryear for Hellboy, and while it’s always good to have new Hellboy, it still is more like an 8.0 for me. It definitely is interesting reading this after rereading the first three Library Editions in-between issues, though, and underlines how similar this feels to many of the one-off stories we’ve gotten in the past.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Buy