Many are drawn to Hellboy for the character and for the excellent art that always accompanies the stories, be it Mike Mignola or any number of great artists. For me, this story draws me in because of the compelling narratives that focus on bizarre folklore and the characters who are pulled into strange situations. This week, Mignola pens a new story revealing the backstory of Koshchei the Deathless, a character Hellboy has fought but never understood. Until now.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Sent to kill Hellboy by the Baba Yaga in Darkness Calls, Koshchei the Deathless hinted at a long and tragic life before being enslaved to the Russian witch. Now Koshchei relives every horrible act on his road to immortality and beyond, with none other than Hellboy himself–in Hell.
Why does this matter?
One of the new Mignola-verse stories teased at SDCC, this story is all kinds of cool involving witches, dragons, and magical garments. This is the type of tale a Lord of the Rings fan will love and fantasy fans must read.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Dragons live large.
This issue opens with Hellboy kicking Koshchei’s ass over the first three pages. It’s clearly a way to draw in readers who don’t know this character and those who adore Hellboy. It gives the character context so that the rest of the story can do the heavy lifting of explaining who this character is and boy does it succeed wonderfully. The story is being told from Koshchei’s perspective as he and Hellboy share a beer in Hell. Fitting, because his story is filled with revenge, murder, and incredible betrayal.
More than once I was reminded of the great, but short lived, television show Storytellers. This is the kind of backstory that reads in a wide sweeping almost fairy tale way. You get a lot of bang for your buck if you enjoy stories of myth and folklore since the story starts when Koshchei is young and ends when he just begins to turn to evil. The story also dips into the origins of Earth itself adding another layer that heightens the importance of the story as a whole. This story also sets up the journey moving forward in an excellent way ending on a cliffhanger that will inflame your imagination and get you wanting more. There’s an old world story here (Koshchei is from Slavic folktales) and you get a sense that the story is deeply rooted in history.
Ben Stenbeck’s art is really gorgeous; it’s atmospheric, framing the creepy and the divine very well. Dave Stewart’s colors once again prove he’s one of the best in the business with inspired use of red for battle scenes or a spot of orange to unnerve the senses. If you dig monsters you’re going to love this too. More than once there is little montage like scenes with all sorts of creatures hanging about and it’s creepy, but also rather cool too.
Magic undergarments crop up a lot in fantasy don’t they?
It can’t be perfect can it?
Honestly, the first three pages didn’t do a lot for me. Hellboy is usually a welcome sight in a comic, but I’m not sure he needed 3 pages. I understand it’ll probably increase sales to see him in the opening pages, but really this is Koshchei’s story and I’d have rather had two more pages about this character than see some fisticuffs with Hellboy. It also slows down the start of this highly interesting backstory.
Is It Good?
I wasn’t even familiar with the title character and I loved this story. It has everything a good fantasy should have with a heaping dose of supernatural atmosphere and weirdness. This is a dark fairy tale for adults who love fantasy.