Friday, 11 March 2011

‘Hellboy: Conqueror Worm’ – Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

Ever since I read ‘Seed of Destruction’ I’ve been waiting to get round to reading this, even when I didn’t realise it at the time. If you’re going to go ‘pulp’ then occultist Nazis are very much a necessary ingredient and while I got a short sharp fix in ‘Seeds’ I’ve been left hanging in the meantime. People told me that ‘The Conqueror Worm’ would sort out the craving so I was keen to finally pick it up. Not only that but, having read ‘The Satan Factory’, I was also looking forward to seeing more of the mysterious costumed vigilante Lobster Johnson and finding out what he was all about.

Having read ‘Conqueror Worm’ I can confidently say that it delivered impressively on these two fronts but what I’ll also say is that I felt strangely cheated at the same time. It’s an amazing read but I couldn’t help but think that if you blinked you’d miss something. Sometimes that’s not a good thing.

Towards the end of the Second World War, Nazi Germany sought to gain the aid of otherworldly allies by launching a dead man into space. Costumed hero Lobster Johnson and the American army may have halted the Nazi space programme but weren’t able to stop that last rocket from launching. Sixty years on and the rocket is returning to Earth and its occupant is dead no longer...
Hellboy’s mission is to stop whatever comes out of the rocket but he is not on his own. On Hellboy’s side are a man who died sixty years ago and a man who has never really been alive at all...

I’ve been looking forward to ‘Conqueror Worm’ and, for the most part, it didn’t let me down. Not only does Hellboy get to fight Nazis but one of them is nothing but a head in a jar! It doesn’t get a lot more pulp than that and, in fact, the only way it could get more ‘pulp’ than that is if the head in a jar (Herman Von Klempt) was aided by a ‘War Ape’ enhanced to do his bidding. Hang on, he is :o)

On top of this you have Nazis pretty much lining up to be taken down by Hellboy, the ghost of Lobster Johnson seeking justice from beyond the grave and the homunculus Roger looking to redeem himself by working for an agency that doesn’t trust him (they’ve planted a bomb in his chest). All the ingredients are in place and when the fuse is lit they totally go off with a bang. Not only is there plenty to see (courtesy of Mignola’s gorgeous art; I love those panels where he either shows something happening in a split second or gives us a random piece of scenery, these really contribute to the mood) but there’s also a lot to think about as well. Hellboy is beginning to really chafe against the attitude of his paymasters at the BPRD, especially when he is told how he will be keeping an eye on Roger, and this adds another level of tension to proceedings. The end result is a story running at break neck pace that goes with a real bang.

It’s just a shame that things seemed to run a little too fast.

Now, you could say that I was just enjoying the book too much and didn’t want it to end. I’ll admit that’s true but, at the same time, it also felt like there was an issue with the pacing; it felt like the story got carried away with itself and didn’t leave itself a lot of time to tie things up neatly. I mean, who was the prisoner in the cellar? What was he all about? Either there wasn’t enough time to explain him or he was just there to conveniently help out Hellboy, neither of those approaches work as far as I’m concerned. If the story had been given a little more time to flow gently maybe things like this would have made more sense, at least to me (if anyone fancies explaining things in the comments below then I’m all ears!)

‘Conqueror Worm’ is a nice place to wrap up my ‘Hellboy’ reading, at least for now, as one plot arc ends and things are set up for another one to begin. I had one hell of a time (no pun intended, I think...) reading ‘Conqueror Worm’ but was left feeling a little cheated at the same time, almost as if Mignola had had enough of this arc and wanted to just finish things off. I’d still recommend it though as what ‘Conqueror Worm’ does is done very well indeed.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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