Tuesday, 8 February 2011

‘Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others’ – Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

I’ve only read two of the ‘Hellboy’ graphic novels, so far, and have had wildly differing experiences of the setting in each. While ‘Seed of Destruction’ was a great read that promised great things for the series to come, ‘Wake the Devil’ turned everything on its head by wrapping everything up far too quickly and not really giving the reader much of a chance (if any at all) to really build on what had come before. I’ve since been reliably informed that things do get a lot better and I’d do well to stick around; I’d pretty much decided to do that anyway after having read ‘The Chained Coffin’. Rewinding things a little though... Picking up ‘The Chained Coffin’ saw things evenly balanced between the ‘good’ and ‘more than slightly disappointing’ and, for me, it’s times like these when a series feels like it can go either way... purely on the strength of the book that you’re just about to dig into. Despite some slight misgivings, ‘The Chained Coffin’ points things in the right direction again and (like I said) I’ll be carrying on with the rest of the series because of it.

‘The Chained Coffin’ is a break from the main Hellboy arc (Arcs? I don’t really know having not got that far with it as yet) in the form of several short stories about our favourite demonic paranormal investigator. If you never picked up the individual comic books, which these stories featured in, then this edition will be very welcome.

While the short stories differ in quality, at least as far as I’m concerned’, the one thing that is consistently good throughout is (once again) the artwork of Mike Mignola. One thing I’m finding difficult about reviewing ongoing series like this one is the fact that I’m inevitably saying the same thing over and over again about the artwork. If you’ve read my reviews of the last two books then you might want to just skip this paragraph entirely and go straight to what I’ve got to say about the stories themselves...
For those of you who haven’t, Mignola’s art perfectly captures a grim and dark supernatural world that exists just beyond the corner of your eye and once you’ve seen what Mignola populates this world with then you might just find yourself looking over your shoulder. The artwork here is not only atmospheric but packs a punch just when the story demands it.

As far as the stories themselves go, it’s more of a mixed bag in terms of overall quality. To be fair you can’t really blame Mignola for this as he was obviously working to tight constraints in terms of format so there was obviously only so much that he could do in a certain amount of space.
‘The Iron Shoes’ and ‘The Baba Yaga’ are the main casualties here with plenty happening but not really much to explain why. Having said that though, ‘The Baba Yaga’ is worth a look as it fills in a pretty important gap in ‘Wake the Devil’.
Brevity isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as Mignola proves in the titular piece where Hellboy discovers what might be a clue to his own origin. ‘The Chained Coffin’ is a tale that leaves you wanting more after finishing it and that’s never a bad thing.

As Mignola has more room to work in, the stories gradually reflect what he is really able to do in terms of building up an interesting plot that throws the reader in unexpected directions. ‘The Wolves of St. August’ and ‘Almost Colossus’ (which offers another link to events in ‘Wake the Devil’) are great examples of this (the imagery of the little girl with the wolf’s head is superb by the way) and the compilers of this volume pulled off a masterstroke by opening with ‘The Corpse’ which is possibly the most gripping Hellboy story I’ve read so far. You want him to succeed here but you can quite understand why others might want him to fail. Watching these conflicting themes play out made for some compelling reading.
The only longer story that bucked the trend here was ‘A Christmas Underground’, a tale that was rich in atmosphere but didn’t feel like it had a lot of meat to it. Maybe a second read will prove me wrong.

That’s the thing about this volume, despite my misgivings there will definitely be more than one read to be had here. ‘The Chained Coffin’ is a sinister selection of dark treats that offer us an insight into what it means to be Hellboy and walk in this world. I’m really hoping for more of the same to come.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

logankstewart said...

There's a few of these "short story" collections coming up for you. My favorite is Volume 10's collection. Some are forgettable, but I found myself enjoying the short arcs every so often.

As for the artwork reviewing, it stays the same for a few more volumes, but when Duncan Fegredo jumps on board it soars.