I like that after a big storyline in “Hellboy,” Mike Mignola likes to mix it up with shorter stories to give everyone a bit of a break. “Hellboy in Mexico” is one of those one-shots, starting in 1982 and then jumping further back to 1956 in a story that involves Hellboy, three Mexican masked wrestler brothers, and the occult. It’s such a natural mixture of elements that honestly it makes you wonder just why we didn’t get anything along these lines earlier.
Now that I’ve read the issue, I wonder if part of the reason why we haven’t seen such a mash-up before now had to do with a lack of a good plot to tie them all together. In many ways, this story is Mignola on auto-pilot; some neat monsters, a cool setting, and Hellboy having to stop a big bad guy at the end of the story. All we’re really missing is an exploding gun and/or jet pack.
Part of the problem, I think, is that Mignola falls into the telling and not showing trap. We’re informed that Hellboy and the youngest of the brothers developed a strong friendship, one that took in such a way that the later events of the story had a deep personal effect on Hellboy. We don’t ever actually see that friendship happen, though; the two of them hang out and interact for three panels in that manner, before bad things happen again. I can’t help but wonder if “Hellboy in Mexico” would’ve worked better as a two-issue story instead of just a one-shot; while there isn’t a lot of plot, it could’ve been filled out somewhat with additional friendship building moments between Hellboy and the youngest brother, or at least reveled some more in the general atmosphere of 1950s Mexico.
Fortunately, it’s the latter that is the high point of the comic. I love that Richard Corben has become one of the go-to guys for “Hellboy” stories, because Mignola and Corben work so well together in creating comics that just drip with atmosphere. I mean, how could this directive go wrong in the hands of Corben? “Trapped in a wrestling ring against a possessed friend, while a horde of zombies watch, all from inside an Aztec pyramid.” Corben draws those zombies like there’s no tomorrow, with rotting faces and horrifying teeth. The transformed Camazotz (no, I’m not telling you what he looks like) is wonderfully creepy and powerful looking. And you, too, will believe that a turkey can look like the spawn of Satan. No, really.
At the end of the day, it sounds a little strange to say that the lack of plot could’ve been better hidden by extending “Hellboy in Mexico” to a second issue, but then again “Hellboy” is a little strange, period. I absolutely love the art in this issue (the images from Corben of Hellboy and the wrestlers drinking put a big grin on my face), and it’s a fun enough little side trip. In the grand scheme of things, though, I think this will probably be a story that’s not remembered very often. Mignola and Corben have had such strong collaborations in the past that they overshadow something that’s just all right. Then again, it’s nice to have a series where a low point is merely all right, rather than bad. There are definitely worse problems in comics.