Review: Hellboy Franchise Hits #8 With ‘Darkness Calls’ and ‘Killing Ground’
In the last few weeks, both of Mike Mignola’s related series for Dark Horse have hit their eighth collected volumes. So, while the second movie – prominently advertised on both covers – is still forthcoming, let’s see what’s going on with the Hellboy of the printed world.
Hellboy, Vol. 8: Darkness Calls
Written by Mike Mignola; art by Duncan Fegredo
Dark Horse, May 2008, $19.95
Hellboy has been wandering alone for about six years now — as one character remarks helpfully, late in this volume — since he walked away from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. He’s hasn’t particularly been looking for trouble, unlike his [[[B.P.R.D.]]] days, but trouble and [[[Hellboy]]] are never that far from each other.
After some adventures and a shipwreck on the coast of Africa — in the last volume, [[[The Troll Witch and Others]]] — Hellboy has turned up at the home of his old friend Harry Middleton, who was part of the old B.P.R.D. team of the ’50s with Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm. Hellboy is hoping to rest, but how likely is that?
Meanwhile, a minor villain named Igor Bromhead attempts to harness the power of the witch-goddess Hecate — who Hellboy beat up, but didn’t completely destroy, several books ago — and the witches of the world plot their own revenge against Hellboy. These two separate sub-plots are more connected than they first appear to be, of course…
Before too long, Hellboy is running for his life, and punching his way through a skeleton army in Baba Yaga’s mythic version of Russia. Even worse, she sets Koshchei the Deathless after him. He’s a man who lives up to his name — and Hellboy always has trouble with problems he can’t punch his way out of.
While that’s going on, three odd creatures are off on a mission to retrieve “her” to be the witches’ new queen. This is not expected to be good for the rest of the world, but, as the book ends, we still haven’t been told specifically who “she” is. But we clearly need to be worried about “her.”
As always, Hellboy is atmospheric and adventurous, a dark contemporary fantasy with horror overtones lightened by Hellboy himself, wisecracking and dealing with every new supernatural menace by giving it a big smack in the mush. This particular story is full of backstory and characters from previous volumes; I wouldn’t advise starting here. But, for established Hellboy fans, it’s the first long, substantial story in several years, and that’s very gratifying. (Even if it does seem to be just a prelude to Hellboy’s battle against “her.”)
Duncan Fegredo takes over the art chores from Hellboy creator Mignola with this volume; it’s the first time Mignola has let someone else illustrate a long Hellboy story. Fegredo isn’t quite doing a Mignola homage here, but his style is very close to Mignola’s. Fegredo isn’t as willing to have huge areas of black as Mignola has been, but his characters and their surroundings look exceptionally Mignola-esque. I don’t expect anyone will dislike [[[Darkness Calls]]] because it looks vastly different from previous Hellboy books.
B.P.R.D., Vol. 8: Killing Ground
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi; Art by Guy Davis
Dark Horse, April 2008, $17.95
Back in Colorado — the B.P.R.D. headquarters that Hellboy doesn’t even know about, since he’s been out of touch for long — things have gotten better in some ways, worse in others. Yes, Roger the homunculus is dead, but that was a while ago. In the aftermath of [[[Garden of Souls]]], the last B.P.R.D. adventure, Abe Sapien is back to lead the team, and psychic Johann Kraus is out of his ectoplasmic containment suit and inhabiting a new, superhuman body. But erstwhile team leader Captain Benjamin Daimio is cranky and defensive about the revelation that his grandmother was a Nazi occult agent. And Liz Sherman is having regular nightmares in which a red-robed figure confronts her with the armageddon the frog-creatures are trying to bring about.
Oh, and they also bring in that Canadian Wendigo from a few books ago — the Canadian government doesn’t want to hold it anymore, so the B.P.R.D. is stuck creating a secure facility for it on their premises. Things rapidly get very bloody and nasty at B.P.R.D. headquarters, though not entirely because of the Wendigo.
[[[Killing Ground]]] is something of a transitional volume: Daimio’s history if finally revealed, Liz deals with her nightmares, Johann revels in his new body’s possibilities, Abe settles back into his old role as team leader. The larger, longer battle against the frog-creatures isn’t addressed here, and the supernatural menaces in this book are not exactly wrapped up in the end, either. There will definitely be a story to tell what happens next — though I think the B.P.R.D. story currently running is a flashback.
So, again, Killing Ground isn’t a book for new readers, and probably not a book for readers who want everything settled nicely in the end. But it’s another solid entry in a good series of supernatural thrillers.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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