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Mignolaversity: “Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land” #1

By | February 17th, 2021
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The Mignolaverse’s opening salvo for 2021 is here with “Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land” #1, taking us back to one of Hellboy’s earliest adventures, a fight for survival on a savage island alongside Trevor Bruttenholm in the seminal years of the B.P.R.D. So let’s take a look back at one of our earliest Hellboy adventures since “B.P.R.D.:1947” and ‘Pancakes.’

Cover by Matt Smith
Written by Mike Mignola and Thomas Sniegoski
Illustrated by Craig Rousseau
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins

Stranded on a strange island after a mishap on their way to a South American dig site, Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm are confronted by all manner of monsters! But even when the stranger who rescues them turns out to be one of Hellboy’s heroes, they aren’t as safe as they think they are!

Join Hellboy creator Mike Mignola as he teams with writer Thomas Sniegoski, artist Craig Rousseau, and colorist Dave Stewart to bring you a tale of Hellboy’s childhood!

“Young Hellboy” is brimming with optimism in its art direction—it’s probably the most evident aspect of this book. It doesn’t matter whether you’re analysing Matt Smith’s lively cover ripped straight from a copy of Doc Savage or Tintin (in fact I would probably die before I could point out every Tintin homage in this book), Dave Stewart’s warm and inviting palette, or the golden-age Hollywood feel in every character and creature design, this book is made with the sole purpose of letting you delight in the unabashed adventure in front of you.

Mignola and Sniegoski waste no time throwing the reader straight into their rendition of ‘Hellboy: Skull Island’ here with giant crabs, homicidal apes, and velociraptors covering every base in the pulpy movie monster category from the 1930s to 1980s. While it’s hard to get sick of the nostalgia blast of super-crustaceans, it’s difficult to find much intrigue in a deserted island story when every medium has tread it and recontextualized it so thoroughly already. Obviously, I can’t just review everything on a spectrum of comparison, but when my mind keeps drawing me back to fonder memories of Darwyn Cooke’s Monster Island issue in “The New Frontier,” I can barely stop my eyes from glazing over each successive page of “Young Hellboy.”

What a perfect pair

Probably the most immediately novel aspect of the book is the art of first-time Mignola collaborator Craig Rousseau. He has this sort of childhood comic feel to his art that reminds me of those perfectly nostalgic Carl Barks “DuckTales” comics (I know it’s a weird frame of reference, but you’re just going to have to follow me on this). It’s filled with wonderfully expressive caricatures. His Hellboy is the best evidence of this, alive in every part of himself, whether it’s his loping jaw, overly bulging eyes or the Right Hand of Doom he’s still years away from growing into. He does seem to be one of the few characters adapted painlessly under Rousseau’s pencil however, as a lot of the physicality in his art comes off a bit wonky for other characters. That said, Rousseau is one of the most exciting additions to the Mignolaverse’s artistic roster in years, he presents a brand new stylistic branch that takes familiar elements from Guy Davis while presenting them with a whole new pitch. Rousseau’s original design for Scarlett Santiago, one of the book’s new characters, is also a welcome addition.

It almost feels unfair to review the returning duo of Dave Stewart and Clem Robins here—they have colored and lettered Mignola’s work for so long at this point that they have essentially become their own benchmark to measure up against, one they consistently and confidently exceed here.

I think Mignola and Sniegoski present some fairly unique characterizations for Hellboy and Bruttenholm in this period and place, which works to varying degrees. For one, they put a lot of care into showing that Bruttenholm never resents Hellboy’s company. They’re markedly caring for one another, despite the absenteeism that historically marks so many of their interactions. Placing Hellboy so far from the silent, brooding guy we know is also a pretty radical but valid interpretation. It just begs the question of whether we will see his shift towards interiority in this comic, or if Mignola and Sniegoski are going to stick with this talkative little kid purely for the tone it harkens back to throughout. Regardless, it’s hard not to enjoy seeing this starry-eyed little kid with stubble and a topknot. He also might be the first kid whose extensive research on quicksand has actually come in handy.

“Young Hellboy” is admirably good at running its pace, giving hardly three pages of set-up before pushing the reader down a non-stop survival marathon, an element that at least keeps it feeling immersed in the genre. A lot of the problems with non-uniquity and hollow characterization can be most likely hung on that breakneck entry into action. In the choice to establish a solid tone and adventure before moving out to wider horizons, rather than begin with an ingenuitive core and entering conflict gradually, Mignola and Sniegoski chose the former. I can’t say what would be more viable for the series overall at this point, but the disadvantage is that looking at this book from the beginning like this isn’t the most flattering portrait.

Final Verdict: 6 – “Young Hellboy” prioritizes action at the expense of character in its first issue, creating a book that’s familiar to the point of being unmemorable. That said, it absolutely has the capacity to take a sharp left turn into something integral, as a lot of Mignola’s best stories have in the past.

//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.


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