Hellboy: Krampusnacht one-shot
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist/Colors: Adam Hughes
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artists: Adam Hughes (regular)/Mike Mignola (variant)
Editors: Scott Allie & Kath O’Brien
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I’m a bit of a “bah, humbug” kind of guy at this time of year. It’s not that I want to be, but I find the holidays brings so much pressure into everyone’s lives, the notion of an actual holiday seems to be the first thing that’s sacrificed. Of course, I’ve been a dad for a few years now, so my heart occasionally grows three sizes, usually just in time for Christmas morning. Despite my Scrooge-like demeanor at times (or perhaps because of it), this Christmas-themed Hellboy one-shot grabbed my eye on my local comic shop’s shelves this week, and I had to have it. The immersion of holiday tradition and spirit in the horror genre played right into my cynical perspective on the yuletide. The story is just the kind of perfect gothic and monstrous yarn we’ve come to expect from Mike Mignola, but what’s unique about this story is the illustration. Adam Hughes is a beloved figure in mainstream comics, but he delivers an unexpected twist on his usual style.
An old man’s psychokinetic disturbance at an Austrian church in December 1975 attracts the attention of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, which dispatches the powerful and resourceful Hellboy to investigate. The stubborn, horned agent discovers a man who thinks himself a legend — the Krampus that torments and kills children who’ve fallen out of Saint Nicholas’s favor. It turns out this man isn’t a man at all, and it’s determined to bring his legend to a climax with a confrontation with Hellboy, whose demonic origins makes the creature see him as a kindred spirit.
I joked with a friend that this story lacks the usual soft curves where artist Adam Hughes usually lives, and honestly, that’s what allows him to extend beyond the fare for which he’s best known. His take on Hellboy doesn’t really look like Mignola’s (though it’s consistent with the original design), but rather puts one in mind of Kevin Nowlan’s take on the character. Furthermore, his rendering of the human guise of the infernal antagonist of the story reminded me of the style of occasional Mignola collaborator Richard Corben or that of the unique Frazer Irving. It was also noteworthy that the design for the human face of the monster causing problems seemed to mirror that of the hero’s mentor and father figure, Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm; I suspect it wasn’t an accident. Ultimately, the dark, gothic notes that are inherent in such a Hellboy piece take Hughes to places his fans like haven’t seen him journey before, and that’s always a pleasant surprise to see from such an established artist with such a normally recognizable style.
The colors here boast three main modes: cool blues to convey the outdoor winter scenes; warm reds and oranges to bring the indoor, heated scenes to life; and finally eerie greens to reinforce the unnatural, otherworldly nature of the action later in the book. The blues are soothing and calm, while the reds ramp up the tension until they finally give way to the unsettling green tones. It’s simple but effective.
I find it impressive that Hellboy has such an established profile in comics and mainstream culture that exposition is practically unnecessary here. All we need is the timeframe and setting, and we’re good to go. That speaks to the strength of the character’s appeal, both visually and conceptually. Characterization is a key component in Hellboy’s popularity as well. Mignola’s choice — as is evident from the script here — to imbue him with a working-class demeanor transforms the impossible character into a relatable one, a likeable one. Hellboy is an unlikely everyman, a regular guy with whom you’d want to have a beer or 12.
The antagonist in this story is an unusual one. He’s initially depicted as delighting in the nightmarish role he’s been playing in the Austrian countryside over the years, not only terrifying children with his legend, but also decimating lives, not only those he’s taken but the lives of those his victims have left behind. But by the time the fight gets underway, he’s almost a sympathetic figure. Well, not sympathetic, but pitiable. It’s no story of redemption, though, and perhaps the real comeuppance isn’t his ultimate fate, but the revelation that he’s not what he believed himself to be. 8/10