When writer-artist Mike Mignola put his best known comic book character to death a little more than a year ago it set off a wave of anxiety from fans who feared they’d never see Hellboy again. Mignola responded that he was taking the opportunity to reveal several untold stories from Hellboy’s youth (like THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS, published earlier this year) and his early years as an agent with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD).
But Mignola had something else in mind as well. Since Hellboy was never really human, we shouldn’t have expected him to die like one.
Instead Mignola returned him to his place of origin – Hell – and launched the new comic book series, HELLBOY IN HELL. THE DESCENT gathers the first five issues of the series, and it’s a homecoming story unlike any ever witnessed or imagined.
As he quickly falls below the world of the living, Hellboy’s descent is suddenly pulled from The Pit and stopped on the outer edges of The Abyss by a hooded, shadowy spirit who has agreed to be Hellboy’s escort through these dark regions.
After first encountering monsters and a few former enemies whose life he destroyed, Hellboy is lead to Pandemonium, the now deserted city that once was the dwelling of all the princes, ministers, and demons legions of Hell. The escort tells Hellboy the secrets of his birth, including how he was given his notorious Right Hand of Doom, and the destiny planned for him before he was taken from Hell and brought to upper world of the humans. Not long after that Hellboy encounters Satan himself, alone and unguarded, and performs an appointed task that leaves Hellboy with only a scant memory of fulfilling.
Then Hellboy learns the name and history of his mysterious escort and why he pulled Hellboy from The Pit. Hellboy may have lost one world, the escort explains, but he gained another and a chance to begin again. As he wonders through his second world Hellboy meets the damned soul of a former soldier and agrees to help him resolve the deal the soldier made with the devil.
As he did in most all of the earlier tales, Mignola draws his inspiration from numerous renowned and esoteric literary references, including in these chapters Shakespeare, Dickens, numerous folktales and legends, and, as expected, the Bible and Milton’s PARADISE LOST. It’s a dizzying votex of nightmarish visions that Mignola pulls together and has us experience through the eyes of Hellboy.
With Mignola once again as the main artist, THE DESCENT carries all his visual trademarks. The narrative is portrayed in varying frame sizes that defy logic – everything from the smallest corner to narrow columns and then exploding full pages. The tones, befitting the stories, are mostly dark hues of grey, black, yellow, and red. Mignola’s figures, be they humans, demons, or monsters, are all ghostly and highly expressionistic. And, of course, his landscapes are full of statues – lots and lots of statues.
Except when absolutely necessary, Mignola keeps the dialogue to a minimum, letting his evocative artwork convey both the events and the somber mood. Hellboy, however, has lost none of his characteristic sarcasm and still struggles with the calling of his demonic destiny and his allegiance to the human beings who raised him and who he once loved.
Seldom has a comic book series been as entertaining and unsettling as this introductory anthology. And if the final chapter is any indication, Hellboy is likely to encounter many more lost and damned souls as he explores his new home – which, ironically, is the world where he was created.
Let’s hope Mignola continues to thrill us with these new and disturbing adventures, while at the same time filling in Hellboy’s past from the time where we first met him.
Or, to paraphrase the well-worn medieval declaration: Hellboy is dead. Long live Hellboy! —Alan Cranis