Short stories in any medium are difficult to nail, as the length of the piece can become a real issue for the content. That’s a problem that ultimately crops up in “Hellboy Winter Special 2016,” where two of the three main stories feel like they could have benefited from a different page count.
The winner in this one-shot is Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Michael Walsh and Dave Stewart’s “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953 –Wandering Souls.” This is a story that understands its length perfectly and gets in and out of a creepy Wyoming barn haunted by Chinese ghosts. Mignola and Roberson take an appropriate amount of time to set up the conflict and similarly have the characters solve what’s happening in an amount of time that feels neither rushed nor drawn out. It’s especially nice Susan is the one to figure out what’s going on at this early point in Hellboy’s career, with Hellboy serving more as the muscle. Walsh and Stewart do a good job here too, with the ghosts looking genuinely disturbing, both in their lanky and ghoulish features as well as the unnatural green pallor they exude. If you were only to read one story in the special, this would be it.
“Broken Vessels” by Mignola, Stewart, Scott Allie and Tim Sale is more of a mood piece than anything else and boasts Sale’s excellent art. The way Sale draws the warlord dressed in chains and skulls is impressive, giving an unnerving feel to the character. Similarly, the glimpses of the past — with washed out features and colors — look great, to say nothing of the final glimpse of the setting once the winter has faded. Unfortunately, Mignola and Allie’s story has little meat on its bones; for the plot to work, it would have needed a bit more room in order to grow and build. The story itself feels negligible, but it sure is nice to see Sale dip into the realms of fantasy and horror.
Chelsea Cain, Michael Avon Oeming and Stewart head up “Mood Swings,” story that not only has the misfortune to be Christmas-themed in January, but also feels like it’s the wrong length. At eight pages, it’s too long to be a quick dart towards a punch line, but too short in order to build up any real sense of conflict. It’s a shame, because the glimpses we get of Liz from Cain are pretty funny, particularly in her mood swings and overall annoyance with the world around her. With the short page length, it feels like it’s too abrupt in the switching from one extreme to the other. Oeming’s art is handsome, though, as he applies a clean style that fits in perfectly with the overall world of Hellboy. That said, with another page or two, we could have seen some more of his demonic snowmen, which deserved a few more panels. The snow geists’ fangs and tongues are a great contrast to the iconic snowman shape, and it’s too bad to see them vanish so quickly.
Dean Rankine closes the book down with a two-page Lobster Johnson joke; this is an example of a short that really is just a punch line waiting to happen, but that works well. It knows what it’s aiming for and jumps right in with gusto. In the end, it’s a nice silly note to end the comic on. Ultimately, there’s more things to like than not here, but it is a shame that two of the three main shorts didn’t live up to their potential. Early “Hellboy” comics were known for their strong short stories, and that pedigree isn’t accurately reflected here.