Hellboy: House of the Living Dead original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Cover artist: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $14.99 US/$16.99 CAN
The storytelling in this hardcover book is a bizarre and wondrous mish-mash of classic Universal Pictures movie monsters and the cheesy appeal of masked Mexican wrestlers. Hellboy creator and writer Mike Mignola manages to instill a campy, fanciful quality into the story while maintaining a macabre and melancholy mood that immerses the reader in the title character’s personal drama. This graphic novel sums up everything there is to love about Hellboy and his weird world. I absolutely loved the story and art… and after purchasing and reading it, I honestly wished I’d paid closer attention to the solicitation information before I committed to it. For only 49 or 50 pages of story and art, 15 bucks is pretty steep. As a lover of great comics, I was thrilled with this book and thoroughly entertained by the storytelling. As a consumer, I have to confess to some disappointment.
During his time in self-imposed exile in Mexico in the 1950s after his perceived failure to save the life and soul of a dear friend, Hellboy continues to drown his sorrows and immerse himself in the local culture as a masked wrestler/entertainer, or luchador. As always, he’s drawn into a conflict with supernatural forces when a stranger recruits him for a special match, one Hellboy can’t refuse else an innocent woman dies. The red-skinned warrior soon finds himself face to face with a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein and his creation, a behemoth crafted from the parts of dead men. Not only must Hellboy test his mettle against this monster, but others as well.
When it comes to comics artists who excel at illustrating monsters, Richard Corben is on a short list of industry professionals with a great reputation for twisted, dark visions of horror. Tapping him to be a regular contributor to the Mignola-verse years ago was a great idea, and it remains so today. His interpretations of the classic vampire and werewolf monsters are true to the Universal traditions but still exude his unique style. However, my favorite visual in this graphic novel was his spin on the Frankenstein monster archetype. Corben diverges a fair bit from the traditional look that comes to mind, but I appreciated the more inhuman design. The monster almost looks like a mountain of rotting flesh. Corben also should be applauded for how he manages to capture the classic Mignola design for the title protagonist without sacrificing his own style. Furthermore, the vision of a luchador Hellboy design brought a smile to my face. The next time Dark Horse arranges for a Hellboy action figure line, it ought to consider including this irreverent variant look.
As I began to read this book, I worried I’d picked up a reprint of a comic book I’d already read, but I soon realized Mignola is building on the legend of the Luchador Hellboy, upon which he’s touched before. Despite the fact this book continues a story that began elsewhere, it’s quite accessible. Even just a passing familiarity with the property is enough to follow and appreciate this story. The dedication before the story provided some great context for Mignola’s intent and homages in this story as well.
The plot is a weird, almost surreal amalgam of already weird genres. There’s an undeniably goofiness to the result of the merging, a celebration of the fun and cheesiness of the monster movies of decades ago. The mad scientist in particular brought a smile to my face. At the same time, though, Mignola brings an atmosphere of sadness and poignancy to the story in the form of Hellboy’s guilt and sense of loss. The disparate moods somehow manage not to clash with each other, though. Mignola manages to humanize Hellboy with his silent but raw emotion, but he also manages to amuse his audience with such well-timed gags and pastiches as the vampire’s quick scene in the latter part of the story.
Despite all those strengths, though, I found myself a little irked when I reached the end of the book. While the morbidly rich artwork mesmerizes and the writing offers a lot, I felt a little shortchanged by only 50 pages (give or take) of storytelling for my three fins. That works out to 30 cents a page. By comparison, a standard $2.99 US comic book with 20 pages of story and art works out to about 15 cents a page. So is the hardback cover worth double the price? Well, I would’ve enjoyed this story just as much as a traditional, oversized comic book, priced at, say, $5.99. Dark Horse has billed this as an original graphic novel, but really, it’s an original graphic novella priced as the same as a graphic novel. There’s no denying the strength of the craft on each page, but the decisions made about the format from the business side of things leave something to be desired. 7/10
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