Different Takes On Big Red
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows takes a look at Hellboy Volume Four, the hardback which reprints The Crooked Man and The Troll Witch
Hellboy Volume Four: The Crooked Man And The Troll Witch
Writer: Mike Mignola. Joshua Dysart
Artists: Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, P Craig Russell and Jason Shawn Alexander
Colourists: Dave Stewart, Matt Hollingsworth
This fourth library hardcover offers us Hellboy depicted by artists other than Mignola and even a story written by someone other than him too.
Opening with The Crooked Man, the first of Richard Corben’s stories here, Hellboy is forced to confront a minion of the devil in Appalachia back in 1958. Corben is a bit like Marmite as an artist: you other love him or hate him. I have to admit that he isn’t really my cup of tea and so I found his art to be clunky and distracted from the story here. If you’re a fan of Corben and a fan of Hellboy, then you’ll love it. The story is a classic American horror tale.
Three shorts follow The Crooked Man, Penannggalan, The Hydra and The Lion and The Troll Witch, all drawn by Mignola. The Penanggalan is a brief but clever tale set in Malaysia back in 1958 about a Malaysian spirit, The Hydra is another period short from 1961 with a nifty twist while The Troll Witch is set in Norway back in 1963. Again it shows how Mignola is able to pack so much information into such a short space, a talent that very few other modern comic creators are able to pull off. The Troll Witch is a classic Hellboy short.
The Vampire Of Prague, which follows it, is an an odd story. Written by Mignola but drawn by P Craig Russell, this is a simple tale that pits Hellboy against the eponymous Vampire Of Prague. I think Russell is a great artist but his depiction of Hellboy just feels too delicate and a little too fey. It lacks the visual heft of someone like Mignola drawing him.
They That Go Down In Ships, written by Joshua Dysart and drawn by Jason Alexander, about Hellboy encountering the ghost of Blackbeard. Created as a short story, it was fleshed out for Konami by Dysart and Alexander here, whose textured art suits the story very well. He is a fantastic stand-in for Mignola and They That Go Down In Ships is the highlight of this volume, with Dysart showing a deft hand with Hellboy.
Dr Carp’s Experiment is another short, visually very striking and up to Mignola’s usual standards.
The Ghoul is a fairly traditional short vampire story with a couple of nice lines of Hellboy dialogue.
The Chapel of Moloch which follows it is an entertaining short about an artist possessed by a demon with some decent visual flourishes, which barrels along at a decent pace.
The final story in this volume, Makoma, begins with art by Mignola but then switches to Richard Corben again before Mgnola comes back to book end things. We get to see Hellboy in Africa, battling with the gods of the continent. Just like The Crooked Man, for fans of Corben, this is a great story. But for someone who Corben doesn’t connect with, this doesn’t quite work. It is a slightly different portrayal of a mythic Africa, which is a little bit refreshing.
The volume wraps with an extensive sketchbook section which also includes Corben’s sketches as well as Mignola’s.
The two Corben tales didn’t really do it for me but the presence of the Dysart and Alexander story lifted its quality for me. Even a disappointing Hellboy tale is still head and shoulders above much of what else is out there and Mignola should be commended for experimenting with Hellboy. So not quite as essential as its three predecessors but still worth reading.