Hellboy Library Edition Volume 2
by Mike Mignola
1998 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist
Contains the 1998 Eisner Winner for Best Anthology
When I talked about the first volume of the Hellboy Library Editions I mentioned that while I liked Hellboy the problems with those earliest of stories turned me off to it for while. The stories in this second volume are a concentration of what I enjoy in the series. It also happens to be the only Christmas themed Eisner winner I happen to own since the stories from the Hellboy Christmas Special are included in it.
To keep the synopsis short Hellboy is a demon who was supposed to bring about the apocalypse but wound up hanging out with paranormal investigators with whom he spends a lot of time punching monsters. What makes it interesting is that Mignola creates a blend of pulp adventure and old folklore that keeps things moving quickly.
This second volume consists overwhelmingly of extremely short Hellboy stories. The first one, for example, is just two pages about him eating pancakes. It also happens to be an ingenious two pages about the title character eating pancakes that manages to squeeze in a plot twist and touch on the metastory that Mignola is building. In the context of that larger story it's just a joke but it sums up so many things about Hellboy in a tiny space.
Of course not all of the stories are that slight. The common formula is that Hellboy goes to check out some thing strange. A ghostly king, for example. Or a baby that has been replaced with a changeling. He then gets ensnared in the legends around those events which he handles by hitting them or occasionally shooting them.
The stories in this volume are generally extremely tight, extremely dense bits of plotting that makes them fast paced. And yet somehow I never felt like things were rushed. Mignola has just perfected a style of jumping straight to the action in the story and it's helped that as a protagonist Hellboy is relatively simple. There aren't a lot of deep motivations or character aspects to explore with him. On the other hand Mignola does dig into his character a bit with a few of these stories. They work mainly by forcing him to confront his origins which Hellboy has been avoiding.
The Christmas story in the volume is as strange as you'd expect from a book that blends myth and pulp. An old woman is dying on Christmas Eve and she has been visited repeatedly by her dead daughter. Hellboy finds the place that she vanished to and (naturally) punches out the monster that's there. I actually found it to be the weakest story in the book since it does have the flaws I noted with the previous one; there's a lot of cool things happening but no real plot thread tying them together.
Mignola's artwork was good before; it's kicked up a notch to great with these stories. Mignola has improved his visual storytelling at the same time he has improved his actual plotting. His artwork was better than his writing before and that remains the case now. He's gotten a kind of visual rhythm that works great and he's even better with his style of mixing his angular impressionistic figures with detailed backgrounds.
One of the really great things about Hellboy Library Edition Volume 2 is that it works just as well as the first volume as an introduction to the series. In fact I like the short story format so much better than I'd recommend reading this one first. The ongoing plot information required to understand the story is minimal (I think my one sentence summary covered it nicely and one of the stories is a recap of events to that point). So while I don't think this book is perfect I did think it was a lot of fun and a great way to be introduced the character.