Monday, June 27, 2005

Comic: Hellboy - The Island #1

Cover for Hellboy - The Island #1

After two years at the bottom of the ocean - and a four year absence from comic shelves - Mike Mignola's Hellboy made his triumphant return last Wednesday in Hellboy - The Island #1. To me, the strangest thing was the lack of publicity; I had heard that it was coming out, but didn't know when or where. I mean, the movie brought in close to $100 million worldwide, so they have a fanbase: you'd figure they'd want to at least give the comic stores some posters or something...anyhow. This isn't about Dark Horse's PR Department, it's about the book. And it's a damn fine one.

The story's a little convoluted: in the present, Hellboy surfaces on an island surrounded by the skeletons of wrecked ships and finds himself facing an old enemy, while in the past, a priest confronts a heretic with his sins. The stories shift in a surreal fashion, and by the end of the first issue, you know something's gone terribly wrong, but you're not sure what it was or what it means. Some might see the unclear story as bad writing, but I think it's a good narrative strategy: it's Hellboy's first time above water, so he's probably a little groggy himself, and keeping the audience in the dark is a classic horror convention because it works.

The book's strengths have always been Mignola's characterization of Hellboy and his visual style, and this book has them in spades. Hellboy could have been a really melodramatic character; the demon who rejects his true nature, unaware of his origins or his true history. Mignola makes him a blue-collar guy, who likes brawling, boozing, and the occasional classic work of literature. His character is compelling simply because he's an ordinary guy who's put in extraordinary situations, who just happens to be spawned from the netherworld. My favourite line from the book - "Don't mess with me lady. I've been drinking with skeletons." - sums up his situation quite succinctly.

Mignola also give us a visual feast in this issue. His art is highly stylized, panels containing only what is absolutely needed for that part of the scene. In the close-ups, facial expressions are overwhelming and the backgrounds are single colors with little detail, and in shots of vast backgrounds or large-scale fight scenes, his characters can lack even the simplest of facial details. And through it all, huge black shadows fall across recessed hallways, ancient buildings, and weathered faces that populate this world. The art is striking and instantly recognizable, and Mignola in top form in this issue.

Hellboy - The Island is only a two-issue series, and that's the only bad thing I can say about it. After four years, I simply want more Hellboy, more often. But I'll make due with what I can get.

(Best suggestion from Blogger's spellcheck: "Hellboy? What the hell does that mean? He must be thinking elbow.")

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