ADVANCE REVIEW! Hellboy in Hell #1 will go on sale Wednesday, December 5, 2012.
Hellboy in Hell #1 is great. Really, really, really, really great. Better than that. You know how sometimes big events are hyped so much that they can never live up to the expectations? Yeah, that didn't happen here. This is a perfect comic book.
Be warned — the rest of this review is slightly spoilerish. I don't really know how to talk about just how awesome this comic is without spilling a few of the beans, so there you are. If you don't want to know anything about this comic except for how perfect it is, stop right here. Here there be spoilers.
So Hellboy goes to Hell. Anytime an artist — comic book or otherwise — sends someone to Hell, there is always going to be the question of what kind of Hell is it going to be. Mignola has given us glimpses of Hell before, and tantalizing hints, but nothing concrete. His comics — and Hellboy in particular — have always had a Catholic bent, so I figured we would see something from the Medieval period. But the question remained; would he go classical, with Dante's organized Nine Circles? Would he go pure Hieronymus Bosch, with chaotic, twisted animal figures and demons out of a madman's nightmares? Or something from Milton or Rimbaud maybe? Perhaps with a hint of Lovecraft? (Although I doubted that. Lovecraft's work was always from beyond time and space, not Hell.) There have been so many depictions of Hell, and Mignola had centuries of tradition to draw from.
What I was not expecting, what would have been absolutely last on my list, was Charles Dickens.
And let me tell you, Hellboy in Hell #1 is just pure artistry. From the first pages, Mignola gives us a little recap, and then sends Hellboy straight into the Abyss. There are some splash pages, any one of which could be a poster on my wall. Then there is discombobulation, which is perfectly appropriate for a journey into Hell. Storywise, I didn't really know what was going on. Was I supposed to know these characters from previous issues? I have been reading Hellboy from issue #1, but I didn't recognize most of the characters appearing. There is a lot of writing I can't read. There is Mignola's art (beautiful, and a most welcome return) to give us an anchor, and a sense of trust built up over the years between creator and reader that all of this confusion will lead somewhere grand, and then…
… thrown as a stray text box over a disconnected page, comes the lines
"Who are you?"
"Ask me who I was."
"Who were you then?"
Now, I am a big Charles Dickens fan, and these lines resonate with me as much as "Luke, I am your father" would resonate with most people my age. Seriously, I got chills when I read that. And I really didn't know where he was going to go with it. Was that just a throwaway reference? Nope. It turns out, he was going all the way.
I have to cut out here with the story explanation, or I will move from "spoilerish" to full on "spoilers." But needless to say, with those few lines I realized that I had no idea where Mignola was going to take this story, but that it was going somewhere pretty incredible. Hellboy in Hell #1 defies any conventional storytelling logic — what Mignola does here shouldn't work. (Honestly, Charles Dickens? Sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion Mignola is writing directly for me. He manages to put everything I love into his comics. There are few other people on Earth with my specific tastes; Mignola is one of them.)
If he submitted this story to a scriptwriting class, it would get tossed in the garbage. It makes no sense. But somehow, in Mignola's unique world, this is the only possible way this story could have been written. No matter what ideas you had for this story, not matter what you thought was going to happen — just clear your mind. It's going to be something even more amazing.
What else can I say about how great Hellboy in Hell is? The art — phenomenal. I don't want to downplay Duncan Fegredo, Richard Corben or any of the other people who have done art duty on Hellboy comics recently (especially Fegredo and Corben, who have produced brilliant comics) but Mike Mignola drawing Hellboy is always going to be the best. He return to the art is just beautiful. An entire, solid black panel. Stunning. And the King of Colors Dave Stewart takes Mignola's raw gold and coins it into something for the ages. I need to hit the dictionary for more superlatives before I get redundant. Tremendous. Transcendent. Masterly.
You get the picture.
Hellboy in Hell is nothing I expected, and everything I wanted it to be. Mike Mignola has once again proven that he is a master of his genre, even though his particular genre is Mike Mignola. Like H.P. Lovecraft, like Robert E. Howard, like William Hope Hodgson, Mike Mignola has a unique voice and vision that many will attempt to imitate and all will fail.
Damn, I am looking forward to the next issue.
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.