In Review: Hellboy Winter Special

A variety of creators leads to some interesting productions in this short story collection.

The covers: Tim Sale gets to take a crack at Hellboy in this issue and on the Main cover. He’s got the title character bolting though a snow covered woods accompanied by a dog. Coloring this illustration is Dave Stewart, who has the dog’s head standing out nicely with a pleasing brown, while Hellboy is a beacon in crimson on the white. Though this image appears no where in this issue, it works well for a “Winter Special.” The Variant cover is by the creator of Hellboy, Mike Mignola. It’s got the big guy standing in the snow, with the white powder falling about him. Behind him is a large number thirty, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Dark Horse Comics, Hellboy’s publisher. I’m a Mignola maniac, so this was the cover for me. Overall grades: Main A and Variant A+

The stories: Four tales in this collection to keep you from freezing. “Broken Vessels” is by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie and it focuses on Gall Dennar, who lives in earth’s ancient past, and may be in possession of Ted Howards’ body in the present. Gall is eating dinner after killing a buffalo and is confronted by a man with skulls chained to his body. It is this man’s tale that is the premise for the story as is what happens to the man after he tells it. This was spooky cool. The second tale is “Wandering Souls” by Mignola and Chris Roberson. This is a B.P.R.D. yarn from 1953 that has Hellboy and Agent Susan Xiang going off to Sweetwater County in Wyoming. She’s a recruit who gets “flashes” and feels compelled to go to this location. An incident from the past has created some paranormal activity and it’s up to the two of them to stop it. This was a good story, with Xiang being an excellent character. I’m hoping to see more of her in other tales. “Mood Swings” is by Chelsea Cain and is set on Christmas Eve in 1975, with Hellboy and puberty stricken Liz going through the woods. He’s out there to bring her back into the house after the professor gave her the wrong present. What they encounter wasn’t scary, it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s neither. The final story is a two pager from Dean Rankine titled “Kung Pao Lobster.” This features Lobster Johnson in a Chinese take-out not getting what he wants. This is a little funnier than the previous story, but I’ve encountered several similar stories like this, so it didn’t kill. All in all, the first two tales, the serious ones, work the best, with the final two being attempts at lighter Hellboy tales that didn’t work. I’m grateful, though, that Dark Horse is willing to consider other writers create Mignolaverse tales. Overall grade: B 

The art: Each tale in this collection also has a different artist. Tim Sale is the artist of the tale with Dennar. His style is perfect for this time period, making every aspect of the crazy man’s tale magical, only to have things turn horrific with the arrival of some new individuals. This is also the most silent Dennar has ever been in a story, and Sale has him reacting wonderfully to what he sees and hears. I’m all for Sale coming back to illustrate Dennar or any other character in Hellboy’s world. Michael Walsh is responsible for “Wandering Souls,” and he’s got the right amount of grit in his work to age this story and make it a visual creeper. His setting is spooky, starting with a long shot on Page 9, and the interiors are wonderfully decrepit. The individuals that the heroes encounter in this location are perfect, as is their stellar reveal on 11. There are also two very different flashbacks in this tale, with a welcome appearance by Professor Bruttenholm and the other a necessary glimpse into a violent episode. This is new artwork, but it definitely has a “classic Hellboy” feel. Michael Avon Oeming does the illustrations for “Mood Swings.” They’re much more successful than the story in providing some laughs. Liz looks great and Hellboy fine with his frustration, but the villains of the piece are too comical, though Oeming does what he can to straddle the line between serious and silly. Good, but not great. Dean Rankine’s style is very much that of an underground cartoonist. It’s not a style I enjoy, and the visuals on this story, with this character, were just not appealing. Again, that’s my preference. There is a tremendous demand for this type of art, as Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network is always looking to use it, but it’s not for me. Overall grade: B

The colors: The first three stories are colored by Dave Stewart. His coloring is always tops, but really shines in the flashback on Page 3, the skies on 9, the greens in all of the second tale, the wreath on 21, and the blast on 27. The sounds are also very bold because of Stewart’s work. Dean Rankine colors his own work for the final two pages. He does a particularly good job on the Lobster’s costume that has some slick shades and on the backgrounds in the third through sixth panels on 29. Overall grade: A

The letters: The only contribution done in each story by one individual are the letters by Clem Robins. He creates story titles, sounds, dialogue, whispers, dialogue not in English, yells, a unique story title for the third tale, a note, and the text on a book cover. Everything works well, with the emphasized word on the final page being visually funny. Overall grade: A

The final line: A variety of creators leads to some interesting productions in this short story collection. A must-have for fans of Hellboy and a curious sampling for the uninitiated. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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