Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hellboy Library Edition, Volume 3: Conqueror Worm and Strange Places, by Mike Mignola

 Reading HELLBOY IN HELL, VOLUME 1: THE DESCENT (Review HERE) put me in a mood for more Hellboy goodness, so I tore through the "To be read" stacks and came up with HELLBOY LIBRARY EDITION, VOLUME 3: CONQUEROR WORM AND STRANGE PLACES, the third volume in Dark Horse's massive hardcover Hellboy omnibus series. I've read these stories literally dozens of times, and not only do they hold up well, but they almost always yield some new revelation or insight into the continually evolving Hellboy universe.

 I'm a HUGE fan of Hellboy and his creator, Mike Mignola....I remember falling in love with his art way back in his ROCKET RACCOON, INCREDIBLE HULK, and ALPHA FLIGHT days. I'm a giant John Byrne fan, and there was NO ONE that could have possibly taken over ALPHA FLIGHT that would have satisfied me...but Mignola fit the bill perfectly, and while Bill Mantlo's writing didn't always thrill, Mignola kept me coming back month after month. (Hint to Marvel: CLASSIC ALPHA FLIGHT, VOLUME FOUR!!!!) I hate being double-dipped, but I've been known to buy HELLBOY in floppies, trades, hardcovers....whatever the format, I'm in. I can reread these stories over and over again. HELLBOY is my "Desert Island" literary pick.

 HELLBOY LIBRARY EDITION, VOLUME 3: CONQUEROR WORM AND STRANGE PLACES collects the four-issue HELLBOY: CONQUEROR WORM mini-series, along with the trade's introduction by Guillermo Del Toro, and the HELLBOY STRANGE PLACES collection, which gathered the two issue HELLBOY: THE THIRD WISH and the two-issue HELLBOY: THE ISLAND, along with that trade's introduction by Gary Gianni. The beautiful hardcover also includes a new introduction by Mignola's longtime Editor Scott Allie, a new afterword by Mignola, and a huge sketchbook section that includes the aborted original version of HELLBOY: THE ISLAND that Mignola struggled with and abandoned. (The fun thing about reading a book like this nearly five years after it was released is seeing how abandoned ideas get dusted off and refurbished....Mignola laments his inability to use the fungus creatures that he created for HELLBOY: THE ISLAND, but says that someday he'll get around to telling that story and using them.....Since then, a very similar story, with very similar creatures, has been used by Mignola and Christopher Golden in their BALTIMORE series, also published by Dark Horse.)

 CONQUEROR WORM chronicles Hellboy's last adventure with the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), as he is joined by Roger the Homunculus and a ghostly Lobster Johnson in an attempt to stop a long-lost Nazi spacecraft from returning to Earth with a potentially apocalyptic passenger.

 STRANGE PLACES which is comprised of THE THIRD WISH and THE ISLAND, is when Mignola really begins to find the voice and style that would define HELLBOY for years to come. The surreal, disturbing stories find Hellboy visiting Africa, imprisoned under the sea by a mad mer-witch, and taking a hallucinatory journey through the occult history that culminated with his birth.

 What struck me most, even as a longtime reader/fan of this material, is what a long-game Mignola has been playing...things that made little or no sense during previous readings now clicked into place perfectly, such as the appearance of a masked, robed figure that someone calls "Sir Edward". This was beautifully explained in HELLBOY IN HELL. As you read these classic issues with recent events in the Hellboy universe in mind, you discover how brilliant Mignola's plan has been all this time. This is classic stuff, and I'd stack up Mignola's work against any of the "literary" books being published today. I can't recommend this book in particular, and HELLBOY itself in general, highly enough.
                                                      GREATEST. PANEL. EVER!!!!!

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