on September 9, 2011
Giving Hellboy several decades worth of adventures to draw upon allows Mike Mignola to offer new readers a "jumping-on" point with miniseries that stand (mostly) apart from the ongoing "contemporary", epic Hellboy narrative. We get four such adventures here, most notably the title three-parter.
Mignola pays homage to American supernatural-fiction great Manly Wade Wellman with an adventure in the American Appalachians of the 1950's, Wellman's setting for the first few stories of supernatural battler John the Balladeer (Who Fears the Devil?, The Hanging Stones). It's a lovely, respectful homage to the singular Wellman's tales of rural good and evil.
Hellboy and a young man whose personality and background (but not his name) suggest those of John before his adventures began fight witches and devils in backwoods country, to pleasing and disturbing effect. Richard Corben's art has never been better, at least from a horror standpoint -- the Crooked Man himself is a truly creepy creation, as are many of the monsters and ghosts and bizarre insect things which assault Hellboy and company. As Wellman did, Mignola skillfully blurs the line between invented terrors and terrors derived from actual Appalachian folklore and myth.
The rest of the volume sees Hellboy and Abe Sapien take on Blackbeard's ghost (well, skull) in a story penned by Joshua Dysart, and a confrontation with the ancient, child-eating god Moloch in Spain, the latter in a story with conscious echoes of Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" and J. Sheridan LeFanu's "Green Tea." Oh, and Hellboy plays cards with some ghosts and worries over a suspicious-looking mole on his hand.
The last Hellboy collection had some pretty shocking revelations and events... so it's kind of a letdown to find out that "Hellboy Volume 10: The Crooked Man and Others" doesn't follow up on that. Instead, this collection is various smaller stories featuring the scarlet anti-hero -- a grimy Appalachian adventure, plus a handful of other little stories.
In the title story, Hellboy is called to Virginia to deal with a child who's been "witched." With the help of a mountain man named Tom, Hellboy finds the witch who cast the spell... and discovers that she's just a pawn for malevolent hags living deep within the mountain. And even worse, those grotesque witches are led by a monstrous creature called the Crooked Man -- and he wants Tom, body and soul.
Then there's the one-shots. "In the Chapel of Moloch" brings Hellboy to a Portuguese village, where an artist has been putting out some really grotesque works, courtesy of his studio's gruesome history. "The Mole" was a special for "Free Comic Book Day": Hellboy notices a weird purple spot on his hand, which gets bigger and bigger and... well, better read it.
And finally there's "They That Go Down To The Sea in Ships" (what else would they go down to the sea in?), a story from Hellboy's BPRD days. A small-time psychic/fortune-teller steals an old skull that once belonged to Blackbeard -- and now it's up to Abe, Hellboy and a historian to stop the cycle of death.
I felt a little let down when I found out that this collection of Hellboy stories wouldn't pick up the plot threads that the previous volume left dangling. But "Hellboy Volume 10: The Crooked Man and Others" is still a solid little collection of stories -- think leprous mountain witches, giant centipedes, zombie pirates, and a building filled with the evil of Moloch.
And though brief, Mike Mignola spins up some creepy supernatural one-offs, handled with Hellboy's typical matter-of-fact attitude ("I kinda wish I'd taken a shot at her back when she was sitting on that horse"). Even better, Mignola infuses a real sense of evil and menace into his stories, as well as a vaguely Lovecraftian vibe in "They That Go Down...", although "The Mole" is so quick that you barely have time to react to it.
And as usual, Mignola's art is awesome -- a little blocky, dark and rough, with lots of distorted faces and splashes of red. But Jason Shawn Alexander's art in "They That Go Down..." isn't quite up to Mignola's standard; it's decent, but not nearly as atmospheric.
As for Hellboy... he's Hellboy. Brash, rough, matter-of-fact and surprisingly soft-hearted towards ordinary humans caught up in weird events -- and it's fun to see him kung-fuing a giant stone statue of Moloch. And the character of Tom is an excellent one, a normal guy who stupidly got caught up in black magic as a kid and has been trying to live a good life ever since then.
"Hellboy Volume 10: The Crooked Man and Others" is a solid collection of odds and ends -- but they all center on Hellboy and his weird adventures. A nice addition to the collection.