Posted by Don MacPherson on October 30th, 2010
Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice one-shot
Writers: Evan Dorkin & Mike Mignola
Artist: Jill Thompson
Letters: Jason Arthur
Cover artists: Thompson/Mignola (variant cover)
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.50 US
Well, it’s the day before Halloween, and I needed something else fitting my Halloween theme to review on the site, so as I thumbed the stack of comics on my desk, I happened upon something perfect: a comic featuring two fun properties that are firmly entrenched in supernatural adventure. This Hellboy/Beasts of Burden one-shot hits all of the right notes. There are enough dark, creepy elements to make for a deliciously dark atmosphere, but it’s balanced nicely with some strong personality and goofy interplay among some colorful characters. The creators pull off this crossover quite well, but this is a natural pairing of concepts and characters. While I wouldn’t want to see Dorkin, Thompson and Mignola return to this trough too often, I also hope this isn’t the last time these characters cross paths.
After dispatching a vampiric threat in an Amish community in Pennsylvania, paranormal investigator Hellboy finds himself drawn into a nearby forest, rumored to be the home of supernatural forces. It turns out to be true, and the B.P.R.D. agent soon finds himself in the company of the local supernatural protectors, the junior members of the Wise Dog Society. Together, they discover that a madwoman is using arcane forces to resurrect her dead lover, posing a monstrous threat to all around.
Thompson’s artwork is clearly this comic book’s greatest asset. The rich colors are in keeping with the lighter tone that one might expect with a story featuring cute, talking animals, but at the same time, she manages to maintain an eerie tone throughout the book, even if it’s just lying along the peripheral edges of the storytelling. Though one can see her usual style and designs shine through from time to time, Thompson’s work on her various Beasts of Burden comics looks like quite a departure, but maybe that’s just because there are so human characters that appear in them. The artist’s take on Hellboy is much in keeping with its creator’s design and appeal, but as has been the case with so many artists over the years, Thompson still manages to distinguish her interpretation. Though he’s still tough, there’s a softer side to Hellboy here that suits a teamup with cute dogs and cats. Given how successfully other artists have interpreted the character over the years, I can only assume that’s a testament to both Mignola’s design and his minimalist, gothic style in general.
The creators are to be commended for crafting a wholly accessible introduction to these characters without having to alienate existing fans with a clunky, exposition-heavy script. Everything one needs to know to follow the plot is here, even though it touches upon a previous Dorkin/Thompson tale. One of the aspects of the storytelling that won me over early was how Hellboy easily accepted the notion of talking animals serving as a force against darkness while simultaneously depicting him as a bit incredulous about the whole thing. The two perceptions of the situation would seem to be mutually exclusive, but it works well.
Another aspect of the script that appealed to me was the kinship between Hellboy and Pugs. They have similar, down-to-earth personalities, but at the same time, Hellboy’s bravery and savvy make for a contrast with Pugs’ yellow streak and penchant for griping. They play off of each other quite well, and the final panel says a lot about what a successful pairing they are. It also serves as another example of how Dorkin manages to portray these anthropomorphic heroes as animals while maintaining their human-level intelligence at the same time.
While Mignola is listed as having contributed to the writing of this comic book, it’s clear from the credits and the overall tone of the story that this is really more of a Beasts of Burden comic than a Hellboy comic. And that’s a smart move on Dark Horse’s and the creators’ part. This one-shot is bound to draw in a lot of Hellboy fans, and no doubt, they outnumber those interested in the Wise Dog Society. It’s a great bit of marketing. This solidly entertaining story will likely driving quite a few new readers to the collected edition of the recent Beasts of Burden limited series. If I hadn’t already read all of the previous Beasts of Burden material, I can guarantee you that this one-shot (which would have grabbed my attention as a Hellboy fan) would’ve sent me scrambling to find it. 8/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.