Personally, I’ve never been able to enjoy Hellboy stories spread across several issues nearly as much as I’ve been able to enjoy Hellboy short stories. Something about the character, and the nature of the stories he tends to find himself in lends itself well to a shorter format. It’s certainly a treat to find a Hellboy short story collection, and even more so if the collection sports such acclaimed creators as Tim Sale, Michael Avon Oemning and Michael Walsh. Let’s dive into this wintry pleasure and find out, is it good?
Hellboy Winter Special (Dark Horse Comics)
This collection stayed true to its promise of winter—each story felt cold, dark, gusty, and, when the characters entered a building, rather cozy. Each story is atmospheric, and in some way uses its atmosphere to enhance the content of the story. The first story is infused with ebony shadows and the chill of night time snow. These atmospheric elements make each character appear more mystical and ethereal. Some characters are so enveloped in darkness and mystery, it’s difficult to puzzle out whether or not they even exist.
As I got further into the comic, I noticed that all four stories share a common motif: some evil spirit/entity exists within a grotesque form, and the story almost always concludes with the entity abandoning its earthly embodiment. This is, I suppose, an effective motif as it makes for a compelling yet condensed story. However, after several stories with almost identical narrative arcs, it start to get a bit boring. It’s possible that the creators of this comic wished to explore different themes by using the same plot device while showcasing their personal talents, in which case I’d say that the stories weren’t quite similar enough. They weren’t so much alike that it seemed the same story was being told by four different creative teams, but they were not so different that they presented a distinguished variety of stories.
To many readers’ disappointment, this collection does very little to explore its title character: Hellboy himself. Ol’ HB takes a backseat in the two measly stories he appears in. His involvement in the narrative is reduced to grumbling gruff orders or implementing his huge stone arm. Basically, he serves as a bodyguard escort to more important characters. Especially in a Hellboy short story collection the creative team missed a great opportunity to play around with the character. If anything, this is the format in which artists should experiment with different stories and scenarios; they are not under pressure to sell more than one issue and the stories they tell have no impact on Hellboy continuity. Yet every writer neglected to tackle the main character in any meaningful way. This comic promises Hellboy and doesn’t deliver.
Artistically, this comic was stellar. The tone of the book remained consistent with the ever talented colorist Dave Stewart present in every story. Tim Sale uses his abstract lines to tell a story full of emotion and wonder, really bringing a unique and welcome style to the BPRD universe. Michael Avon Oemning is, as always, a delight to experience. His art feels heavy with ink yet maintains exuberance and expressiveness. Michael Walsh brings clarity and gorgeously realized settings to the collection. He has a great sense of interior space, using each room effectively and his action is exciting and cinematic.
Is It Good?
Despite the impressive display of artistic capabilities, none of these Hellboy stories reached the full potential of the character, and almost all relied on similar tropes. A winter collection is a fun idea, but for this one, I’d wait to see what’s in store for spring.