Books: Hellboy - On Earth as it is in Hell

>> Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hellboy is one of my all-time favorite comic books. Except for the excellent work of James Robinson on Starman, writer-artist-creator Mike Mignola's big red paranormal investigator might rank number one on my favorites list. Mignola takes his time to produce Hellboy, and there are often longish waits between the mini-series that further Hellboy's continuing story. (And the books are most definitely worth the wait!)

But realizing there was a voracious readership eager for anything Hellboy, Dark Horse Comics began producing non-Mignola-created Hellboy comics, with varying degrees of success. Guy Davis' work on B.P.R.D. has been outstanding; Weird Tales, written and illustrated by a variety of guests, was very disappointing.

And so with equal parts hope and fear I picked up Hellboy: On Earth as it is in Hell, an original novel by Brian Hodge. No artwork in this one - just a prose adventure starring H.B., Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and the usual cast of misfits working for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. I had never heard of Hodge before, but this was the first Hellboy novel not written by the prolific (and at times prosaic) Christopher Golden, so I gave it a shot.

Surprisingly, this novel is not a lightweight licensed book banged out to meet a minimum page count. Weighing in at 359 small-printed pages, On Earth feels like a labor of love, and occasionally felt like a labor to read. That's not to say it isn't well-written - Hodge is not a pretentious or flowery writer, but instead a measured and confident one. His prose strives neither to surprise nor to impress, only to carry the story forward as realistically and thoughtfully as possible.

But what made the book feel at times like a marathon was the lack of fist-pounding, floor crumbling, giant worm-wrangling pulp action that makes the Hellboy comics so much dang fun. Hodge is clearly an imaginative horror writer, and in that sense pays perfect homage to the darker, more mysterious aspects of Mignola's work. (There are very creepy moments, which is impressive.)

What's missing is the spirit of Doc Savage, the borderline camp of punchy dialogue and punching heroes. While there is good pulpy plot here - Hellboy and company are recruited by the Vatican to guard a controversial ancient document from the vengeful minions of both heaven and hell - the book is heavy on the thinking and light on the thwacking. With the exception of duking it out with the Leviathan and going toe-to-toe with some fire-wielding seraphim, the threats to Hellboy and Co. seemed pretty light.

All in all a good read, but I was expecting something a little different.


Fabricationist,  January 25, 2006 at 10:32 PM  

Hellboy: Makoma, or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorers’ Club on August 16, 1993 #1

Starts Febuary. Don't know how many issues. There's a preview on Dark Horse.

[NOTE: I hate you can't edit your comments after their posted]

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