With Neil Marshall’s new Hellboy movie less than a year away (yes, that soon!) I decided it was high time I take a dive into the acclaimed Mignolaverse. Convenient then that Dark Horse has set about collating the entire saga into chronological omnibus format, with their latest offering, Volume 1 of Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories, serving up fifteen standalone adventures pitched as a perfect entry point for new readers. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Hellboy first kicked off back in 1994, and having since secured a slew of awards, spawned dozen of comics, spin-offs, and been adapted into a del Toro film, is widely regarded as one of comics’ biggest and best.
The volume begins with the shortest of shorts, titled Pancakes it consists of no more than a two-page spread where the eponymous Hellboy, at this point no more than a kid, first consumes the delicious pancake – much to the horror of the demons of Hell, who despair that with this discovery Hellboy is now lost to them forever. It’s the sort of absurd wit you might not expect from a gritty yarn about monsters and demons, but if Hellboy is anything it’s a genre-blend. Ranging from horror to humour, Hellboy runs away to the circus in a Pinocchio-esque tale, is hired to summon the spectre of a ghostly king, kill a dragon straight from medieval myth, before embarking on a multi-part adventure in the arid vampire-infested deserts of Mexico. The stories can be read in any order, and each provides a window into an aspect of Hellboy’s life and character, young and old, as well as a range of art styles from some of the series’ top collaborators, from the almost Samurai Jack approach of Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba to the iconic aesthetic of Mignola himself.
One of my favourite stories was The Crooked Man. Written by Mignola and illustrated gorgeously gruesome by Richard Corben of Eisner Hall of Fame, it reads like classic pulpy horror, chock full of witches and demons and set in the Hillbilly Appalachian Mountains, while channelling a rural folklore vibe quite different from the Hellboy’s standard European-centric fare. A definite testament to Mignola’s ability to exploit the myth and legend of any region, and the charm of Hellboy that is so diverse in its ability to tell stories.
Certainly then The Complete Short Stories lives up to its pitch, this is a globe-trotting tour of the sheer range of adventure Hellboy has to offer. And for anyone looking for an entry point into the series, or indeed another slice to dig into, is a sure way to start.
Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories Volume 1 is available now from Dark Horse (9781506706641, p/b, £20.99)