Hellboy: Weird Tales [Review]

“Don’t mess with me, lady. I’ve been drinking with skeletons.”  -HB

This hardcover edition of Weird Tales collects volumes one and two of the original anthology, and How Koschei Became Deathless and Baba Yaga’s Feast from Hellboy: The Wild Hunt collected edition. The Weird Tales anthology consists of 28 short story issues featuring Hellboy and his companions, each drawn and written by separate creative teams. The purpose of this series was to have fresh written content on the shelves when the original Hellboy film was released, back in 2004. In early May of this year, the rumor mill began to spin about a new (possibly R-rated) installment of the film franchise, set to reboot the series for the big screen. This is exciting news as the project has the support of some amazing creative minds including Neil Marshall, director of The Descent, Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse Comics, and Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola. We may even see David Harbour, who recently played the role of Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, reprising the role of Big Red himself. With that news, today seems like the perfect day to take a closer look at this anthology, which only exists because of the movie.

First, a little background information: Hellboy is the son of a human witch and the demon Azzael. While he was still an infant, Azzael cut off his son’s right hand and replaced it with “The Right Hand of Doom” – a freakishly large forearm and hand seemingly made of stone. This hand originally belonged to Anum, one of the spirits created by God to witness the conception of Earth. Anum used his right hand to steal some of God’s power, thus granting it strength and many mysterious abilities. Anum used the power in his hand to create the Ogdru Jahad. These creatures were hideous and terrifying, almost dragon-like in appearance, they would seek to enslave the world only to see it destroyed in the end. The Ogdru Jahad were so fearsome that they were eventually locked away and cast into the abyss of space by their own creator. The other watchers feared that Anum could no longer be trusted and so they struck him down and destroyed his remains, save for his right hand. When Azzael gave his son The Right Hand of Doom he was giving Hellboy the power that Anum once had; This was the power to control the Ogdru Jahad, and ultimately to bring about the apocalypse.

“Didn’t I kill you already?”

Instead of ushering in the end of mankind, he works as an agent for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. The BPRD serves to protect the planet against supernatural threats, including but not limited to, ghosts, witches, vampires, demons, werewolves, and the most diabolical of all threats, Nazis. Hellboy works alongside many other agents, both human and inhuman, to eliminate these supernatural threats. A few of his more well-known associates include: Liz Sherman, a pyrokinetic since the age of ten who is responsible for the accidental deaths of over 30 people including her parents, Abe Sapian, a humanoid amphibian who was discovered in a hidden underground chamber and was experimented on by the BPRD until Hellboy took pity on him, and Johann Straus, a powerful medium capable of releasing his ectoplasmic form and sending it out into the etheric plane.

While the supernatural themes present Hellboy may feel familiar, the storytelling and character development in this series is unique and has developed a devoted following since HB’s story began. The series has even generated enough interest in some of its supporting characters, like Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson, for them to be featured in their own spin-off series’. Several of the stories included in the Weird Tales anthology use these supporting characters as a focal point instead of fixating solely on Hellboy.

I feel the need to say that I would not recommend this volume for first time Hellboy readers, instead, I would suggest beginning with Hellboy Volume 1: Seeds of Destruction as it gives the reader an in-depth origin story. Weird Tales essentially thrusts the reader into the Hellboy universe without any information other than the title. This anthology opens with 2 issues that are within the continuity of the series featuring short stories on Koschei and Baba Yaga, both originally from Slavic Folklore, but also featured as enemies of Hellboy in the Wake the Devil mini-series. Since each issue was contributed by different writers and artists they are all non-canonical, and unique from one to the next in both style of storytelling and style of art.

“I don’t like the term firestarter. I just don’t.”

While each issue is distinctive, there is a heavy dose of humor to be found throughout many of the stories included. Lobster Johnson: Action Detective Adventure, written and drawn by John Cassaday, is one issue that leans heavily into whimsy. This piece represents a caricature of The Lobster, who originally appeared in the Hellboy series as a serious vigilante. The Lobster was credited with taking down over one hundred mobsters in a six-year span before turning his attention to paranormal threats. After his death, The Lobster was memorialized as a fictional character, featured in pulp comics, in the Hellboy universe. Lobster Johnson: Action Detective Adventure frames the pulp comic hero figure perfectly. The Lobster still kicks ass, he just does so using wholesome language and a touch of dark humor.

Another memorable entry in the Weird Tales volume is Big-Top-Hell-Boy, also written and drawn by John Cassaday. This issue paints the picture of Abe, Liz, and HB having been dispatched to the site of a ghost circus, exacting its revenge on a small village. Within its few pages this short story manages to pique interest and come to a firm conclusion, but it could have been so much more than it was. It has a strong concept and is supported by great writing and beautiful artwork,  and in my opinion, it deserves more than just six pages. In fact, I believe that overall Weird Tales may suffer somewhat because there is so much content. While each entry is varied and interesting in both plot and artistic style many stories feel rushed to reach some sort of conclusion. While there are no narratives that feel particularly incomplete, I can’t help but wish that there was more detail or substance to some of the short stories within.

Artistically speaking, Weird Tales exceeds expectations. The range of art styles within this volume is nothing short of incredible in that no two issues look anything alike. (Excluding, of course, the opening two which were written by the creator, Mike Mignola, and other regularly contributing artists to the series.) One of the incredible artistic talents included is Seuing Eun Kim, who is most well-known for his work on The Boondocks. Kim has crafted highly-detailed pencil drawn art to accompany the short story Hot, which sees Hellboy traveling to Japan to investigate a hot spring where tourists had recently been killed. Eric Powell is another fantastic artist who contributed to Weird Tales by providing both the art and story for Midnight Cowboy, in which young Hellboy and is beloved dog Mac share in a bit of a comedic misadventure. Powell is the six-time Eisner award winning creative mind behind the cult favorite comic series, The Goon.

“Hellboy’s blowing things up again.”

It is clear that Weird Tales is overflowing with creative talent in its writing, art, coloration, and even lettering. In creating Hellboy, Mike Mignola forged something legendary. A cast of characters that other writers and artists and creators would be inspired by, enough to draft their own stories featuring those figures. Scott Allie, former editor-in-chief of Dark Horse Comics, writes in the introduction: “As soon as word got out about the anthology, writers and artists started beating down Mike’s door, eager to contribute. Before we solicited the first issue, we’d doubled the length of the series.” That is quite an accomplishment.

Initially, I was feeling lukewarm about this book, but as this review comes to a close it occurs to me that this volume is essentially a love letter to a treasured collection of characters. Every piece within is an ode to the paracosm of Hellboy. I think I loved it even when I criticized it for not being as substantial as I wanted, after all, my biggest complaint is one of wanting more.  I conclude that Hellboy: Weird Tales is a fun and easy to read, especially for anyone who may already be a fan of the series. Finally, on my made-up rating scale which has no merit or meaning, I give this anthology a firm 8 cigar smoking harbingers of the apocalypse out of 10.