Friday, 4 March 2011

‘Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom’ – Mike Mignola (Dark Horse Books)

After a slightly dodgy start my ‘Hellboy’ reading is up and running at a fair old pace; fast enough in fact that you’ll probably be seeing my review for volume five early next week. Hellboy’s world has so far been shown to be a very dark one where the efforts of a few enlightened individuals are all that stand between humanity’s continued peaceful existence and its use as a plaything by dark gods and their servants. It’s also a world though where a demonic envoy, summoned before its time, can find acceptance and peace to the extent that it wants to protect the fragile peace that the world enjoys. Mignola has found that dividing line and straddles it superbly, making the series one that I will return to as well as looking out for new entries.

Now I haven’t read a lot of comics but my impression of comics in general has always been that each individual issue forms part of an ongoing series (generalising I know but, like I said, I haven’t really read a lot of comics until the last couple of years). It was a little bit odd then to see a volume of Hellboy ‘one shots’ and ‘two parters’ followed by another volume with exactly the same format and approach. I mean, we’re talking about one of the most iconic (if not the most iconic) characters to come out of Dark Horse and it turns out that a large part of his success is based upon very short stories that appeared in collections (‘Dark Horse Presents’ etc). That has to say plenty about both the concept and execution of this character and if you take a look at volume four you’ll see that all the positive stuff being said is more than well founded.

‘The Right Hand of Doom’ is divided into three sections with the accompanying short stories all detailing events over the course of Hellboy’s life to date. Not every story hit the mark with me but there was more than enough here to keep me happy and reading. Mignola’s art continues to work wonders on the page and I’m firmly of the opinion that he can’t put a foot wrong as far as the artwork goes. Can you tell I’m a fully fledged fan? Well I am but I’m still looking for a little more from certain of the stories...

In one sense, I can’t really blame these stories as such because I’m only partway through the series and don’t know how these tales pan out in future volumes. Will there be closure or will things be deliberately left open ended? That’s still for me to find out.

Despite that though, the first time reader is going to encounter stories that are either open ended or feel like they are open ended. I can make allowances for this but was still left thinking, ‘is that it?’ I’m specifically thinking of ‘The Nature of the Beast’ and ‘King Vold’ in this instant and I could probably add ‘Goodbye Mr Tod’ to this very short list. ‘The Nature of the Beast’ hints at a wider story to follow but you don’t really get an idea of why this wider tale should be so important and you can’t help but wonder what the big deal is. The other two tales do work effectively at showing us how things can ‘just happen’ in Hellboy’s world but, almost paradoxically, feel like they could really benefit from a bit of ‘fleshing out. Maybe it’s just me but while I like an element of mystery in supernatural affairs I also like to feel like there’s something plausible underpinning them. The story ‘Heads’ sidestepped this issue with the brief nod to a Japanese folktale before it really got going; there was at least a hint to why things were happening here and I enjoyed the story all the more for it. And it had flying heads too, you can’t knock that even if you wanted to :o)

The rest of the book more than made up for what is admittedly a very minor failing in three of its stories. ‘Pancakes’ was a great way to open the volume with a tongue in cheek look at just why Hellboy is the demon he is today. It kind of reminded me of myself as a boy, only without the dirty great horns...

I also enjoyed ‘The Varcolac’, a story that takes you deep into what turns out not to be the main story after all; I loved the change in pace near the end that (all of a sudden) lets you know where you should be and is perhaps the only example I’ve coming across where being jarred out of the narrative flow is actually a good thing.

‘The Right Hand of Doom’ is a tricky one to stay with as it’s basically recounting a story that we’re already well familiar with. Stick with it though as you get to learn a lot more about Hellboy, what he was made for and why he doesn’t want any of it. I just loved the use of black and white background contrasting with his red skin right at the very end.

‘Box Full of Evil’ proves to be the real meat of the book and is well worthy of having the volume named after it. A haunted house, devil worshippers and an opportunistic demon looking to take advantage, this tale has it all and it’s as cool as ever to see Hellboy take it in his stride and just keep doing what he does best.

Despite a couple of niggles,‘The Right Hand of Doom’ firmly kept my ‘Hellboy’ reading firmly on an upward trajectory and I’m looking forward to devoting a chunk of my weekend to carrying this on. If you haven’t picked up ‘Hellboy’ already then take a not so subtle hint from me and get started.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

No comments: