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

01 October 2010

Hellboy, v. 7: The Troll Witch and Others

Collects: Hellboy stories from various Hellboy and Dark Horse series (2003-6)

Released: October 2007 (Dark Horse)

Format: 144 pages / color / $17.95 / ISBN: 9781593078607

What is this?: Odds and ends from Hellboy’s (and Mike Mignola’s) career

The culprits: Mike Mignola, with P. Craig Russell and Richard Corben illustrating one story each

For the first of my two consecutive Hellboy reviews, we have Hellboy, v. 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories. Troll Witch is a set of miscellaneous short pieces grouped together into one volume; the longest, “Makoma,” was a two-issue mini, but the rest were collected in anthologies or produced specifically for this volume. As with most collections of short pieces, the stories in Troll Witch are uneven.

Hellboy, v. 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories coverThe title story is the best of the lot. It’s a simple tale that Mignola borrows from a Scandanavian folktale, only to have one of the characters in the story specifically point out the folk tale ends too neatly. The story ends with a nice character moment for Hellboy as well, with the witch seeing a bit too deeply into Hellboy’s psyche for his comfort. “Dr. Carp’s Experiment” is a nice little story as well, involving mad Victorian science, time travel, and demon apes. Unfortunately, it’s a little reminiscent of Inger von Klemt and his Kriegaffe in Hellboy, v. 5: Conqueror Worm.

The other short tales are not quite as impressive, although each generally has some interesting visual. “The Penanggalan” has the penanggalan, a south Asian monster in which the head and all the internal organs separate from the body. On the other hand, there’s not much else to the story, besides Hellboy making fun of the creature’s origin. In “The Hydra and the Lion,” Hellboy gets to fight a hydra and tie its heads into knots, but the explanation for an unexpected ally is a bit too … I want to say “stupid” but I’ll go with “psychological for me to fit into a physical world.” The vampire in “The Vampire of Prague” gets to kick its own disembodied head around for a while, but the story’s resolution involves playing cards and puppets in a way I don’t really think came together. And I didn’t care for the poetry-spouting monster in “The Ghoul” at all, despite a puppet performance of Hamlet in the background.

“Makoma” is the final story in Troll Witch. It tells the story of an African folk hero who defeats giants and dragons and demons and communes with the spirits of the land, as folk heroes are wont to do. Mignola ties the story into Hellboy continuity by telling the story with Hellboy in the role of Makoma and having one of his adversaries tempt him with his demonic destiny. The story itself is interesting — for nothing else, the setting and culture is novel — but the tie-in to Hellboy is less than convincing.

Mignola provides the art for most of these stories. It’s the same Mignola art that readers have become used to, blocky and shadowy and synonymous with the Hellboy Universe. In the introduction, Walt Simonson calls Mignola’s dialogue “sparse” to the point of requiring reader interpolation, but sometimes I find his visual storytelling in “Troll Witch” equally spare, requiring a second (or third) read to figure out why the climax actually makes sense.

Two stories are illustrated by others: P. Craig Russell draws “The Vampire of Prague” and Richard Corben contributes to “Makoma.” Both are excellent artists, but it’s jarring to see Hellboy and his world drawn by someone other than Mignola. (I’ll have to get used to it, as the next three volumes are drawn by Duncan Fegredo and others.) I was excited to see what Russell would do with his story, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the book: it’s clean, bright, smooth. In another book, I would be all over it, but here, it just seems off. Corben’s work fits better — no doubt helped by “Makoma”’s framing sequence, drawn by Mignola. It’s obviously not Mignola, but the colors are more muted and there are just enough rough edges to remind us that the life of a monster hunter isn’t all pretty people and sparkly vampires.

If you’re a fan of Hellboy, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pick this up, as the book shows some of the monsters Hellboy has encountered in his career. On the other hand, if you’re more interested in Hellboy’s development as a character … this doesn’t move it forward much. There’s a glimpse of Hellboy’s internal conflict in “Makoma” and “The Troll Witch,” but only a glimpse. And if you haven’t read Hellboy before, start somewhere else.

Rating: BPRD symbol BPRD symbol (2 of 5)

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