Friday, December 02, 2016

Hellboy in Hell, Vol. 2: The Death Card by Mike Mignola

Hellboy was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. But in Mike Mignola's fictional universe, being dead just means that you're not here anymore. You can still go somewhere else, if there's somewhere that will take you. Hellboy could always go home. [1] And so he did: Hellboy in Hell, Vol. 2: The Death Card collects the back half of what creator Mike Mignola originally thought was going to be a substantially longer story.

But it turned out that Hellboy's story was already over: his story took place on Earth. Sure, things happen in this book. Hellboy even spends some quality time punching various monstrous entities with that big right hand of his, which is the sine qua non of any Hellboy story. There are murky scenes in creepy landscapes, and hellish creatures and doomed souls talking eruditely or crudely about their fates and threatening violence to each other. There are flashes of brilliance and wonder, as in all Hellboy stories. But none of it means anything. Mignola has an afterword in this book where he writes about how this story moved more quickly, and ended more abruptly than he expected -- if you read closely, you can see how it went from "open-ended" to twice the current length to barely this. He claims killing Satan was the big change-point, but my theory is that he was already done with Hellboy and just didn't know it. Hellboy's story, again, was on Earth.

Many creators write past the ending. Novelists, these days, have the luxury of noticing that before publication and trimming the story down. Comics, though...comics has a long tradition of ignoring or disregarding endings, for that eternal moment of Now and a new issue every Wednesday. And I think that mindset led to Hellboy in Hell. Twenty years from now -- assuming Mignola doesn't find some more things for Hellboy to do, later in fictional time than his sojourn in Hell -- this story will be seen as a vestigial appendage to the main Hellboy story, or at best a coda summing up some themes and presenting them in a different way.

Now, it's still about a hundred and fifty (unnumbered) pages of Mignola Hellboy comics, so it's a very nice thing. But it's a very nice faintly unnecessary thing, for those who are picky about such matters.

[1] I'll also note, in passing, that Our Hero notes during this book that it's kinda silly to be called "Hellboy" when he's actually in Hell, showing that Mignola can lampshade with the best of them.

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