“Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land” #4 closes the book on the story with appropriate fairytale charm all while leaving the door open for further adventures of the Ohnna, Scarlett Santiago, and the pint-size Young Hellboy. The finale delivers more jaw-dropping action and starry-eyed optimism, albeit with some struggles in its delivery.
Full spoilers to follow.
Written by Mike Mignola and Thomas Sniegoski
Illustrated by Craig Rousseau
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
The vampire queen Vesperra has awakened! The ancient ape-god of the island has emerged from his avatar to fight her, but it may not be enough. Can Hellboy, Professor Bruttenholm, and their hosts survive long enough for the two adventurers to escape from the mysterious island they crashed on?
Young Hellboy, from Mike Mignola, Thomas Sniegoski, artist Craig Rousseau, and colorist Dave Stewart comes to its exciting conclusion!
Mark Tweedale: Before we launch into the review, I just have to say Matt Smith’s cover on this issue is fantastic. I’ve loved them all, but this one takes the cake. The emotions from Hellboy and Un-Gaaah feel so vivid. Fantastic color choices too, especially the way it centers Hellboy’s red form against cooler colors.
James Dowing: Yeah, I still think that issue #3 cover was unmatched (might have to get it printed for my wall) but this was TOO fun. The use of scale between the foreground and background was such a joy, along with Hellboy’s weird grimace of bravery.
Mark: So, in our last review we talked a little about our expectations for the final issue. In particular we speculated as to how the story could possibly get back to where it began since it had become so big.
James: Yeah, turns out you were right on the money. It sort of… doesn’t fit the genie back in the bottle as much as it just makes everyone involved forget there was ever a genie at all.
Mark: Yeah, not only was it like the ending for “Flight 714 to Sydney,” they did exactly the same thing.
I suppose it’s kind of a fitting way to end a story that had so many homages to Hergé’s creation to end with a sequence right out of a Tintin book.
James: It’s a great homage, but I remember worrying at the start of this review series that this book lacked substance beyond its inspirations. By last issue though, it really felt like “The Hidden Land” had carved out its own niche while still maintaining that sense of a familiar lineage. The ending here though feels like an attempt to really self destruct that individuality, revelation and character motion.
Mark: In the last issue, the way everything was left, I thought the story would take a darker turn, but even after Scarlett’s “death,” both Hellboy and Trevor seem pretty detached. The bug peril never seems to nearly be upon them, always waiting at a respectful distance. The promise on the cover of a beat up and heartbroken Hellboy fending off bugs never came to fruition. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this issue, it’s just it was a very light issue.
I do wish there was more of a cost though. Like when Un-Gaaah is revived and returns to fight Vesperra, I would have liked it if afterwards Hellboy ran up, glad that Scarlett was alive. But this time Un-Gaaah doesn’t turn back into Scarlett, and suddenly Hellboy realizes she was the trade to bring Un-Gaaah back. I don’t need that scene exactly, of course. I just mean the story needed a cost for the victory.
James: Yeah, this comic isn’t dislikable. Instead it felt as though this issue just stalled its pacing so drastically, at its own expense. After the pretty high octane end point of last issue this one just entirely decompresses, even in some of the quirkier sequences where that pacing works, it just feels holistically damaging to the wider series.
It was the most pleasingly average issue of the story arc, but the moment I hit that last page, I felt like I had read so little of substance and hadn’t felt any of that suspense or scale from the last issue. There are some great sequences of art, but like you said, there’s no consequence, and it’s propping up a story that can’t keep its own tempo.Continued below
Mark: You also see a story differently in retrospect. Knowing that in the end Hellboy and Bruttenholm will forget everything that happened, I wish something more had been done with that. We had this moment at the end where Bruttenholm realizes Hellboy can be happy on the island when he feels like he doesn’t have to fit into the human world, he can just be himself, but it’s a light moment, played more like a kid that wants to stay at his friend’s house a little longer.
I almost wonder how differently it would have played out if in the ancient ruins Hellboy had found drawings of his stone right hand, and didn’t want to return so he could hide from whatever destiny awaited him out there. At least then, returning to the real world and shouldering that burden would mean something. He’d have learnt something from Scarlett, who chose to shoulder the burden of being the guardian of the island, even if he’d never remember her.
And again, I’m not saying they should have done that, just that I needed some choice connected to their time on the island that leads them to the ending of choosing to forget and return. Ultimately, this was a fun romp. And I grinned a lot, especially during the Ohnna resurrection sequence, but it never really hit harder than that.
James: Yeah, I also feel like there was an opportunity to do something more dynamic with the island itself. It feels like this story had a chance to give Young Hellboy an arc away from this childhood wonder into that demure stoniness we associate with the character. Obviously we didn’t have to see the entirety of that in these four issues, but having this island that’s become a symbol of Hellboy’s freedom to adventure be more radically altered by Vesperra and her army. If it felt like Hellboy could not realistically stay in this environment that he loves it would give the finale that same sense of cost you’ve felt it lacking.
I also really enjoyed the Un-Gaaah resurrection sequence, it’s just quirky and something intentionally made to be cryptic and unresolved to the reader without removing any actual resolution from the issue. It was definitely one of those elements that was critically decompressed but it was also some of Rousseau’s best art for the issue.
Mark: I loved the way he showed the Vesperra and Un-Gaaah fight in the smoke of the elder’s fire. It’s such a simple thing, but effective.
I also liked the raptors hearing Vesperra ranting about her world conquest and being like, “Let’s get outta here. This lady’s trouble.”
James: I absolutely love how he draws monster bat Vesperra, and all those tricks like that just make their fight feel so much more grounded and in-scale, there really wasn’t the real estate for Rousseau to linger on the sequence, but the rematch he gave the two is so strongly rendered, it’s one of the most impressive parts of the story.
He is arguably the primary member of the creative team who actually does uphold and improve his creative quality across the entire run of the series. Even Stewart, who basically is immune to mistakes, didn’t have that same sense of connective resonance it did in the middle of the series. It’s still strong, just a lot more pared down than before. In a series already very oriented towards bold palettes, this goes even more defined, giving the issue a sense of fun non-miscibility, there’s just not as much that the coloring is signposting. Thoughts?
Mark: I disagree about Stewart. There’s this bit where the Ohnna paint themselves in red with the symbol of the right hand and apply it to a statue of Un-Gaaah, and Stewart matches those reds to Hellboy’s skin and his right hand. This is Stewart, so he knows his reds, and when he chooses the same ones, it’s significant. The symbol of the right hand is of course a symbol for Anum, the Watcher that took Vril, “the Fire of Heaven,” from the sky. So the Ohnna are channeling Vril into Scarlett to bring her back. And Hellboy is the same red because his stone right hand is the last remnant of Anum.Continued below
That and he’s still evoking the Un-Gaaah palette he established over the previous issues. And when the fight shifts from “we’re worried about Scarlett” to “Scarlett’s kicking butt and Hellboy’s telling a story about it” mode, he deliberately shifts from grey-ish backgrounds to vivid, energetic greens (which plays off Rousseau’s art nicely, since there’s a clear shift to more dramatic posing at that point too).
I think the capper for me was when Un-Gaaah bit Vesperra and the whole panel becomes flooded with Un-Gaaah’s palette. It’s an image that immediately says Un-Gaaah has won.
James: True, he never slouches in his ability to balance color palettes and play them off of one another.
You mention that perspective shift from when they’re amidst the danger to Hellboy recounting it in past tense. In theory I feel like that moment should have buckled an issue already drenched in pacing problems, but I really enjoyed it. There’s this feeling of catharsis in the model of delivery there before the actual catharsis of the moment. We also get some fairly allusory moments in the art and writing of how Hellboy recounts and play-fights the story. It feels like this series had a real chance to tell us stories unabashedly from the perspective of young Hellboy, and this resolution was arguably the best example of that to date.
Mark: That moment really worked for me too. In part, I think it’s because once Un-Gaaah comes back, we know where the story is going. The story doesn’t have any surprises to pull on us—Un Gaaah is going to beat up Vesperra and win, we all know it. So having Hellboy tell it to us adds a different energy. It allows us to revel in this punch-up between monsters like little kids. And it works because the series is called Young Hellboy, and this moment captures the ideas associated with that title really well.
It was the sheer joy of this moment that made me not mind that there wasn’t a cost to the victory, that the choice to leave the island and forget wasn’t attached to some deeper character element. The scene was just about Hellboy being a kid, about defeating the bad guy and not being burnt out at the end of it. He gets to cheer and whoop for joy. Maybe this miniseries could’ve been even better if it dug deeper, but that doesn’t take away from my fun here. This is an 8 for me.
James: I’m giving it a 6/10. I did really enjoy this but there really wasn’t enough substantive in it for me. That’s the same score I gave the first issue, which I left hoping for something more bold in the issues to come. The book came really close and succeeded in some aspects, but looking back I really can’t say I would’ve been any more satisfied with that first issue if I knew this was the end point for it. Nevertheless, great art, great colors, and so much respect for the classics of the genre.
Final Verdict: 7 – “Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land” is an exciting, pulpy adventure story, but ultimately a lightweight affair. If this was a regular “Hellboy” title, this might be a strike against it, but as a “Young Hellboy” title, it gets to indulge in a time when Hellboy could experience real joy from his victories without having to wrestle with some tragedy or darkness.