I did a good thing this month. While waiting for the next issue of Hellboy in Hell, I drug my massively heavy and massively cool collection of Hellboy Library Editions off the shelf and read through the entire series from start to finish (except for Volume 6, of course, which is not yet released. I had to read the regular comics for those.). And then I read my way through Hellboy in Hell.
I'd like to say it gave me some extra insight into Hellboy in Hell, cleared away the mysteries. It didn't. Not entirely. Sure, there were a few characters I had forgotten about (Oh! So THAT's who the guy with the hammer is!), a few set pieces I now recognized, but for the most part the mysteries remains mysterious. And that's glorious. Because the mysteries are exactly what make Hellboy in Hell so wonderful. That odd sense of unease, of being adrift in unfamiliar waters — if Mignola had written like a Hollywood film, making sure all of the dots were connected and the lines straight, then Hellboy in Hell would not be the perfect comic it is.
And now to contradict myself (because with Hellboy in Hell there are no simple answers); there are some mysteries revealed here. Because this series is also about the packing up and putting away certain pieces of the Hellboy mythology. This is kind of like Hellboy's personal version of Goodnight Moon. Each piece of his destiny is brought out, presented, and then carefully stowed. Goodnight Father's sword and signet ring. Goodnight throne and army. Goodnight devils and destiny. Goodnight Right Hand of Doom…
… well, maybe not everything. There are some things that can't be put away so easily.
Issue #4 packs away the mystery of Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder. Grey has been hovering around in the background for awhile, in a mysterious mask and cloak far different from the dashing Victorian occult detective of his own series. There was lots of unknowns there — was this the same Edward Grey? Some different incarnation? Now we know. And it is good. Grey has some lessons for Hellboy, and some answers. But some of those lessons are false, and some of those answers are lies. Only time will tell.
Hellboy in Hell is — quite simply — some of the best comic book art ever put on paper. Mike Mignola does not just draw, he constructs. His pages are like architecture, heavy and weighty, with a ridiculously beautiful balance and pacing. The mood and atmosphere radiate from the page. This is thanks largely in part to the King of Colors Dave Stewart's masterful work. Mignola and Stewart's Hell is a grey, dismal world, massive in scale, twisted and crooked yet recognizable. The last three pages in particular are wonderful. They manages this trick of a simultaneous wide-angle pullback and intimate close-up that could be accomplished nowhere else that in comic book art.
And that last panel… Mignola knows how to end a story. Bizarre and chilling yet at the same time comforting and nostalgic.
Mignola hasn't really given any clues as to what the future holds for Hellboy in Hell. Issue #4 feels like an ending of sorts, and a beginning of sorts. Maybe it's true that when Satan closes one door he opens another, because that what it feels like here. Hellboy has — for the first time in his life — no destiny. No horde of monsters pushing him one way or the other. Nothing to fight for or against. And how will he feel about that, I wonder?
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.