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Writer/artist: Mike Mignola

Publisher: Dark Horse

Synopsis: The world's greatest paranormal investigator isn't really a genius detective. He's just a guy who gets beat up by supernatural entities a lot. At the end of the day, though, he's just an average joe who likes a nice piece of paprika chicken. Well, he's also a demon. But he still likes paprika chicken.

How Is It?: Mignola works in the classic comic tradition of having a big, burly guy getting beat up by various giant critters. Hellboy's a funny character, a demon-raised-by-humans who never gets fazed when called upon to lay the smack down on any number of bizarre entities. What really makes this book special is the artwork, with its angular lines and bold shadows that create a sort of "noir stained-glass" look.

The Chained Coffin

The Chained Coffin and Others

Synopsis: In a series of stories, Hellboy faces a series of monsters and creatures from folklore: he tangles with the faerie folk to rescue a kidnapped baby in "The Corpse"; a goblin in "The Iron Shoes"; werewolves in "The Wolves of St. August"; a rat king in "A Christmas Underground"; the Baba Yaga in, uh, "The Baba Yaga"; a pair of scientific experiments run amok in "Almost Colossus"; and the devil himself in "The Chained Coffin".

How Is It?: This is my favourite Hellboy TPB so far. Mignola knows his folklore, and uses it to create a nifty series of adventures for Hellboy, whether he's battling the Russian cannibal witch Baba Yaga or matching wits with the fairy folk ("The Corpse", my favourite Hellboy story, is a rip-snorting retelling of a great old Irish folktale). The title story also provides a tantalizing (not to mention ominous) hint as to Hellboy's nature. And the art is superb.

Seed of Destruction

Seed of Destruction

Synopsis: Trevor Bruttenholm, the man who raised Hellboy from a...boy, vanishes mysteriously while on an expedition. Then he reappears just as mysteriously, only to be killed by a giant frog. The search for his killer will take Hellboy to the haunted Cavendish Hall, and bring him and his partners face-to-face with the man who brought him to Earth...

How Is It?: An H. P. Lovecraft homage, and therefore just as overwrought as you'd expect. Some really creepy monsters (saying "giant frogs" doesn't do them justice) are undercut a little by the cheesy Big Menace, who resembles a giant sea anemone. And Hellboy's archnemesis, introduced in this story, is surprisingly ineffective in the crunch. The main problem with this arc is that it's got a very thin plot, and what there is is more than a little reminiscent of Scooby Doo. Still, Hellboy's always worth a read for the fantastic art, and "Seed" is no different.

Wake the Devil

Wake the Devil

Synopsis: Reawakening from fifty years of cryogenic stasis, the three Nazi scientists behind Project Ragnarok are preparing once more to overwhelm the world. The Bureau gets on their tail after the corpse of a supposed Romanian vampire goes missing, and Hellboy goes face to face with a host of supernatural beings--and his own demonic nature.

How Is It?: Mignola seems to have a bit of a problem with ongoing, complex plot lines, leading to a bit of an arbitrary narrative (the guy set up as the big villain is disposed of WAY too quickly, and some of the other bad guys manage to screw things up without any help from the heroes). Still, this one's a lot more satisfying than "Seed of Destruction"; Rasputin is actually a more effective bad guy now that he's dead, and some of Mignola's neatest monsters are contained herein (my favourite is the Iron Maiden Lamia). There's also a nice coda that helps flesh out Rasputin as a character. And need I mention the art?

Conqueror Worm

Conqueror Worm

Synopsis: Activity around an ex-Nazi castle draws the BPRD gang into the Alps. A signal has recalled to Earth a Nazi spacecraft, launched into orbit in the closing days of the third Reich, meant to make contact with the Ogdru Jahad. In this it succeeded, despite the valiant attempts of an American team led by a legendary crimefighter who perished in the process. Now, all life is threatened by the return of the craft, and Hellboy is going to have to team up with Roger the homunculus to stop the man behind it, who turns out to be an old acquaintance...

How Is It?: The latest Hellboy TPB (as of this writing) continues to suffer from the awkward plotting that plagued the other two long-form Hellboy stories...elements are often inserted sort of at random, motives shift, and characters act oddly, mostly for the sake of inserting various action/graphic setpieces. But somehow, Mignola still manages to keep all this interesting. We get a major bit of info about what'll happen if the Ogdru Jahad ever does wake up, and it's interesting; we also are introduced to the pulp superhero Lobster Johnson, who's wonderfully weird and arbitrary and helps lend a new spin to the otherwise typically Lovecraftian proceedings. I also have to say that this is the most genuinely creepy Hellboy since some of the stories in "The Chained Coffin". And the big standout is Roger, the Frankenstein's monster-type thing who's now becoming sort of a friend to Hellboy. I guess my main problem is how Mignola keeps repeating the same rather thin storyline: BRPD discovers evidence of Nazi plot reactivated by Rasputin or one of his cronies, Hellboy heads to ancient ruin to stop it, Hellboy fights giant monster, world is saved. I have to admit, though, there is an intriguing development at the end of this story that might help jumpstart an interest in the next installment for me.

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