I’ll be honest. Somehow, I was expecting more from “Itty Bitty Hellboy.” August, 2013 is actually the 20th anniversary of Hellboy’s first appearance in comics, and since then Mike Mignola has masterminded the Hellboy Universe with a singular vision and focus that are fairly unmatched in the comics world. The characters, continuity, and general weight of thousands of pages written and drawn are part of what makes Hellboy so great. So to read a parody comic that doesn’t actually do much with any of that is a bit disappointing.
“Itty Bitty Hellboy” is definitely steeped in the world of kids’ comics, though. It has a great rhythm of short stories, two or three pages each, that link together into a sort-of narrative about cardboard box forts and Roger the Homunculus hiding in bushes naked. The vibe is very reminiscent of those little Archie digest comics, which alternate between short gags and slightly longer stories. There are some off-key moments, such as a couple of jokes that don’t really land, but for the most part it’s a pretty decent kids’ comic.
But the problem is that the jokes don’t engage with the source material very much. Roger’s metal underwear is the butt of a few jokes, and Johann sneezes himself out of his containment suit a few times. Beyond that, the comic doesn’t seem to be a part of the Hellboy universe. Not that I’m suggesting it should be canon or something like that– just that setting all the stories in a world of blue skies, white picket fences, and baseball teams isn’t really using the material to its fullest. Where are the jokes about Nazi occultism? The stories set in Hell? The jokes are much more general, jokes that could be found in any kids’ comic.
And that might be the basic issue — it’s a Hellboy comic, and presumably Hellboy fans will be buying it, but it’s also a children’s comic, and it veers a bit too far in that direction. Hellboy fans will probably be a bit let down, and children a bit confused.
On the other hand, the art is fantastic, which is pretty much what you’d expect from Art Baltazar. As the credits suggest, Baltazar is responsible for everything but the words (and probably plenty of those, too) so the book has a very coherent look, from the glowing pastel colors to the slightly imperfect hand lettering. The characters are all very cute when drawn in Baltazar’s signature style, and there’s a lot of motion and expression to his figures. Their faces and poses speak volumes, and add a lot of humor to the written jokes.
So overall, even if “Itty Bitty Hellboy” #1 falls a bit flat, it’s still a fun read. Hellboy fans expecting a comic that takes its humor from the original comics, or retells those stories in a funny way, or tells new stories of occult investigation but with jokes, will be disappointed. I do think there was potential to do much more here, potential that goes unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the art is great and there are some fun moments, though not enough to make this a must-read except for readers looking for a light, quick read.