ADVANCE REVIEW! Hellboy in Hell #3 will be in stores Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
I have a ritual with Hellboy in Hell now. I read it, flip the last page, then start over and read it again. And repeat. It is a multi-layered comic, and I find it takes multiple readings to glean the story Mignola is telling. With the first read, I get all the easy stuff — the cool art, the clever quips, the punch-ups (and there are many). With the second read, I pay closer attention to the dialogue, the philosophy, the implications (and they are deep). And with a third read I put it all together.
With Hellboy in Hell, Mignola is giving readers their money's worth. This is not disposable pop culture; this is a comic that lingers. Every successive issue, Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart take us further on the winding, twisting staircase into the depths, bring out their toys then carefully put them carefully away. There is a sense of closure about this series, almost deconstructing the mythology of Hellboy in the advent of… something.
In issue #3, Charles Dickens and his ghosts exit stage left, while Astaroth steps up to continue the demonic version of This is Your Life. Astaroth — he of the batwings and serpent staff — has haunted the background of Hellboy for some time. He represents some of the majesty and terror of Hell. He is a symbolic figures, being as beyond Hellboy as Hellboy is beyond the average human. But here Mignola pulls the camera back further, showing that there are things beyond Astaroth. He is — for all his majesty and terror — still only a piece on the board, a Bishop vying to become a King. But one thing the Hellboy Universe has shown is that very few can escape the rolls they are assigned. And Astaroth is no exception.
There's also a strange family twist to this issue. Hellboy's brothers Gamon and Lusk show up ready to take the thrown that Hellboy disavows. (I honestly don't remember hearing about these two before, so correct me if I am wrong — is this the first mention of Hellboy's family?) These two should have read their Grimm's Fairytales — whenever a trio of brothers vie for an object of power, it is always the younger brother who wants it least that gets it in the end. And the other two get their just desserts.
And Leviathan appears. I love Leviathan. I read a book called Religion and Its Monsters that dove deep into the story and mythology of Leviathan — how it's one of the old, almost Lovecraftian powers that appears in the Bible and actually pre-dates Christianity. The best part is when Job challenges God, asking Him if He is powerful enough to challenge Leviathan.
Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.
Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair.
Nothing on earth is his equal — a creature without fear.
He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.
It will be interesting if Mignola brings in Leviathan's companion monster Behemoth as well. I hope so.
There is a sense of fatality to this series that is totally appropriate to its location. Mignola asks questions — deep, philosophical questions — but he does not give any answers. On the nature of pain and punishment, on who deserves their fate. Astaroth shows Hellboy his father, the demon Azzael, frozen forever in his prison for his sins. All because he gave life to Hellboy. Hellboy's response, "I sure as Hell didn't ask for it," is quickly silenced by, "Does that make his sacrifice any less?"
And then that ending … Mignola once again reminds us that the only thing we can expect from Hellboy in Hell is the unexpected. I really didn't see the ending coming, and now that I have read it, I still don't know exactly what I saw. I have stared at that last page and I still have no real idea what I am seeing. But it's cool.
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.