It's been a while since Mike Mignola drew a "Hellboy" mini-series; specifically, "Hellboy: The Island" back in 2005. So with Mignola writing and drawing "Hellboy in Hell" #1 this month, this is a big deal. A very big deal, in fact. But with Duncan Fegredo and a host of other artists having provided the visuals to "Hellboy" since then, it was hard to keep from wondering a simple question. Did Mignola still have it?
Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.
From the opening pages giving a recap of "Hellboy: The Fury" #3's final pages (with Hellboy's heart getting plucked out of his chest) to Hellboy's plunging into the outer edge of the Abyss, it's a series of images that feel almost like a defiant response to that question. Mignola is back and ready for business. An early splash page of Hellboy perched on a rock outcropping in a bottomless ocean, with all sorts of crustacean and cephalopod monsters rising up out of the waters towards him is just breathtaking. I'd forgotten how much Mignola brings to the page, with all those sharp little angles and bumps in his figures, or how well that colorist Dave Stewart is able to mesh with that drawing to use a subdued color choice to accentuate what Mignola's created.
Mignola's artistry is on display continually here. Not many people could get away with a two panel sequence where a hammer's swinging down on Hellboy in the first one, and the second one merely having the word "BOOM" etched into a blank background, but it feels so wonderfully right that you just smile and nod in response. There are a lot of great little visual moments here: Hellboy tumbling down a staircase with framed pictures raining down on him; walls scrawled with ancient symbols and arcane script; a series of black and gray rooftops and chimneys to soar over. This is an artistic smorgasbord of fun that Mignola just keeps serving up.
Mignola was still writing "Hellboy" while others drew the book for him, so that's a bit more familiar. That said, it's actually the lesser half of the comic because it's a little slow. Normally that's not a problem with a "Hellboy" comic because atmosphere is as much of an important part of the comic as the plot. But with such a huge cliffhanger at the end of "Hellboy: The Storm" #3 (namely Hellboy's death), a slight uptick in the pacing might not have been a bad thing. Readers have been champing at the bit for a while now to see just what Mignola was going to serve up, and while this is a good start, it could have used just a tiny bit more momentum (and maybe a page or two less involving Duke Bligos) to help satiate everyone's desire to see more.
"Hellboy in Hell" #1 is a gorgeous book, and nitpicking aside, it's a lot of fun too. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Fegredo's art on the various "Hellboy" mini-series from the past several years has been a joy to read, and he brought a lot to the property in general. But there's no denying this simple fact: it's great to have Mignola back at the drawing table again.