Hellboy is the new Miami Vice

Thanks to Hellboy II (or so I would imagine), I’ve been getting lots of hits in spite of a lack of regular updates. Messrs Mignola, Del Toro and Perlman, thank you very much! The film does look quite gorgeous, as do most of Del Toro’s films – obviously they give the Latin American version of Peter Jackson full reign, and his wild imagination thanked them accordingly.

But that’s not what I wanted to blog about. Instead, I’ve come to praise Yorick Brown, not to bury him.

Remember what I wrote a couple of days ago about Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men? Well, Joss is not the only sadistic bastard out there writing comics. Enter Mr Brian K Vaughan, who recently finished his long tale of a man, his helper monkey and a world full of women.

While I enjoyed all ten volumes of Y: The Last Man (the final volume just came out), the series isn’t perfect. There are moments when Vaughan missteps. The plot could do with some tightening. And the hook and setup are so breathtakingly big that it’s almost impossible for the ending to satisfy fully.

Warning: Here be spoilers!

The story strand that perhaps worked least for me was Alter’s trajectory. She’s intriguing to begin with, but Vaughan didn’t seem to know where to take her. She ends up as someone who cannot cope and, as an alternative to suicide, tries to get someone else to pull the trigger by being an all-round homicidal bitch. We’ve had similar motifs with Hero, with 355 (although more subtly, perhaps) and even with Yorick. It doesn’t help that there are entire issues that seem to forget completely about her.

Regardless of that, though, issues 58-60 are heartbreaking. 355’s death (apart from a flashback to Yorick’s intervention in an earlier volume (Safeword) that didn’t work as well as it should have) is done beautifully and practically wordlessly, to devastating effect. Pia Guerra’s simple yet effective art is at its best in the facial expressions: 355’s final look at Yorick, his silent exchange with Alter, and his face as he looks up at Hero, unable even to begin to express what has happened.

Issue 60 is a tricky one: with its “60 years later” conceit, it could easily have fallen flat. And there is something alienating about seeing a world where most of the familiar characters are absent and Yorick appears to be an old, white-haired loon in a straightjacket. My first reaction to the final issue was one of feeling at a distance from the guy we’d just accompanied for several years through a post-gendercidal world, where before he’d always been the ideal screen for all us white, somewhat nerdy male Lit majors to project ourselves onto. But with every flashback filling in glimpses of what happens during the 60 years in between the last two issues, Vaughan hooked me more and more.

At first I would have said that the best, worst moment of the issue is Ampersand’s death, euthanised by an old Yorick wanting to spare his friend the pain. It’s a simple, touching farewell to a character who, with his Eeps and Cheeps has become as much of a person as any of the human characters. This was topped, though, by the silent, moving last three pages, as our escape artist Yorick gets out of his last fix. Vaughan and Guerra handle it perfectly, giving us and the characters just the right note to end on.

So, on that note: Thank you, Brian K Vaughan. Thank you, Pia Guerra. Thank you, Yorick, 355, Dr Mann, Beth, other Beth, Natalya and, of course, Ampersand. It’s been a terrific journey.

And if you break my heart again, Mr Vaughan, I will do real damage to you with the Absolute Sandman vol. 3.

Hellboy is other people

Pamcakes

I like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy – both the comic and the character. I like the audacity of having a character called “Hellboy”, because most people wouldn’t dare… They’d be afraid of looking silly. Mignola doesn’t seem to be afraid of that. In fact, he embraces the silliness that is in the concept, and he turns it into an asset – by making Hellboy a fascinatingly human character. One that struggles with the knowledge that he’s the key to the Apocalypse, but by and large Hellboy is more concerned with things like pancakes.

More pamcakes

Mignola loves his mythology, folklore and the supernatural – but he’s not infatuated with it, to the point where he can laugh about it. To Hellboy, agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the supernatural is mainly an annoyance: daemons with ancient grudges, monstrous creatures, insane immortal monks and hags in huts on chicken legs are all in a day’s work for the guy, and one gets the feeling that he’d rather sit down and have a beer with most of the goblins and ghouls he encounters… but no, they choose to misbehave, so it’s clobberin’ time. Because if you sit around twiddling your thumbs, before you know it, some wolf decides it’s about time to gobble down the moon, and all that jazz.

Even more pamcakes

Yesterday I got the latest Hellboy collection, The Troll Witch and other stories. It’s entertaining, but like all of the short story collections it lacks the punch of a sustained narrative. It doesn’t show us any new sides of the big red guy with the filed-down horns. Instead, it sometimes feels a bit like an indulgence by Mignola. It’s like he’s recently read about this cool character from Malay folklore, so he does a little vignette: Hellboy meets (and fights) the Penanggalan. However, even if the story was just about Hellboy sitting around, reading the funny pages and watching TV, I’d read it – because I’ve fallen in love with Mignola’s expressionistic, woodcut-like drawings. They may take some getting used to, but I find they add both to the humour and to the ominous and eerie elements. But enough talk – more pamcakes!

Yum!