Mike Mignola is back with yet another mini-series about the Right Hand of Doom. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Return of Effie Kolb finds the titular character in a familiar setting, but this story is anything but stale. Paired with a new collaborator in penciler Zach Howard and an old friend in colorist Dave Stewart, Mignola reminds the comic book world why his work at Dark Horse Comics has become so celebrated for over 25 years.
Working as a spiritual successor to Mignola’s 2008 series Hellboy: The Crooked Man, one of the finest stories ever for the character, Hellboy returns to Appalachia a decade after that original tale, now in 1967. Mignola deftly catches new readers up on the events of The Crooked Man in just a few panels, giving a general idea of what took place while simultaneously not taking up too much time in a 22-page issue explaining the past. It works for both Hellboy die-hards and those who may have just discovered this immersive universe Mignola has created.
While innumerable horror comics have touched upon spirituality and suspense, very few have tackled the concept of religion as head-on as Mignola’s Hellboy writing. Whether it be allusions to an old preacher Hellboy encountered in The Crooked Man or the holy power of a cross-engraved shovel for smashing undead witches to smithereens, a comic book universe centered around the prophesied Beast of the Apocalypse truly digs deep into the frightening roots of religious-influenced morality. Mignola avoids doing so in a hamfisted manner, simply highlighting the gray area that surrounds all aspects of existence.
While Hellboy is obviously a half-demon, devil-like being, there is a side of humanity to him that shines through, particularly when he encounters the young, the weak or the elderly. The inclusion of a new character here, a young girl named Sara May Blackburn, allows Mignola to hit upon that overlooked personality trait, as Hellboy immediately takes on a guardian and protector role for Sara even as the temptations of evil creep upon her. Hellboy is a constant reminder that there is more to a person than merely their outward appearance and that their true characteristics will manifest themselves over time. All these years later, Hellboy has proven to be more than the beacon of evil he’s viewed as. He’s a legitimate hero.
Howard, a newcomer to the Mignola-verse, goes for 1990s-like linework in this opening issue, a welcoming style that feels right in the same wheelhouse as other Hellboy pencilers of yesterday. No one can compete with Mignola’s own art, but as he’s taken a step back to only focus on writing and cover work, but Howard’s illustrations are exactly what Hellboy fans should expect and appreciate it.
What else is there to say about colorist Dave Stewart that hasn’t already been repeated ad nauseam over the last 30 or so years? His shade of red is more reconizable than a stop sign. Stewart was there for the birth of Hellboy with Mignola in the early 1990s and has been a continued presence in the Mignola-verse at Dark Horse ever since. He breathed life into Kate Kane as Batwoman in Detective Comics with writer Greg Rucka and penciler J.H. Williams III over a decade ago. He made an instant classic turn at Marvel just last year with Donny Cates and Tradd Moore on Silver Surfer: Black. Reading a Dave Stewart-colored comic is like watching Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball in his prime.
Throughout his time with Hellboy, Mignola has perfected the art of short issues and story arcs, a talent seldom seen in modern comics. In an era of decompression and “writing for the trade,” Mignola is able to pinpoint the essence of Hellboy and the horror, suspense and dark comedy that define Big Red in one-shots and shorts mini-series. With a single issue remaining, Mignola and a stellar art team have already sucked in the audience, leaving them salivating for the conclusion to come.