Hellboy In Hell: Vol. 1 The Descent by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Giving a brief look at another Dark Horse publication, Bellarius gives his thoughts on Mike Mignola’s return to Hellboy.
“An excellent journey giving a look into the more traditional forms of evil within Hellboy’s universe, but one lacking direction.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Despite his comparative youth, the origin of Hellboy is a story more publicly recognized than many of Marvel or DC Comics’ classic heroes. Drawn to Earth in an occult ritual, a demonic child is left stranded among humans. Taken in and accepted by them, he soon becomes their champion against supernatural threats which they face despite his destiny to bring about Armageddon. However, that’s not quite the beginning is it? We know nothing of his origins in Hell, what made him so different to others nor how he came to bear the titanic fist which singles him out as doom-bringer. Well, expect some answers at long last.
As the title says, this is the tale of Hellboy’s journey through the realm of demons following the aftermath of the conflict in England. Taken out of his element, it often seems more like an attempt by Mignola to further flesh out his world and ideas more than anything else; along with giving him new and interesting things to draw. While far more of a traditional evil than the cosmic cephalopods known as the Ogdru Jahad, Mignola thankfully avoids the usual fire and brimstone depictions of Hell. Crumbling bastions of Greek architecture, frozen plains over a seemingly endless abyss, the place is less fire and more a realm of twilight. Every detail streaked with dark shadows which befit the comic’s art style and the monsters who lurk there are less the cloven hoof variants. Instead they are more the sort of thing you’d see H.R. Giger producing if he was Salvador Dali’s works as direct inspiration.
This is important as, along with making the book stand out from the many depictions of hell in fiction, they are as offsetting as the answers given surrounding Hellboy’s origins. It isn’t quite what you would expect and the more which is learnt about the hero and the place, the less familiar they feel. Given how frequently the environment changes, there are times when it seems less like a Hellboy comic and some demented version of The Divine Comedy, which is only enforced via the mysterious guide accompanying Hellboy and the various allusions to other works. Lines from Milton and Shakespeare are quoted to give emphasis to certain actions and, as played out as such things are, for the most part they actually work.
What’s a big help in this regard is Hellboy’s nonplussed attitude rather than continual amazement or shock. It’s not overdone as would be the case in many other comics, or simply used in a desperate attempt to show Hellboy as badass, but his moments of snark are done in more a manner of a cop very tired of their job and just wanting to have things be simple for once. This sort of attitude has been a staple of the series up to this point and it does work here, but it’s also a double edged sword. Rather than being desperate to return to Earth, or even any desire to depart from a place of the damned, Hellboy seems just fine and as the story goes on this robs the story of some impact. It gradually chips away at any palpable sense of considerable danger created by the artwork or the alien environments, and you can easily be left wondering what was the point of bringing him here.
A further problem is that while the stories are individually crafted, none quite add up. Mignola often seemed to write his comics in an almost episodic manner, with many completely separated from one another. Normally this would be fine, but it also means that some of the much bigger revelations dropped on the story lack impact. Instead of some ongoing journey or odyssey building from one event to the next, it instead often feels like an excuse to show off the artwork. This makes far too much of the comic feel like filler with a few interesting bits added here and there. Good filler, but still filler with you wanting to get to the more interesting stuff.
At the end of the day this is an entertaining volume, but one held back by fragmentary storytelling and the fact it is set in Hell only having impact at certain moment of the story. If you’ve enjoyed past B.P.R.D. or Hellboy tales then this is definitely a one you’re going to enjoy, but don’t set your expectations too high. Expect fantastic art, interesting ideas, many secrets revealed and great entertainment, but it’s no Conqueror Worm by anyone’s standard.