Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

04 September 2009

Hellboy, v. 6: Strange Places

Collects: Hellboy: The Third Wish #1-2 and Hellboy: The Island #1-2 (2002, 2005)

Released: April 2006 (Dark Horse)

Format: 128 pages / color / $17.95 / ISBN: 9781593074753

What is this?: Hellboy under the sea! Hellboy, fighting on the beaches!

The culprit: Mike Mignola

To conclude Hellboy Week, we have Hellboy, v. 6 : Strange Places. This is an odd one; the two miniseries that make up this volume were published three years apart, separated by writer / artist / creator Mike Mignola’s work on the first Hellboy movie and other projects.

In 2002’s “The Third Wish,” Hellboy goes to Africa, as promised in Conqueror Worm. He spends very little time there, as he’s almost immediately dropped under the sea. There he doesn’t find singing lobsters or flounders, but he is immediately attacked by three malevolent mermaids who capture him for a sea hag called the Bog Roosh. The Bog Roosh, fearing his destiny is to end the world, plans to dismember him and stop that destiny. In 2005’s “The Island,” he fights a giant worm and listens to exposition. (The latter is less exciting than you’d think.)

Hellboy, v. 6: Strange Places coverBoth “The Third Wish” and “The Island” focus heavily on Hellboy’s destiny. I don’t know if most readers will think thats as boring as I did, but I found it didn’t make for a compelling story. Hellboy seems aimless, tossed from one point on the globe to another, with people yelling at him that he will end the world. Hellboy is baffled, then punches people, and the story ends. It’s less than satisfying. Hellboy doesn’t seem to defy or deny his alleged destiny so much as he reflexively punches those who believe in it.

As with Conqueror Worm, Mignola features ghosts or spirits of those killed long ago. In both stories, the dead rise and bring a sense of justice to the story — old crimes redressed in “The Island,” the innocent getting a little comfort in “The Third Wish.” Hellboy has little to do with the moral compass of either story. He’s just … again, he punches and stabs creatures and gets punched and stabbed. He doesn’t even get much in the way of witty dialogue.

That puts the burden of the story on the villains and other characters. The Bog Roosh has one plan and needlessly delays long enough for Hellboy to foil it. In “The Island,” the antagonists are a giant worm and a long-dead heretic who knows the true history of the world. And of course, we get to hear the history of the world and the heretic’s history; neither is interesting. Do I care about the creation story for the entity who will use Hellboy’s hand to destroy the world? No, because he’s a dragon who will destroy the world. That’s all I need to know. Do I care about the heretic’s story or why the Inquisition killed him? No, he’s not interesting either. I do care how the inquisitors were reanimated to torment him, but Mignola doesn’t explain that.

So there aren’t any interesting characters in “The Island” except Hellboy, who doesn’t do a hell of a lot. This is a problem. But man, can Hellboy take the abuse!

The lackluster stories make me want to give a stern lecture to Mignola the writer because he’s wasting the work of Mignola the artist. Mignola notes he mainly wanted to draw rocks and monsters when penciling the story that inspired “The Third Wish.” Those still are Mignola’s strengths, and fortunately, there are a lot of them in both stories. Mignola’s atmospherics are superb, and one scene — one with ghost sailors drinking on a derelict ship in “The Island” — makes me feel the conviviality of the ghosts and the desolation of the true setting. The book also includes the original first eight pages of “The Island,” originally a much different story. There’s no lettering, but those pages are the best part of the book; I’d dearly like to see Mignola finish the story, perhaps by stepping away from Hellboy’s mythology for a few pages.

This book also has a “Now a major motion picture: Hellboy II” sticker on it. I cannot think of a more deceptive way to advertise this book.

Unless you’re incredibly interested in Hellboy’s mythology, the reason to get this book is to look at Mignola’s monsters. I am not enough of a fan of anyone’s art to buy a book for that reason, but it’s worth reading — or least thumbing through — for Mignola’s art.

Rating: BPRD symbol Half a BPRD symbol (1.5 of 5)

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