Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review: Hellboy vol. 6: Strange Places

Hellboy vol. 6: Strange Places, by Mike Mignola, 2006, Dark Horse, 128 pages, $17.95

This is another excellent entry in the Hellboy horror-adventure series, collecting 2002's Hellboy: The Third Wish #1-2 and 2005's Hellboy: The Island #1-2.

After the events of The Conqueror Worm, Hellboy has quit working for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, and appears to be aimlessly wandering the planet. In The Third Wish, Hellboy is dragged down under the sea by some scheming mermaids and becomes the prisoner of a witch called the "Bog Roosh." In The Island, Hellboy is stranded on an island/ship graveyard, where he encounters a creature with knowledge of the origins of the universe and of Hellboy. (It's basically a well-executed info dump, revealing the secrets behind some of the long-running mysteries of the series.) A previously-unpublished epilogue sets out the direction for future stories.

Why is this series so consistently entertaining? I think many people would point to the fascinating stew of world mythology, pulp fiction, and horror that Mignola serves up with his ladle of pitch-perfect, stylized art. And I would, too, normally, except that I've already written about several books in this series and I want to talk about something different. So let's look at two possibly under-appreciated yet vital pieces of the puzzle: the character of Hellboy, and the coloring of Dave Stewart.

(A typical Hellboy response)

Hellboy is, let's face it, pretty damn fun to watch. I think he's probably one of the biggest reasons that the movies have been successful, as they highlight his personality and give him some great dialogue. Visually, he looks great, always standing out from his surroundings because of that devil red skin tone. But his personality is also just as clearly defined, to the point that Mignola probably doesn't have to do much heavy lifting when it comes to deciding how Hellboy will react to something. What makes him particularly unique for horror stories is that he just doesn't get scared. He's seen some bad, bad stuff, and faced off against some bad, bad monsters, and he always wades in fists first. It's so refreshing to see somebody able to cut through all the scary elements of the stores, and it makes everything a lot more fun to read.

Second, I have to say that if I was creating a comic book and I had my choice of any colorist, I would choose Dave Stewart. His coloring simply will make your stuff look great. On top of that, his colors actually add to the work (rather than just add clarity to the storytelling) through an imaginative choice of palette and an ability to compose the color page-by-page as opposed to panel-by-panel. Take a look at this undersea setting:

(The Bog Roosh is one nasty beastie.)

Who else would have the guts to color that purple? All the scenes in the Bog Roosh's chamber are that evocative lavender color, with only Hellboy (as noted above), a fish out of the water, breaking up the scheme. Man it just looks fantastic. Here's another page, from The Island:

That yellow running down the stairs and pooling in the water is not only interestingly creepy, it helps to tie together events separated by several centuries.

I encourage everyone to grab a Hellboy collection and flip through it, looking at each page as a unit. Most colorists go for a more representational look, trying to color everything as it appears, rather than choosing colors that add to the mood and style of the art. You'll see how Stewart, by choosing more expressive colors, adds to the mood and just makes the thing look good.

READ MORE: Here's a four-page preview of The Third Wish and a four-page preview of The Island. And here is the complete epilogue.

BUY IT: From Dark Horse here or from Amazon here: Hellboy vol. 6 : Strange Places

RELATED: Here are my reviews of other books in the Hellboy series:

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