After a long wait, "Hellboy in Hell" returns as Mike Mignola delivers the first chapter of "The Hounds of Pluto." As readers have come to expect, Mignola fills the issue with distorted, dark imagery that focuses on unique visual elements and new characters with delightfully odd peccadilloes, like a golem with a penchant for fish.
The issue begins with a familiar refrain: Hellboy is dying. Again. A parasite eating away at his soul threatens to destroy what is left of the paranormal detective, leading to hallucinations of old friends and vague portensions about England. Mignola keeps the action expectedly offbeat as characters talk in clips and phrases that seem almost as if they are projecting and not conversing. The space in the dialogue suits his sparse art style, both working together to give Hell the feel of a dank, echoing chamber full of strange bedfellows. Hellboy is emaciated and drained of color for most of the issue, his body sagging with the ravages of the parasite. Mignola also uses distant perspectives in many panels to accentuate the strangeness of the realm and allow a foreboding creepiness to seep into the story.
The visual highlight of this issue is a pencil-shaded dream sequence. It seems as though Mignola spent the most time on these gorgeous pages, a soft visual contrast to the hard-lined inky blacks that fill much of the rest of the book. There are some visual inconsistencies that typically go hand-in-hand with Mignola's minimalist style; characters shift in detail from page to page, forcing readers to take a moment to reassess who is who, especially when the story begins to bounce back and forth from Dr. Hoffman to the scene of his trial. Dave Stewart ably assists in these moments, using warmer reds and oranges to portray the growing threat of the issue and to distinguish Wilhelm Coppelius. Much of the non-hallucination portions have a cool color palette, resting in purples and blues, so -- when any red appears -- it really pops on the page.
What makes the story work well is Hellboy's roll-with-it attitude regarding anything that comes his way. The character does what he needs to in order to accomplish whatever his goal may be and rarely balks at even the strangest of scenarios. There is always a catch to getting what he wants, some task that must be completed, and this time it's stopping a raging doctor demon bent on revenge. Mignola finds a way to balance the menace with fun oddities, like the golem's rampage while screaming about fish or Hellboy yelling "Jeez!" upon seeing what he's up against. It keeps everything entertaining when it could get bogged down in the darker elements and keeps Hellboy on a level above other stories attempting similar plots.
Having Mignola back on both art and writing duties is a treat, and this issue already has the elements that make the exploits of Hellboy so great.