||[Apr. 14th, 2008|08:04 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#85 HELLBOY: THE CHAINED COFFIN AND OTHERS – Mike Mignola
“Worked great on the giant vampire cat of Kyoto. Thing is ... this is a giant pig-man situation.”
Hellboy is a monster who plays the part of the hero to counter the fact that he’s a big red guy with stumps on his head where the devil horns should be. When he shows up to help innocent people who are being troubled by unstoppable supernatural forces, those people never seem to be nearly as bothered by his nature as he is. In the stories that delve into the character’s backstory and epic destiny and yadda yadda, Hellboy rejects his responsibilities as an agent of the bad guys to the point of snapping the horns right off his head. That thematic underpinning isn’t the main point of the best Hellboy stories – short adventure yarns about whatever semi-obscure legends Mike Mignola’s been reading recently – but it lends an interesting subtext to them.
The stories collected in The Chained Coffin And Others are excellent examples of this kind of story. While the antagonists and allies and exotic locations differ, the basic plots are built on the same frame: Hellboy uncovers something strange and malevolent, smashes through some gorgeously inked architecture and punches mythology right in its face, preferably while saying something witty. It’s not complicated, but it works.
There are two things that make it work. One is that gorgeousness I just mentioned. Mignola works heavily with flat, pure black inks, filling his churches and castles with ominous shadows that spread to every crease and fold of the characters who inhabit them. Spooky statues, bones and broken masonry are everywhere Hellboy goes, whether it’s the Balkans, Ireland or East Bromwich. A debt to Jack Kirby is clear in panels with Hellboy and his opponents flinging each other around and through this scenery with plenty of Sturm und Drang and BOOM and KRASH.
The other thing that makes it work is Mignola’s approach to the folklore he borrows from. While retelling the stories, he preserves some of their stranger quirks, whether it’s talking animals and communicative corpses, bouncing standing stones, the Redcap’s ridiculous iron shoes or Baba Yaga’s obsession with counting spoons. Told at full speed a-pulp, this cavalcade of oddities flying by adds up to a general sense of luscious fairytale eerieness, which is the one place in the world where the big red guy seems to be perfectly at home.