- Posted by Johanna on March 17, 2008 at 8:08 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Mike Mignola; art by P. Craig Russell, Richard Corben
- PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books; $17.95 US
Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others is the best collection out there for understanding the appeal of the title character and his series. Hellboy gets things done by being tougher than the other monster. Rather like the original James Bond, it’s not that he’s smarter than his foe (he’s often not, when facing off against mad scientists) or stronger; he’s just more determined, and he can take a lot of punishment. Hellboy runs into, or is sent to find, the beasties responsible for odd happenings, and then they fight, until Hellboy wins.
The appeal of these stories are twofold, both due to author Mike Mignola: his distinctive artistic vision, and his love of creepy and odd folklore from around the world. The latter leads to freshness and creativity in Hellboy’s foes and fights. In the first story, originally published in a Wizard promo, Hellboy encounters a kind of Malaysian vampiress with a detachable head. (This is explained in the author’s note, one of which accompanies each story, a very valuable addition.)
Other stories included here previously appeared in the “Dark Horse Book of” anthologies — Monsters, the Dead, Witchcraft, and Hauntings. Hellboy fights a Hydra (accompanied by a mysterious little girl charmingly inspired by Mignola’s daughter), a vampire gambler, a haunted house, all the usual odd kinds of threats.
It’s not all about the fighting, though. In a change of pace, the title story features Hellboy listening to an old woman’s tales, inspired by Norwegian folklore. It nods at the way different versions of stories have different purposes and at alternate ways of solving problems other than punching. There’s also an experiment, a story where the dialogue of “The Ghoul” is made up of quotes from poetry.
As for the art, well, if you’ve ever seen Mignola’s craggy, blocky figures, you’ll recognize it. He specializes in dark, murky, ancient, menacing, suggesting years of secret plots and disturbing creatures awoken. Hellboy’s design, with that giant, rocky fist and an air of timeless weariness, perfectly encapsulates it.
It was also enlightening to see Mignola’s world drawn by other artists. “The Vampire of Prague”, new to this collection, is illustrated by P. Craig Russell. It has more of the delicacy associated with his style, although Hellboy is still appropriately lumpy. The second half of the book reprints “Makoma”, an African creation folktale drawn by Richard Corben that’s impressive in its scope. It’s structured as a typical quest story, in which Hellboy defeats ever-more-powerful enemies (who then become a kind of portable chorus-in-a-bag) until he reaches his reward at the end of the world.
Overall, it’s a terrific sampler with a range of stories demonstrating Mignola’s interests and creative sparks.