Anyone worried that they wouldn’t get any new Hellboy for awhile after the events in Hellboy: The Fury can breathe a sigh of relief. Mike Mignola has gone backwards in time just as often as he has pushed his narrative forward, and it is evident that Mignola and legendary artist Richard Corben still had some stories to tell. We get our Hellboy fix for Autumn.
Taking place directly after the one-shot Hellboy in Mexico (collected in Hellboy: The Bride of Hell and Others), Hellboy: House of the Living Dead is the first direct sequel to a one-shot that I know of, and the first Hellboy original graphic novel. It is a hardcover and runs about 56 pages.
The title is an allusion to two Universal Monster films, House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. If you haven’t seen those films, they came at the low ebb of the Universal Monster series and basically get together the famous monsters — Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman — for a battle royale. Mignola acknowledges these "sort-of-terrible" films as influences, along with the Mexican wrestler vs monster films like Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro.
The story basically tells of an event during Hellboy's lost five months when he was drunk and in despair in the Mexican desert. He couldn’t stop his friend from being turned into a vampire, and is trying to drown his guilt in booze and cheap sports. One night after a match, Hellboy is approached by a stranger with a challenge: Hellboy must face an unknown champion and win, or else a young girl dies. Hellboy reluctantly agrees, and he finds himself lead to an old, falling down castle with a full Mad Scientist’s laboratory in the basement. And Hellboy’s mysterious wrestling opponent is — I am sure you can see where this is going.
Mignola has never bowed to convention, and House of the Living Dead is much more than a homage to Universal Horror. Sure, it is obvious that he wanted to make a story involving a bunch of classic monsters and some Mexican wrestlers, but the story ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Few of the characters follow their pre-written script, except perhaps for the Wolfman who is pure, doomed Larry Talbot. Combining the monsters with Mexico, Mignola takes a smattering of loose, unconnected elements and works them into a poignant story. The ending is fantastic, and put just the right cherry on an already fabulous cake.
To say that Richard Corben’s art is great is to like saying that water is wet. I have run out of adjectives describing just how cool his drawings are. Corben has cemented himself as a necessary part of Hellboy, and I look forward to Corben-drawn Hellboy stories as much as I look forward to Mignola-drawn Hellboy stories. Corben’s twisted little Dr. Frankenstein (Dr. Jose Luis Kogan) is a round little slimy charlatan with a fantastic rubbery face. And Corben’s Monster captures that perfect blend of horror and sympathy without copying any of the famous interpretations.
As always, hail to colorist Dave Stewart who makes everything so much sweeter. There is a scene when the lightning comes to bring the Monster to life where the color makes all the difference. Stewart provides the necessary continuity that makes everything feel like Hellboy.
I loved Hellboy: House of the Living Dead. As much as I enjoy the continuing adventures of Hellboy in series like Darkness Calls and The Fury, and as much as I am looking forward to Hellboy in Hell, my favorite Hellboy adventures are just like this: Hellboy wandering the world encountering monsters. After all, Hellboy is the modern descendent of weird fiction, and that particular genre was always served best by the short story. And few modern comic writers are masters of the short story like Mike Mignola.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.