Hellboy, in a sense, is inherently derivative. Mike Mignola has been very honest about the fact that Hellboy is very much Jack Kirby mixed with H. P. Lovecraft, and Mignola owes a great debt to a variety of sources: Kirby and Lovecraft, of course, but Bram Stoker, Lon Chaney, pulp WW2 movies, Ghostbusters, and a whole lot more are all pretty evident in the various Hellboy stories. Where Mignola made his mark in Hellboy was the way that he meshed those varied sources into a single whole, a comic where it made equal sense to fight the ancient elder gods summoned by an undead Russian sorcerer, and to fight a giant Frankenstein ape with a Nazi brain.
And, of course, Mignola’s art was the great unifier, with a dark, moody style that was uniquely his own.
Young Hellboy is, in many ways, a throwback piece in the greater Hellboy canon. This is not a story about the big meta plot of the Hellboy universe – there are no Sadu-Hem, and Rasputin does not show up. This isn’t even a one-and-done “Hellboy shows up to punch a monster” piece, either, like the most recent set of Hellboy comics out of Dark Horse.
Rather, it’s very much in the line of those first Hellboy stories, merging together pieces from basically dead genres and throwing the result into a visually attractive final comic. Young Hellboy follows the adventures of, as you’d suspect, a young Hellboy, and his father figure, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm. The two head off on a trip to South America and run promptly into every retro-pulp plot element there is: a fanatical cult member attacks Hellboy, the plane crash lands into an abandoned island, there are giant carnivorous crabs that attack Hellboy and the Professor, who are then themselves attacked by a giant gorilla, until a swarm of velociraptors show up. There’s even an obligatory pit of quicksand, and a bikini-wearing jungle girl calling herself “Scarlett Santiago, the Sky Devil.”
Mignola and his co-writer, Thomas Sniegowski know what they’re doing with Hellboy at this point. And they’re doing it very well. But Hellboy is a series very much defined by its art — Mignola’s brooding, moody darkness, the way that he has his characters emerging from the dark with the light being merely the exception from the darkness rather than the rule itself, is the signature look of Hellboy. Artist Craig Rousseau’s style is very much the opposite; a bright, minimal style that relies on the work of colorist Dave Stewart. And while Rousseau is very good, and Stewart’s colors fit the story well, it just doesn’t feel like Hellboy.
There was nothing wrong with this comic. Every part of it, every individual element works. But it lacks that ephemeral je ne sais quoi that makes Hellboy, Hellboy.
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