I’ve always been a fan of the short story compendium, particularly when it’s a collection written by different authors. It’s short attention span theater with a variety of perspectives and voices. And short stories are difficult to write, because you have to get everything into a limited amount of space. No George R. R. Martin lengths so you can get everyone’s point of view on everything; for a short story you have to distill characters and story down to their purest form. So of course I picked up Hellboy: Weird Tales for exactly that reason…to see HB through the eyes of people who weren’t his normal handlers. And damn is it a fun ride.
The collection came about while Mike Mignola was working on the Hellboy film with Guillermo del Toro. As the foreword by Scott Allie explains, Mignola realized that there would be no new Hellboy books coming out when the film was released and demand for the character would be at its peak. They came up with the idea of an anthology of Hellboy stories by different creators, in the style of pulp magazine Weird Tales, and that’s what the collection was eventually called. Roughly sixty writers and artists worked on the stories, which originally appeared as an eight-issue miniseries. The only common theme were the characters from the Hellboy universe, other than that, everyone was free to do what they wanted. And boy, did they.
The new compendium from Dark Horse collects the miniseries with some non-HB stories by Mike Mignola and Guy Davis, which means that there’s no Hellboy for roughly the first quarter of the book. I was eager to dive in (read here, I skipped the front matter the first time through), and was initially confused by this. I mean, I like stories about witches and the supernatural as much as the next person, but since it was a Hellboy book, I was a little confused by the decision to lead with those stories. Forgive me, I’m a newbie to this series of comics and didn’t realize how Baba Yaga and Koshchei tied into his story. I enjoyed them because they’re well written and beautifully illustrated, but I don’t have the background of a well-versed Red fan and didn’t enjoy this backstory as much as a long-time fan might have.
There are nearly thirty non-Mignola stories in this anthology, and not a bad one in the bunch. I particularly liked Eric Powell’s “Midnight Cowboy” featuring little Hellboy getting into places he’s not supposed to and Mac the dog’s unwitting transformation into a mutant. I also appreciated that it ended well for both Mac and Hellboy. The artwork was a cartoony feel befitting a story about a kid. “Big Top Hellboy” by John Cassaday is another favorite of mine: a creepy story about a phantom circus haunting a town in Germany. Think American Horror Story: Freak Show meets Hellboy. The artwork for this one has a beautiful amount of texture and detail, and I love the contrast between Red and the bluish snow world of the circus. My other standout was “My Vacation in Hell” (“as channeled through the soul of Craig Thompson” ). This one is, as the title suggests, a lighter story with tongue planted firmly in cheek. There’s an almost woodcut-feel to the art that reminded me a little of Monty Python (maybe that was just the butt trumpets, though). It’s got a spectacular amount of detail in each panel, and the “soft serve” made me snort with laughter. Hysterically funny and I was showing it to family members (because of course I read this over Thanksgiving…nothing says Thanksgiving like comics. And Hellboy).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have no idea how much of it became HB canon, but I don’t care because it was a fun time and it hooked me. Now excuse me, I have to find some Hellboy books to read. I’m giving this one 4 out of 5 Lightning Bolts.
HELLBOY: WEIRD TALES
Writer: Mike Mignola, John Cassaday, J. H. Williams III, Craig Thompson, Evan Dorkin
Artist: Mike Mignola, John Cassaday, J. H. Williams III, Craig Thompson, Evan Dorkin
Colorist: Dave Stewart, Michelle Madsen
Cover Artist: Mike Mignola
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: November 26, 2014