Feature: Hellboy: The Bones of Giants #1 Reviews 

Mignolaversity: “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #1

By and | November 3rd, 2021
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Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Hellboy: The Bones of Giants novel, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden return to this beloved classic to adapt it to comics with Matt Smith, Chris O’Halloran, and Clem Robins. We’ve never seen a project quite like this in the Hellboy Universe, and it makes for a truly exciting comic.

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Matt Smith
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by Clem Robins

When a startling discovery is made in Sweden, the B.P.R.D. sends Hellboy and Abe Sapien to investigate. What ensues is a wild adventure full of Norse legends, mythical creatures, and a threat that could bring not just Earth but the Nine Realms of Norse mythology to their knees.

Based on the illustrated novel by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, this four-part comics adaptation of Hellboy: The Bones of Giants brings readers into Hellboy’s fight against the Frost Giants with stunning art by Matt Smith (Hellboy and the B.P.R.D: Long Night at Goloski Station, Barbarian Lord, Folklords) and colors by Chris O’Halloran (Folklords, Black Panther, Ice Cream Man).

Hellboy: The Bones of Giants
Cover by Mike Mignola
Mark Tweedale: “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” is a fascinating project to me. It’s adapting a prose novel written by Christopher Golden from a story idea by Mike Mignola. I first read it around 2007, and even though it was prose, I can’t help but remember it as a comic—I see Mike Mignola’s art and Dave Stewart’s colors—and so in a strange way this comic has already existed inside my head for well over a decade.

And now it is a comic. And I must say, the pictures Christopher Golden painted with his words were certainly well chosen, because I look at some panels of this comic, and it’s like they’ve been plucked right out of my memory. It is an uncanny experience. Wonderful, but uncanny. How about you, James, do you have any history with the original prose novel?

James Dowling: I’ve never read the novel, so I went into this project fairly clueless. Despite all that, the original book really seems to show its skeleton through this new series. The opening narration reverberates through the introduction and carries that lavish style you’d expect in prose.

Mark: Yeah, that’s a truncated version of the opening line from the novel.

Like the death cry of an antique god, thunder tore the night sky asunder and the northland trembled at its fury.

James: I can definitely see the déjà vu factor that’d awaken if you went through the original illustrated book before this adaptation. Matt Smith is channeling so much of Mignola in his inks and character designs. At times it really works, but there’re also moments where it doesn’t feel like his own recognizable style anymore. He’s strong enough as an artist on his own, but you can definitely see how this project, more than any other in the Mignolaverse, would leave him straddling two different art styles. That said, there are some really stand-out sequences where you can barely tell where Mignola begins and Smith ends!

Mark: Oh, for sure. And that’s very deliberate. I mean, the original novel had illustrations by Mike Mignola. In the prologue, he punctuates moments with these bold panels of lightning again and again. It was such an iconic part of the book, it simply had to be a part of the comic. When Smith draws those bolts of lightning, he’s not just drawing lightning, he’s specifically drawing Mignola lightning.

An illustration from Hellboy: The Bones of Giants by Mike Mignola

That said, the comic also jumps over a lot. The very next scene has Hellboy and Abe rocking up to the scene, something that doesn’t happen in the novel till mid chapter two. It’s faithful, but the pacing is radically different. And I ended up loving that—not because I didn’t love the pacing of the novel (because I do love the pacing of the novel), but because if I’m going to read this story again, it’s fun to experience it in an entirely new way.

Continued below

James: Yeah, this issue really moves along at a clip. I think with most adaptations it comes down to the choice between allowing for more of the original form to fit in authentically, or choosing to prioritize the attributes of the new medium. By choosing the latter, Golden and Mignola give Smith a lot more real estate to inject his style into the story without walls of narration. He’s communicating so much of that original text just through his evocative art, and it makes the whole book more organic.

Mark: Smith knows these characters so well, so their body language is on point and can do a lot of invisible storytelling. Abe especially gets to shine in this story—he’s not a major influence on the events that are happening, to the point that he could almost be taken out and the plot would still work, so his main influence is in the character of the story. We get to see Hellboy and Abe on the job, but more importantly, we get to see them as friends. This is an aspect of the book I love and was very happy to see make it to the comics page because, oddly enough, in over twenty-five years we haven’t seen that much of it. We hear about it, we know it exists, but Abe and Hellboy are so rarely on the same page, and when they are, things are often too tense to showcase this stuff. There is a lightness here that allows us to see a more playful side of the Hellboy Universe.

James: Yeah, there’s this camaraderie between them that’s so instantly nostalgic; they’re great foils to one another and it brings back the tone of those early classics like ‘Seed of Destruction’ and ‘Conqueror Worm.’ You’re right as well that Smith’s Abe is far more expressive than he usually gets to be. It makes his role as an emotional foil that much more enjoyable to read. He’s generally just great with expression, even when he gets into those classic heavy inks, all of the subtle expression is visible.

I think a large part of that very well-defined emotional status quo for these two characters comes from Matt Smith’s knack for costume design too. This is a topic I’m a bit obsessed with, but artists who have an eye for scenario-specific costuming always make more expressive and empathetic creators. From the outset, his Hellboy is perfect. The nonchalant slouch and classic B.P.R.D. uniform he sports manages to sit in complete opposition to the tense atmosphere and heavy winter-wear of everyone else in the scene and tells readers straight away that this is a version of the character who doesn’t feel like he needs to hide his nature from others. It’s a casual and endearing start point for the story.

The further I got through the story as well, the more I appreciated that ability to adapt style to the scene. Without getting too specific, Hellboy and Abe both are able to dress in more nondescript but equally expressive ways in more crowded scenes, and even the way they sleep becomes a well-placed mirror into their outlook.

Mark: You bring up a good point and one that I think is worthy of a more in-depth discussion, so I’m going to drop a spoiler warning here. I’m going to assume that you, like me, loved seeing Hellboy in a hoodie.

Like you said, Hellboy was out in the elements earlier in his usual B.P.R.D. getup, but now suddenly he’s wearing a hoodie, which means he’s wearing it for reasons other than warmth. It tells us so much about how Hellboy feels about the people he’s approaching. There’s not a lot he can do to conceal his hand, of course, but at least as a head in the crowd, you can no longer see his horn stumps, which will let him get a little closer before alarming Pernilla. It’s economical storytelling and takes the burden of the dialogue to carry this stuff.

James: It reminds me of Jack Kirby’s costume of the Thing in a trench coat, it’s more about the intention to be nondescript, even though he’s still obviously noticeable.

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Mark: And it gives us a sense of the history there—and, oh boy, is there history. This ties back in with the 1990s short story “Hellboy: King Vold,” where Hellboy was nearly killed by a bunch of berserkers thanks to Professor Aickman. It’s here we again see Smith leaning heavily into Mignola’s style for those flashback panels.

James: Yeah, they’re almost indistinguishable! Not just the pencils either, the scene composition, detailing and expression are all just pitch perfect. I think it raises a really good point about the environmental storytelling in this issue as well. There’s a lot of glyphs and symbology throughout that leaks between so many different elements and environments. So even when it doesn’t lead to the most direct interpretation, it still gives this great artistic throughline across the issue.

Mark: I have to assume a big part of this is driven by Golden’s writing, even though it’s mostly felt in the art, because this is also a huge part of the book. The book goes into detail about certain environments so that we can begin to piece things together, but in a comic this manifests without a word being said.

James: The art direction definitely feels like a product of the full creative team; by this point they’re all great at layering and reinterpreting their own visual mindsets. That kind of artistic continuity feels most prevalent in the aforementioned urban sequence, we see a jacket that evokes all that same nordic paganism as the cave we just left, it’s like Hellboy and Abe are being chased down by the past, especially with Mjollnir stuck to Hellboy’s right hand.

Mark: (I just have to say, I love the “Hotel Bergting” sign. Peter Bergting is after all a major collaborator on several projects with Mignola and Golden, and Matt Smith is a huge fan of his work. It’s just very cool to catch details like that.)

But back to Mjollnir. . . there’s more going on here than in simply being stuck to Hellboy’s hand. Thor’s spirit is bound to the hammer, and it becomes a conduit for him to operate through Hellboy, so Hellboy isn’t always Hellboy in ‘The Bones of Giants.’ In the novel, this comes across very easily, since we’re in the character’s head to a certain extent and we know immediately when he is and isn’t in control. The comic has to approach this in an entirely different way.

And this is where Clem Robins shines. He’s been working on the Hellboy Universe for a long time now, so there are certain rules at play in his lettering. Even still, we get to see him use a technique that doesn’t show up much at all in the Hellboy Universe, using a new typeface for Thor’s dialogue. It’s a simple and elegant solution, and most importantly, it reads effortlessly. There is no explanation needed, we just get it. And it’s, of course, totally supported by the body language and expressions on Hellboy in Smith’s art.

And he uses the same technique, but a much more subtle version of it, when Ratatosk shows up at the end of the issue. We spoke earlier about the pacing, and this is the stuff that it boils down to—clarity and economy. A brisk pace only works with these elements at play.

James: Beyond just the perfect style of Thor’s lettering, I think the whole creative team bring a great voice to that character (or at least the figment of him we’re seeing through Mjollnir), Smith gives Hellboy a whole new kind of facial expression when he’s possessed, while Mignola and Golden inject a level of drama that Hellboy wouldn’t be caught dead using.

It feels like the conflict between these two characters is so well defined before they’ve even been placed in a knowingly adversarial position. Thor’s power plays are overt, but even just seeing Hellboy examining the corpse of Thor feels very sinister and symbolic. Hellboy has always acted as this great endpoint to, or reinterpretation of, the classic warrior-hero protagonists like Thor, King Arthur, and other classically divine figures. So with that direct contrast here, we can’t help but see where he will end up in later stories, and how those old gods are still trying to fight back now.

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Hellboy: Absolutely. Hellboy was even compared to Thor directly in “Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury.”

Art by Duncan Fegredo with colors by Dave Stewart and lettering by Clem Robins

James: Yeah, we’re one issue in, and I already feel like this is one of the most elegant prequel stories Hellboy has had both stylistically and thematically. I’m pretty confident in saying that we both have a clear favourite moment in terms of the comic’s mythological contrasts too, which is the stand-out Rangarok flashback when Hellboy is first bonded to Mjollnir. It’s a stand-out sequence from Matt Smith, and especially from Chris O’Halloran.

Mark: Chris O’Halloran is fantastic throughout this entire issue, but those three pages are epically good. My jaw hit the floor. He’s clearly riffing on things Dave Stewart has done, the way the scene is bathed in red is a huge part of the language of “Hellboy,” but it isn’t mimicry either. The addition of violet gives this sequence its own feeling, truly taking us to another world. This has the same bones as the battle on Vigrid Field in “Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury,” and of the other Ragna Rok at the end of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know.” As it should, given Ragna Rok’s name comes from Ragnarok!

James: Once again, this issue feels effortlessly mythic in how it weaves together so many motifs, techniques and concepts from everything set to happen in Hellboy’s future. That idea of a tapestry kind of flows into this sequence, with the opening panel presenting this great dichotomy either side of Thor, with the coiling movements of Jormungand really leading the reader’s eye through the sequence. It’s this perfect vista of color and kineticism.

Mark: It’s funny to think of this as a prequel, because it sort of became one by accident. At the time Hellboy: The Bones of Giants came out, it was simply just a part of the ongoing narrative. It’s only become a prequel as a comic. Given that Mike Mignola came up with this story, and Golden has even mentioned he was probably originally thinking of it being a comic, it’s funny how it’s sort of come all the way around back to a comic again. But all these thematic elements would’ve been bubbling around in Mignola’s head when this story was first released, and then coalesced as he got into ‘The Wild Hunt’ trilogy, so it’s not a case of it being one of those prequels that attempts to explain something from the past after the fact. It’s more organic than that.

James: Yeah, it definitely makes it feel like a far more neatly fitted story because of that serendipitous timing, both for the original novel and this reinterpretation. I think that will also make it a very rewarding book for new readers regardless of when they get to it. Whether it’s before ‘Seeds of Destruction,’ right around ‘The Wild Hunt’ or even after ‘The Devil You Know,’ it’s just a naturally evocative and rewarding companion.

The only area that I found outright frustrating was how the characters around Abe, Hellboy and Thor were heavily relegated to the sidelines. Even Pernilla, who should have a great perspective and position, feels very empty so far. Obviously, there’s a lot of narrative to fit in here, but it would be engaging to have some outside perspectives in this story, rather than the same ones we have had thoroughly explored before.

Mark: This is definitely a space thing to a point, since the novel builds up the supporting cast so much more. I think it’s important to clarify, the comic is not a replacement for the book, nor is it meant to be. It’s a companion volume. If you enjoy one, I absolutely recommend the other. In fact, I really, really hope Dark Horse puts together a nice volume with both the novel and the comic collected together. (Hopefully in a library edition.)

James: I would love to see that as a collected edition, especially with some behind the scenes on the adaptation process. It would make a great director’s cut!

Mark: Anyway, we should probably grade this one. It’s a solid 9 for me. No surprise really, since I love the original novel, I love everyone’s work on the creative team—this project is practically wish fulfillment.

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James: It’s a 9 from me as well. This story gave Matt Smith and Chris O’Halloran an amazing platform to express their own styles while innovating on the prolific work of Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart. The story is an effortless companion to Hellboy’s later exploration of his nature and relationship with divinity, while giving us some of the best understated camaraderie between him and Abe that we’ve ever had. If the rest of the series holds to this quality we’re going to have one of the most evocative “Hellboy” stories in years.

Mark: The Abe and Hellboy interactions alone earn it the 9. Great stuff.

Final Verdict: 9 – “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #1 is not only a great adaptation of the original prose novel, but an excellent showcase for the artistic signature, thematic consistency, and collaborative quality that the Hellboy Universe is so famous for. “Hellboy” fans both new and old will find a story here that rewards any knowledge base and only improves in retrospect.

//TAGS | Mignolaversity

James Dowling

James Dowling is probably the last person on Earth who enjoyed the film Real Steel. He has other weird opinions about Hellboy, CHVRCHES, Squirrel Girl and the disappearance of Harold Holt. Follow him @James_Dow1ing on Twitter if you want to argue about Hugh Jackman's best film to date.


Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.


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