Monday, 20 April 2009

‘Hellboy: The Fire Wolves’ – Tim Lebbon (Dark Horse Books)

The first time I came across Hellboy was way back in the mid-nineties when he teamed up with Ghost (a favourite of mine at the time) to solve a supernatural mystery arising from an old gangland slaying back in the thirties. What I’m now calling ‘The Great Comic Book Famine’ came next and it would be years before I came across Hellboy again, this time going up against the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia (I want that on a t-shirt!) with my number one comic book character The Goon.
My brief encounters with Hellboy have left me in no doubt that this is a guy I want to get to know a lot better and the arrival of Tim Lebbon’s ‘The Fire Wolves’ gave me the opportunity to do that in the best possible way (any hints on the best place to start with Mike Mignola’s graphic novels would be much appreciated though!)

In AD 79 Pompeii was buried under tonnes of ash from the erupting Mount Vesuvius but these swathes of ash didn’t just bury things, they also covered the sight of something escaping...
Two thousand years later... Carlotta Esposito is certain that an ancient family curse will see her die before her eighteenth birthday. Her cousin Franca makes a desperate plea for help to the one person best placed to save Carlotta... Hellboy (the world’s greatest paranormal investigator).
Despite the hostility of the family patriarch, the coastal town of Amalfi seems like the ideal place for Hellboy to visit after a chillier assignment in Finland. However, when there’s a fire demon on the loose things are liable to get more than a little too hot to handle. If that wasn’t bad enough, Vesuvius is starting to rumble again...

‘The Fire Wolves’ gives its reader a fairly self contained plot, which stands on its own, but isn’t necessarily the best place to start for the casual reader looking to get into ‘Hellboy’ for the first time. A lot of references are made to past events and relationships which sound like they have already been mentioned in earlier books. While the character of Hellboy does make for some interesting reading (more on that in a bit) you aren’t really told anything his origins and what makes him stand out as a special character in his own right. Wikipedia helped me out here. Long term fans won’t have a problem with this but first timers might. Hence the comment at the top, where is the best place to start for someone picking up ‘Hellboy’ for the first time?

Lebbon’s writing more than makes up for these (slight) pitfalls however. Once I started reading ‘The Fire Wolves’ I didn’t want to stop. What you’re getting for your money here is a good slice of detective fiction with a bubbling undercurrent of the supernatural which has a habit of leaping off the page and grabbing you when you least expect it. Lebbon has a real flair for hitting you with the hard stuff at just the right time. Incidental things, like a door handle that is slightly warm to the touch, are so much more than you realise and Lebbon is also spot on with when he chooses to share his revelations. The book’s title gives away part of the plot but when this is revealed to Hellboy it still made me jump!
The plot is typical detective fare (loads of clues to be found, a mystery to be solved, fights to get in and out of) goes along at just the right pace for ensuing circumstances. Lebbon certainly knows when to put his foot either on the brakes or to the accelerator!

Talking of Hellboy... Here is a character that comes across as very intriguing and is someone who I certainly want to get to know better. Like I said, you don’t really get to find out about his background but what you get instead is a look at a man who is not only out of place in society (and trying to fit in) but is also fighting a battle inside himself between the side of him aiming for appropriate behaviour and the part that just wants to cut loose... Hellboy is also a surprisingly sensitive soul and this facet of his character makes for some interesting moments of introspection.
Lebbon does well to realise that although Hellboy takes centre stage there are other characters with just as important a story to tell. By giving them the same time he allows characters like Franca Esposito to really shine.

‘The Fire Wolves’ turned out to be not the best place to start reading ‘Hellboy’ (for me) but did more than enough to pique my interest for more of the same. My wallet is going to take a beating the next time I go into a comic book store...

Nine out of Ten

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