Mike Mignola shares one trait in common with most of the worst art of the boom-time 1990s: the man doesn't draw feet. He creates silhouettes, long robes, jagged rubble, rocks and hillsides to hide them. It's almost comical. But you can't let that minor annoyance put you off from his remarkable work. The man may have drawn a ROCKET RACOON mini-series for Marvel once upon a time, but it is with HELLBOY that he cemented his place in this industry.
With a major motion picture (as they like to call them in Hollywood) hitting the silver screens in the spring, Dark Horse has gone back to print with all their Hellboy trades, unifying the trade dress and adding a very handy sequential number to the spine to put them in the proper reading order. The design is very nice. It's just a simple red band across the top with the logo and another across the bottom with the credits. The logo pops out up top, and Mignola's art is nicely highlighted in the middle. The sticker on the front of the first volume proclaiming it to be "the book that inspired the motion picture" is a little tacky, but necessary in the grand marketing scheme of things. I won't complain.
I think this is the fifth time I've read "Seed of Destruction" now. I read it when it was first serialized, when the trade first came out, and once or twice more since then. Looking back on it this weekend, I see more of Mignola's design work than ever. I've given up paying attention to every detail of the story. That isn't where my interests lie. I'm not well versed in mythology and paranormal history. (This might also explain my disfavor for SANDMAN.) So while my eyes occasionally roll back into my head at some of the more Out There moments of the book, they also remain fixated on Mignola's storytelling choices and sense of design. Even if you hated Disney's ATLANTIS, you stuck around to look at Mignola's designs lurking in the background.
Mignola's art is often very stiff and formal looking. It's just talking heads with flickers of emotions. As you read the story, however, you realize how perfectly the art complements it. The characters are emoting in very subtle ways. Mignola doesn't take the characters to extremes for every single word balloon. His subtlety is his strong point. His characters' designs and his wonderful backgrounds (both in architectural detail and layout) keep the book interesting.
There is a great case to be made for Mignola being the foremost practitioner of negative space in comics today. That's just the big way of saying that he uses lots of black areas to his advantage, building a panel by laying out the blacks and then shining a dim light on what's left. Fans of Frank Miller and Paul Grist could make a good argument against it, though.
The coloring work can't be dismissed, though. It's essential to much of the storytelling. When Hellboy jumps dramatically at a villain, it isn't the size of the panel or the forced perspective of the character that jumps out at you. It's the shocking bright red background color that gives you that sense of alarm. Mark Chiarello is responsible for that look in volume 1, and James Sinclair carries the torch admirably in volume two, "Wake the Devil."
Mignola didn't trust himself to write all the dialogue in the first series, so he brought on fellow "Legends" creator, John Byrne, to script "Seed of Destruction." However, he obviously gave himself short shrift. Starting in "Wake the Devil," Hellboy's true voice comes out. The cocksure investigator of the paranormal is of supernatural origin himself, but refuses to believe in any of it until he sees it for himself. When he sees it, he treats it like an every day occurrence, though, and often fights it to the death. When you look at the movie trailer, you can see that the attitude is there in the short bits of dialogue coming out of the red guy's mouth. For me, it's the most entertaining part of the story. Hellboy's glib dialogue and not-quite-witty one-liners carry a charm all their own.
Mignola's art - with all of its jerky straight lines and hard edges - stands out in a crowded field of manga-influenced art and superhero-tinged comics. While Mignola is definitely channelling Jack Kirby in spots for this book, he does a great job is presenting his own vision. It's a lot of fun to read.
"Seed of Destruction" is an origin story of sorts. "Wake the Devil" is a direct sequel that gets a little more complicated. You'll want to read this one as quickly as possible to keep everyone straight in your mind. I'd definitely suggest starting with the first volume before delving into the second. Future stories are a little more self-contained, as I remember. And Dark Horse is publishing the HELLBOY: WEIRD TALES anthology series right now alongside the BPRD one-shots by various creative teams. Quality varies, of course, but they're all worthy efforts.
"Seed of Destruction" and "Wake the Devil" are available today for $17.95 each.
NEW FROM CROSSGEN
KISS KISS BANG BANG #1 brings James Bond back to his essential elements as a wise-cracking whipsmart secret agent with a punny sense of humor, while amping it up just a bit to make him completely unlikable in a fun way. Then, it gives him a female partner and lets the sparks fly. KKBB is a fun book if you're not easily offended.
The James Bond franchise has a real problem today. While it is, in its own way, a parody of the spy genre, it's left itself open to the horrible AUSTIN POWERS series, which parodies it and has proven to be more popular than Bond amongst the younger demographic the movie studios so desperately crave. Anything Bond could do by way of silly names and situations can be outdone by Mike Meyers and his team of one-note cliché writers in search of a new catchphrase for every scene.
Perhaps it is, then, that KKBB is the next step for the Bond franchise. It begins with the familiar concept that James Bond is not a person, but a role to be played. This accounts for the different actors playing Bond through the years. Each one is a new agent stepping into the role of James Bond. KKBB has that, with the character of "Charles Basildon," a wonderfully haughty British sounding name. This particular Basildon is a cocky womanizing murderer. And that's just the first four pages of the book. Writer Tony Bedard does a great job in introducing us to the character with an opening scene that defines Basildon perfectly. Everything else that happens in the issue is just an elaboration on what we learn in the first four pages. If only more writers had this kind of skill, we'd have more books with better circulation in their second issues.
When Basildon's partner is killed in action, he is assigned a new one meant to be a calming influence on him. It's the beautiful Stephanie Shelley, who doesn't take long to decide that Basildon is a reproachful and disgusting man whom she must deal with. He gives her good reason for that, but I'm not here to spoil the whole issues.
Bedard has a light sense of humor sprinkled through the book, although one or two obvious gags fall flat. The nod to Bond is a bit of a show stopper -- and not in the good way -- but I'll give it points for being an actual plot point. Tony Perkins handles the art and does a good job overall. Characters are occasionally stiff and faces often look too posed, but there are some nice smirks and likenesses here and there.
The review copy I have is in black and white, so I don't know how big a help or hindrance the color will be, but it's credited to Laura Villari. Inks are by Andrew Hennessy and letters from David Lanphear. (In what might be a first for a CrossGen book, the credits are included in the story, itself.)
KKBB is a delightful updating of a familiar favorite, amplifying some of the interesting aspects of the Bond legacy with a wicked twist. We'll have to see what kind of influence Basildon's new partner has on him in the second issue to see which direction the series takes. KKBB is another winner for CrossGen much in the same mold as EL CAZADOR.
KKBB #1 appears at your local comics shop (with a nod to Steranko on the cover) on January 15th for $2.95.
It might just be the best-kept secret in comics today. The coolest new alternative comics magazine out there today is Harris' VAMPIRELLA COMICS MAGAZINE. It has many of the things fans of indie comics have been asking for in a magazine to compete with Wizard. It focuses on small press and independent comics creators. It's designed to cater to a crowd past the direct market. And it's not too brash about it. All you have to do is get past the cheesey tongue-in-cheeck Vampi serial in the middle of the issue and all the extra goth-induced advertising (piercings, coffin-shaped guitar cases, etc.) and you've got a winning magazine here.
The second issue recently hit shelves, and I have a copy here of the first to go along with it. They are impressive packages right out of the gate. The articles are fairly short and breezy, making for easy reading that still has the potential to excite new readers to look for the work being described. Interviews include Alan Moore, Mark Wheatley, Stuart Moore, KISS' Paul Stanley, and the new Vampirella model. But the bulk of the material is made up of book reviews and recommendations, including some at the end of the letters column by editor Maureen McTigue. (Oops, sorry, is that supposed to be Vampirella writing that part? The two are easily confused over the course of the magazine.)
The comics are a bit of an iffy spot. The first issue has a terrific contribution from Steve Lieber, whose black and white artwork is classy and reminiscent of the classic Vampirella stories. The other story is a full color serial done up in the mold of an early 90s Mike Deodato book. Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey, the story is poking fun at superheroes, opening up with Matt Murdock soliciting Vampi and friend for a threesome. It's a bit of an oddity. I guess any Vampirella book has to have its share of T&A, but this thing has very little purpose aside from being a heavy handed superhero parody with a few gags thrown in for kicks.
Overall, the magazine is much closer to WIZARD EDGE's mission statement than WIZARD EDGE is, focusing on alternative and independent creators of comics under the guise of a horror-centered magazine. Ignore some of the set dressing and enjoy the content. It's worth a read. Each mag is $3.95.
Normally, this is the week you'd see a PREVIEWS column. Due to the holidays and assorted scheduling issues, that's being delayed until next Friday. Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with more reviews, including a look at NBM's introduction to graphic novels, THE RISE OF THE GRAPHIC NOVEL.
Various and Sundry looks at WORLD IDOL, more problems with the Linux changeover at Pipeline Central, the ultimate widescreen reference, LORD OF THE RINGS DVD bonus material, and more.
Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.