Friday, 21 January 2011

‘Hellboy: Wake the Devil’ – Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

The big question has to be why haven’t I been reading ‘Hellboy’ until now? Well, you know... I’m just rubbish at getting round to reading the good stuff, suffering as I do from being easily distracted (‘so many books...’ and all that) I’m well and truly on the ball now with a few brief glimpses of demonic investigator Hellboy, via ‘Ghost’ and ‘The Goon’, being fleshed out by the beginnings of his own story in ‘Seeds of Destruction’.
‘Seeds of Destruction’ had me keen to read more but, in typical fashion, it’s gone and taken me just over a month to get round to reading ‘Wake the Devil’. It’s got all the stuff in it that made ‘Seeds of Destruction’ such a great read but I have to say that this volume left me feeling a little non-plussed this time round. Not good news seeing as this is only the second book in the series...

The curator of a New York waxwork museum is murdered and a corpse is found to be missing. The resulting trail leads the operatives of the BPRD to Romania where a vampire legend is about to awake once more (no, not that one...) It’s down to Hellboy to stop this menace in its tracks but he must also contend with the monstrous allies of this vampire along with Nazi scientists who are preparing for the end of the world and the return of their occult master...

I love comic book series that really get you on board for the long haul and, looking at the list of titles at the back of the book (along with the ‘BPRD’ spin off series), it’s clear that ‘Hellboy’ is one such title. ‘Plot arcs’ come with the territory here as any story that’s ‘ongoing’ will need to change direction every now and then in order to keep things interesting. ‘Wake the Devil’ signals the end of one such plot arc but I was left wondering if it all happened too soon.

‘Seeds of Destruction’ set up an intriguing scenario with the kind of glorious pulp fiction villains that you want to see a demonic paranormal investigator going up against in a world with a delicious hint of Lovecraftian darkness around the edges. ‘Wake the Devil’ brings it all to a crashing conclusion before you’ve even had time to properly get acquainted with the villains of the piece. While I’m sure that there is more to come in the same setting, I couldn’t help but wonder why Mignola went to so much trouble setting this particular storyline up if he wasn’t going to hang around concluding it. It feels like Mignola wants to get to his conclusion as quickly as possible and this lends a rushed feel to proceedings that makes the flow of the story feel forced and, consequently, unwieldy. I’d be interested in reading a couple more of the books in the series and see how this arc ties into the overall series before coming to a final conclusion but, in the meantime, I was left feeling more than a little unfulfilled at how things were brought to a close here.

This approach to the plot was all the more annoying as Mignola continues to flesh out his story with all the things that made ‘Seeds of Destruction’ such a compelling read. The bottom line is that I will read anything where a demon touched by humanity wise cracks his way through a series of fights with Nazis and supernatural beings and Mignola keeps his side of the deal here with some style. Hellboy is a guy whom you can’t help but root for and Mignola’s distinctive artwork delivers great fight scenes against a dark and haunting background. You certainly get your money’s worth in this respect.

‘Wake the Devil’ is a book where the delivery left me in awe as it much as it left me baffled by the ‘rushed’ approach to the plot. Reading it in the context of the wider series might clear a few things up but, for now, I’m left wondering which of my  ‘Hellboy’ experiences I’m going to get in Volume 3... Have any of you guys read it? What did you think?

Eight out of Ten


Jormungandr said...

Wake the Devil had a lot of cool stuff in it, but I personally found it one of the weaker entries. I think you'll find later volumes better. The short comic compilation "The Chained Coffin" has some great stuff in it, but if you like the occult-Nazis aspect, you will probably like "The Conqueror Worm" best when you get to it.

Anonymous said...

Volume 3 is a selection of short comics that do not tell a cohesive story. However they do tell their stories better than Wake the Devil did.

Mignola seemed to be finding himself as a writer during the first couple of Hellboy volumes. Volume 4 is another collection of short stories but you see even more improvement and the short stories will tie in later to the series.

Volume 5 "The Conqueror Worm" is the real game changer. All the crazy ideas of Volume 2 but pulled off in a masterful stroke. After 5 the whole thing is top notch.

logankstewart said...

I'm with Anon. The first few, while good, are nothing compared to how awesome the series gets once Volume 5 arrives.

Graeme Flory said...

Good to know, I'll keep on at it.
Cheers guys!

Lagomorph Rex said...

Yes thats basically the thing, the first couple of volumes in the trade paperback series pull together a wide range of Hellboy stories, which are frequently out of order chronologically. The Series really only becomes coherent with Conqueror Worm.. BPRD isn't anything like that though.. it picks up and basically follows one storyline on through.. while its taken some time for Hellboy to get to the point where more than a handful of issues are out in a year..