It’s still birthday week here at spalanz.com, and all week I’ve been rambling about Hellboy in my own, inimitable style! Today sees a return to the comics that started it all, as I turn my gaze onto the third and fourth books in the trade paperback series!
Unlike the first two, these books are basically short story collections, bringing together one or two-issue books into the trade paperback format. The stories span a wide expanse of both releases and also points on the Hellboy timeline, with escapades from the 1950s right up to the 1990s, in-universe. They’re a mixed bag, ranging from the two-page Pancakes right up to such monumental stories as Box Full of Evil. I’m not going to attempt to cover all of the stories contained in the books, but instead touch on a couple of what I consider my favourites…
The Chained Coffin & Others collects seven stories, of which we have Mignola’s favourite, The Corpse, as well as three fairly substantial stories that have a long reach throughout the lore. The titular Chained Coffin story tells something of the origin of Hellboy as a half-daemon, following Hellboy as he returns to the ruined church in East Bromwich where he first appeared in 1944. He has a dream of a woman recanting on her deathbed her sins of being a witch, only for her soul to be claimed by the daemon Azzael who then turns to Hellboy, calling him “my favourite son”. It’s quite a short one, but we learn a bit more about Big Red’s ancestry, so definitely worth a mention!
The Wolves of Saint August is a werewolf story that has a bit of a creepy feel to it, but then I suppose that’s true of most of these stories! There is a very definite sense of atmosphere in the tale, as we follow Hellboy and Kate Corrigan as they investigate an abandoned village in the Balkans. It’s really very creepy and atmospheric, and well worth the read to see how the tale unfolds for itself! Finally, Almost Colossus follows on from the events of Wake the Devil, as we see the homunculus from Czerge Castle run amok with Liz Sherman’s powers. The team track it down in order to restore Liz’s powers, as the homunculus has been sapping her will to live. We get a bit of backstory on the whole thing, and the hilarity of the fact that Hellboy names the chap Roger… anyway!
The Right Hand of Doom is a similar collection, bringing eight stories together in roughly chronological order, starting with the two-page Pancakes story and building up from there. There are plenty of short tales that often feel more like vignettes from the universe, as we see a lot of stuff breeze by like the Japanese floating-heads story, the St Leonard’s Wyrm story, and the Vârcolac story. They’re stories that were written for much larger collections, and serve in their original outing to give a sense for what Hellboy is all about. Reading them in this format doesn’t really work, for me, as they all just feel a bit like throwaway adventures that don’t feel like they add too much to the overall storyline, as much as any such thing can be said to exist in this sense.
The final two stories, however, are a bit more meaty. The Right Hand of Doom does go someway to address the existence of Hellboy’s stone right hand, though it is yet another account of Hellboy’s history up to this point, as Hellboy explains his story to the son of Malcolm Frost (one of the three paranormal investigators present in East Bromwich on the night Hellboy first came to earth). Not an origin story per se, but certainly hitting all of the story points that we’re by now familiar with.
Box Full of Evil is the final story, and finally we get Hellboy and Abe reunited for an adventure! The two are investigating the strange reappearance of Igor Bromhead after his release from prison. Bromhead, using a hand of glory, has broken into an English mansion and removed a small box and a set of tongs, which the two BPRD agents immediately realise have links to the legend of St Dunstan, who is said to have trapped Satan in a box. Bromhead releases the devil, taking the form of the daemon Ualac, and when Hellboy arrives, his destiny to bring about armageddon is once again addressed. The story is really quite involved, and feels like it has a lot more substance to it than the others that appear in the volume, so was definitely a fitting finale!
I think I definitely prefer my Hellboy stories to be longer tales than the sort of one-shot stories we have collected in these two books! That’s not to say that they’re bad, per se, it’s just a lot more satisfying to read a fairly meaty story that can bring the full depth of Mignola’s talent for weaving folklore and myth into his universe. Wake the Devil is the archetypal story at this point in the lore, and I feel like most of these other tales are merely background.
Nevertheless, I enjoy seeing Hellboy taking part in an adventure that manages to pull together one or two elements of folklore and superstition, and it all helps to add to the character overall.
I think it’s quite informative to fans of the board game to read these stories, as they go a long way to explaining a lot of the enemy miniatures that have been included there. I must admit to feeling a bit puzzled when they revealed minis for things like the monkey with a gun, or St Leonard’s Wyrm, as they’re hardly the more important aspects of the Hellboy mythos. However, as I said in my blog about the game, the Hellboy comics are – largely – made up of these sorts of vignettes and short tales that feature Hellboy going up against some aspect of folklore or myth, which is why the modular design of the game and its one-shot-style play fit so well. If you read the comics, you realise that this isn’t really a campaign, but instead a series of standalone adventures with a rough chronology that can, on the whole, be enjoyed by themselves.
They’re definitely worth a read, anyway!!