The Comic Book Club: Batman: The Dark Knight and Hellboy

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DOUGLAS: I enjoyed the first issue of Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead a lot more than I thought I might–I go on and off with Hellboy, because I dig its atmosphere but sometimes don’t feel like there’s a lot more than atmosphere to it. The Mike Mignola stuff I like best is the really unhinged material like the stories collected in The Amazing Screw-On Head; I like the ideas underlying his Hellboy stories (his take on “European vampire culture” here is mighty clever), but I find Hellboy himself to be a pretty one-dimensional character.

GRAEME: Douglas, I could almost hug you for saying that. I always feel a little guilty for not enjoying Hellboy more than I actually do. It’s not that I dislike it; every time I read it, it always raises a smile and gets my admiration for the artwork no matter who’s doing it, but there’s nothing about Hellboy that really holds my attention for a very long time. The understatedness that I think is the character’s strength – there really is something fun about a supernatural comics character that doesn’t act mysterious or talk in Doctor Strange-like language all the time – is the series’ weakness as a whole, I can’t help but feel… Especially when the BPRD characters were split off into their own series.

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DOUGLAS: What sold me on this one, though, was Scott Hampton’s artwork. Hampton’s an interesting artist who isn’t always well-served by the stuff he gets to draw; by the end of Simon Dark, there was a palpable sense of “I don’t want to do this any more” on almost every page. Here, he’s obviously really into it, and Dave Stewart’s colors click with his art from the get-go. Nearly every scene is shrouded in darkness and shadows, and nearly every scene feels like it’s set in a real place anyway.

GRAEME: Yeah, the art is definitely the star here. Specifically, for me, Dave Stewart’s coloring, which is just amazing – understated for the most part, but popping when it really needs to (that blood red sky towards the end of the issue is spectacular, and as dramatic as it needs to be). Stewart’s one of the best colorists in comics, these days – I seem to remember that he did the amazing colors in Vertigo’s Daytripper as well – and even so, I don’t think he gets nearly enough praise.

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Hampton’s no slouch, though. What I appreciate here is that he’s very much working within Mignola’s style, but softening it just enough to bring a completely different atmosphere to everything. Between what I’m guessing were inkwashed Hampton originals and Stewart’s coloring, there’s almost a watercolor effect to these pages, which feels very different from what I’ve come to expect from Hellboy, and all to the better. It still reads as Hellboy, but there’s enough shock of the new to keep my attention all the way through the issue.

Storywise, it’s… I don’t know. It’s Hellboy, really. There’s nothing particularly new or original in the writing – Hellboy wanders into a situation that isn’t as it seems, mysterious characters show up, give backstory and then there’s a monster. Like I said above, it’s fun enough, and there’s definitely nothing bad about it, but without the Hampton/Stewart art, I don’t think there’d be anything particularly great about it, either. If you like Hellboy, you’ll like this, but if he doesn’t do anything for you and you don’t really care about artwork, then I’m not sure I’d really recommend it that highly, sadly.

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