Posted by Don MacPherson on November 13th, 2008
Hellboy: The Crooked Man #s 1-3
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US each
With two feature films and several animated features on the market, Hellboy certainly has a remarkably strong degree of pop-culture penetration going in his favor. There’s so much potential inherent in the property, and creator Mike Mignola demonstrates it once again with another limited series. He should also be applauded for allowing a diverse array of artists to tackle his creation; it’s no surprise that Richard Corben, who’s proven as a top-notch horror artist, excels in Hellboy’s world. This was a thoroughly accessible story. One of the elements that impressed me the most, though, was that despite the backdrop, Mignola doesn’t go for any easy redneck gags, opting instead to treat people in the Appalachians as a proud culture in and of itself.
In 1958, a wandering Hellboy finds himself in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, and as usual, his travels have landed him in the middle of some supernatural trouble. Witches are running rampant through the wilds of those hills, and Hellboy, joined by a fellow wandered named Tom Farrell who’s found his way home, work together to rescue a woman who’s fallen under the witches’ sway. But worse than that, Hellboy and his new friend find themselves pitted against the evil of the Crooked Man, a monstrous old miser who leads the witches on behalf of the devil himself. After Tom taps into a long-ignored, forbidden power, the miser’s owed a debt, one he intends to collect, and not even the fierce Hellboy can deter him.
Mike Mignola’s gothic style conveys horror by emphasizing what the reader doesn’t see. The monsters hide in shadows, or the audience is left to wonder what terror is to be found at the end of a tentacle. But he didn’t illustrate this series; Richard Corben did. His art sets out to scare the readers in the opposite way. His detailed linework and inks hide nothing, hold nothing back. He shocks and terrifies us by splaying out the monsters in all their ugly glory. His organic, exaggerated style presents the antagonists as twisted, distorted figures, as physically warped as the corruption that lies beneath the surface. Corben’s radically different style also allows the power of Mignola’s sense of design to shine through. Hellboy, even when rendered by Corben, still stands out as Mignola’s creation, but the more angular, gothic character still somehow fits into Corben’s vision of horror as well.
When I saw in the first panel that this story was set in the Appalachians, I figured I ought to prepare myself for weird, in-bred, hillbilly characters. That sort of thing usually factors in when pop-culture writers turn to that setting. But Mignola approaches the characters with sensitivity and realism. Sure, many of these characters seem to lack formal education, but they’re not stupid. There’s honor and faith to be found in some of the players. Tom Farrell and Cora Fisher are well realized and convincing characters, even in the face of the fantastic, supernatural circumstances of the plot. Mignola touches upon these people as part of a culture, one that’s unlike our own, but something unique and alive all the same. Furthermore, there’s evidence that the writer has researched the material well, as the notions of witchballs and other Appalachian superstitions have a real ring of truth to them.
As is often the case with so many Hellboy comic, while there are some explosive action and spine-tingling monsters to be found, the real draw is the mood. Hellboy’s down-to-earth demeanor makes it easy to accept his netherworldly nature among the human players in the drama. Mignola doesn’t bother to explain how Hellboy arrived at this place at this moment. He allows his audience to simply accept that he’s drawn to adventure, drawn to where he’s needed. It’s an accessible read, and while it seems like a fairly simple story at first, it ends up embracing faith and good will as vital components of not only the plot, but the human heart as well. 9/10