Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Straight to Hell, Boy

Mike Mignola and his pals have been producing excellent Hellboy comics for nearly two decades now, crafting a massive and far-reaching epic that manages to be creepy, exciting, goofy, spooky and beautiful, all at the same time. The Hellboy comics and the various spin-offs are some of the most stylish and visually exciting action comics on the stands, and the stories are always rewarding. Hellboy has spawned a miniature comic empire of its own, and produced two reasonably successful movies. Hellboy comics are emotionally rich and full of powerful action, and have been for years.

I think it’s about time I started buying it.

In my defense, I was there at the start, buying all four Seed of Destruction comics off the shelves of one of the first comic shops I ever went to, although that was mainly because I was a John Byrne completist at the time, even if he was just doing the dialogue. (Although I had been a huge fan of Mignola’s work ever since he showed up in an early issue of X-Force and did a dozen pages that made all the hot artists of the time look like the amateurs they really were.)

But I lost track of Hellboy, and somebody borrowed those first Hellboy comics and never ended up giving them back, and the next thing I knew there were dozens of Hellboy comics, and even more spin-offs, and I didn’t even know where to start. By the time I even realised BPRD was a thing, there were half a dozen trade paperbacks, and now there are Baltimore and Witchfinder books to check out.

It’s a small mountain of reading material to get through, and even though every single book in the Hellboy universe has been thoughtful, rewarding and entertaining, it can still take a long, long time to get through it all.

Even though I quickly lost track, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time, and have read almost all of the Hellboy world comics, in some form or another, and almost completely out of order. Some through friends, most through local libraries. It can get very confusing, but it’s always worth it, because they always turn out to be fucking awesome comics.

They are always beautiful books, from both an art and design perspective. Mignola’s use of negative space and thick colour have influenced a small stable of artists who still have their own identifiable style – Duncan Fegredo’s beautiful work always, always looks like Duncan Fegredo art – helping to create a cohesive world that has a certain style, look and feel all of its own.

And the long game that Mignola is playing is rewarding, often in unexpectedly moving ways. Plot elements set up in the very first Hellboy stories are only just paying off, and the world has enough depth and feeling, so that it actually means something when somebody is betrayed, or makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Hellboy comics are always good.

They’re so good that you never really see them show up in the cheap bins, which is where I usually get started on something that is too big to follow. Pick up a few issues from a few different $1 bins, and before you know it, you’ve got enough of a huge comic that it is relatively painless to fill in the gaps. I’m still collecting things like Cerebus and Bacchus this way.

But I have never seen issues of Hellboy of the dollar bin. They never really filter through into the second-hand market. People who buy Hellboy tend to hold on to Hellboy.

Until a couple of weeks ago where - at the same place I was finally turned on to Chaykin – I picked up a couple dozen of Hellboy issues from the Gotham Comics stand for a buck each.

This was a good score.

It was a mix of the past 15 years worth of Hellboy, little one-offs like Hellboy Jr, or stories with beautiful art by the likes of Kevin Nowlan and Richard Corben, a few random pieces of the overall tapestry, and – most interestingly – all of The Fury storyline.

The Fury is the one of the peaks of the Hellboy story, with the main character’s time on Earth coming to a spectacular and horrific climax. It’s suitably apocalyptic, with thousands, possibly millions, of innocent people incinerated by fire from heaven, and Hellboy in the centre of it all, trying to stop the end of the world with punching.

His blunt force does work, and Hellboy does bring a halt to Armageddon with his tenacious will and fucking giant fist, but does end up making the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say this is where Hellboy dies – it’s been promised since 1993, and the next series is called ‘Hellboy In Hell’. After all, he was often promised that his story would not end with his demise, and that he would never know the peace of the grave.

Mignola is coming back with Hellboy in Hell, which is terribly exciting news, because even though the work of Fegredo and others has been outstanding, (especially with the weirdly trans-atlantic feel of the series), Mignola is still a master, and never looks happier than when he is drawing a new Hellboy story.

So that’s where I’m finally jumping on the Hellwagon. The promise of more Mignola, the fact that The Fury was just so good, and the obvious fact that the storyline is at such an interesting position that I really can’t wait for the inevitable collection. I want to know now what is happening in Hellboy. I have to see where it is going.

And if I’m coming on too late, if this is the end of Hellboy completely, now that he has finally come to his long-prophesised death, then that is okay, because I have a lot still to catch up on, and plenty of older material to devour.

I do feel a bit guilty that it has taken me this long to really dig the Hellboy, to the point where I will be buying every new issue from now on, but hell, better late than never.

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