Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, September 12, 2008
      ( 9/12/2008 05:26:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THE WORLD OF MEN IS FINISHED WITH HIM." The newest trade paperback collection of Mike Mignola's Hellboy comes complete with a "Now A Major Motion Picture" sticker affixed to its cover, though one suspects that many fans of Hellboy II: The Golden Army coming to the comics for the first time will be more than a little disappointed. At this point in Mignola's storyline, it's been six years since the title character left the B.P.R.D., home to the movie's great supporting characters, so we only get a tiny glimpse of Liz Sherman and the rest of the gang in an epilogue. (For those who only know the characters from the flicks, the budding romance between pyrokinetic Liz and Hellboy is not a part of the comics' storyline.) Our hero's on his own in this book, fighting demons and undead warriors in snow-covered Russia.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls (Dark Horse) opens in Italy as a reptilian wizard named Igor Bromhead conjures up Hecate, the Queen of the Witches. Bromhead's act brings down personal disaster, but it also helps to kick start a "gathering of witches unlike none before in the history of the world." Said confab attempts to recruit Hellboy to be their king, and when our hero rudely refuses, the witches send him to Russia. There, he's forced to do battle with a skeletal army and the undying warrior Koshchei, who's been charged with taking one of Hellboy's eyes and bringing it to the one-orbed witch Baba Yaha. Extended fight mayhem ensues.

The eighth volume in the Hellboy series (not counting something like seven collections in the B.P.R.D. spin-off and sundry other offshoots), Darkness Calls isn't the book to choose if you're just getting into the comic book version of Mignola's fantasy world. When Bromhead, for instance, revives Hecate and reveals that the "triple goddess" has become part human, the revelation of her human part will get moviegoers going, "I thought I saw her die in the first flick. How'd her heart get into Hecate's body?" Unless you're the type of comics fan who doesn't particularly care how we get from fight scene to fight scene, the character details in Darkness Calls can be daunting.

As one who's read Mignola's series in gaps and chunks - only to have the minutia vanish into that corner of my brain cluttered with too many comics and manga series, I found the recently published Hellboy Companion (also Dark Horse) to be helpful indeed. Crafted by a series of fannish writers, the book (edited by Scott Allie and Rachel Edidin) features 110 pages of character profiles and 70-plus of an official series timeline - alongside a literary appreciation of the series by Shephen Weiner and a piece recommending future reading by Mignola himself that lists all the influences on Hellboy. I used Companion to reacquaint myself with some of Darkness Calls' secondary baddies, and it also provided some helpful back story when I read through the graphic novel a second time. Depending on your capacity for annotated geekiness, you may or may not find it as much fun.

Darkness Calls has Mignola's usual appealing blend of folklore, pulp horror and Kirby-esque fighting, though it's worth noting that many of the Lovecraft-ian horror elements that appear in earlier stories aren't a part of this particular outing. After being the primary artist on his series through the first seven collections, this is where the writer/artist hands off illustration chores to Britisher Duncan Fegredo. Though not as smooth or prone to heavy shadows as Mignola, Fegredo still captures the look and tone of Hellboy's world - and our proletarian, cigar-chomping demon hero. If this eighth volume in the still-continuing saga of Hellboy isn't the strongest entry in the series, there's plenty here to please readers already immersed in the demonic good guy's story.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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