Spotlight Sunday 12.24.17
You’d better not pout, you’d better not cry, and you’d better be aware that there are spoilers ahead for…
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Adam Hughes
Cover: Adam Hughes
“That’s a pretty weird story for Christmas.” – Liz Sherman
Last year, in preparation for being confined to my home for several weeks and not being able to draw for most of that time because of the shoulder surgery I had right before Christmas, I loaded up on a bunch of trades at the comic shop. The bulk of my purchases consisted of collections of Hellboy books – the main Hellboy books, not the assorted BPRD tie-ins – so Hellboy already has something of a connection to the season for me, which makes it rather appropriate to have a Christmas-themed special this year.
One of the things I like most about your typical Hellboy story – aside from the art, which is usually great even when creator Mike Mignola isn’t handling the art chores – is that they’re fairly straightforward and simple while still containing a certain depth and emotional resonance.
As a writer, Mignola seems to work in the same minimalist style that he does as an artist, managing to produce an unexpectedly rich complexity from simple plots just as he does from the simple lines he draws.
Hellboy is a demon of few words – though I love that he provides his own sound effects, such as when he shouts “BOOM!” when he hits someone – but despite being taciturn, he manages to convey his thoughts and intentions through his actions. (Of course, most of those times his actions consist of punching.)
(In reading the collected works last year, one of the things I liked most was that he spent most of his life completely uninterested in learning anything about who and what he really is, and it was clear that it was motivated by the fear that, for rather obvious reasons, he wouldn’t like the truth. His automatic response to anyone who tried to tell him, or even tried to hint at the truth, was to tell them to shut up and/or punch them. Still, despite his best efforts, the truth eventually came to light, as it usually does.)
This particular story is no exception to the standard approach: Hellboy encounters a supernatural threat, various weird things happen, Hellboy fights the supernatural threat and spends a lot of time getting his ass handed to him, then, ultimately, emerges more-or-less victorious.
In this case, we open in a forest in Austria, a few days before Christmas, in 1975. The World’s Most Famous Paranormal Investigator encounters a ghostly woman who entreats him to save her boy. She vanishes before Hellboy can talk to her, leaving behind a carved wooden toy elephant in the snow.
He then hears someone calling to him from a nearby house. Its inhabitant is a man named Wilhelm Schulze. Schulze had recently caused a stir in a local church by demonstrating demonic abilities and claiming to be the Krampus, the monstrous companion to Saint Nicholas who punishes naughty children.
Hellboy is skeptical, until Schulze tosses him the skull of a child, one of his victims, and Hellboy sees a vision of how the boy – who was holding a wooden toy elephant at the time – ended his days.
Schulze then reveals his true form.
He further reveals that he’s tired of being Krampus, and wants Hellboy to kill him and send him home, which was why he caused the stir in the church, as he knew that Hellboy was in the area and that such an act would draw his attention.
After seeing the vision of the boy’s death, Hellboy is happy to oblige, though he doesn’t seem entirely capable of fulfilling the request. As the Krampus strangles him, Hellboy finds himself transported back into the forest, where the ghosts of the children murdered by the Krampus appear, asking for Hellboy’s help, and we see the old toys that the dead children lost strewn throughout the woods.
One of them – most likely the kid with the elephant, but it’s difficult to say, as the kid ghosts are all skeletons – says to Hellboy, “He’s just so tired. Help him.” He hands Hellboy a knife, and says, “Use this.”
With that, Hellboy finds himself back in the house getting strangled, but to the surprise of the two combatants, he’s managed to drive the knife through the Krampus’s heart.
The Krampus wonders how Hellboy got the knife.
“It’s a mystery, pal. Merry Christmas.”
As the Krampus dies, the bones of the dead children all begin to tumble out of their hiding places in the house, and the Krampus expresses his relief that he will finally return home. He manages to outlive that relief, however, as he realizes just before dying that something is amiss and that things aren’t working out quite the way he wanted them to.
With his death, his already goat-like body transforms into the corpse of an actual goat.
Hellboy sums it all up in his own inimitable style.
“Well, that was something.”
We next find ourselves at BPRD headquarters on Christmas morning, where Hellboy has just finished relating the tale to the Professor and Liz. The Professor is eager to discuss it with a colleague who had for years maintained that the Krampus was just a variation on the demon goat of the witches’ Sabbath given a holiday makeover, whereas the Professor had thought it might be the Yule Goat from Scandinavian folklore. Neither of them had considered the possibility of it being, you know, an actual goat.
Albeit a talking, magic goat. One that, Hellboy suspects, forgot it was a goat, decided it was from Hell, started killing children, then got tired of it and wanted to go back to Hell.
Except it couldn’t go to Hell, because, you know, it was a goat.
Whatever the case, the Professor concludes, Hellboy managed to make sure that all of the children got a proper burial.
Hellboy adds, “And that thing, too. Whatever it was.”
Like I said, it was a fairly straightforward Hellboy story. The real standout was the rare treat of seeing Adam Hughes – or AH! – doing interior work, given that for the past several years he’s mainly been known for doing cover work.
AH! proves to be a surprisingly good fit for Hellboy, managing to maintain his more detailed style while also providing the deep, rich blacks that are something of a hallmark of Mignola’s style. His design work is great – there are several bonus pages that feature some of his initial designs and sketches – and the simple action allows for more intimate, less action-oriented storytelling that plays to his strengths as an artist, focusing on expressions and body language.
We also get to see some special Christmas Memories. I especially like this one.
AH! is one of my favorite artists, and I had the opportunity to speak to him, briefly, at a con back in 2010. I showed him one of my drawings, and he said, “Oh, that’s lovely!”
That was the highlight of my year.
So, yeah, getting to see more of his work was something of a Christmas present for me.
I’m also glad to have the opportunity to read more Hellboy. I should probably supplement my core collection of Hellboy comics by picking up some of the tie-ins and spin-offs as well, but unless Santa either leaves me a new job under the tree, or gives me the gift of some (any) generous patrons, I’m probably going to have to start cutting down on the number of comics I buy pretty soon…
HELLBOY VOL. 1: SEED OF DESTRUCTION – When strangeness threatens to engulf the world, a strange man will come to save it. Sent to investigate a mystery with supernatural overtones, Hellboy discovers the secrets of his own origins, and his link to the Nazi occultists who promised Hitler a final solution in the form of a demonic avatar.
COVER RUN: THE DC COMICS ART OF ADAM HUGHES – Collecting the best of Eisner Award winner Adam Hughes’s spectacular, sexy covers for WONDER WOMAN, CATWOMAN and other DC series. This amazing collection features the best of Hughes’ work for DC Comics, along with commentary from the artist, rarely seen preliminary material and much more!
Before I get to the Bonus, I wanted to make some programming notes.
While it’s technically possible to vote more than once, and I haven’t explicitly made a rule against it, because I’m trying to avoid setting up a bunch of rigid rules for something that’s meant to be fun, but I’m going to stop short of making a rule against it by humbly asking, “Could you not?”
In particular, don’t do it in an effort to create a tie. I know last time that there was a tie I ended up writing shorter Spotlight entries for the books involved, but that was a one-off. Going forward, as was the original intention, if there’s a tie, I’ll make a tie-breaking decision and write about just one book.
I will continue to do the Bonus entries and the Recommended Reading, so that’s a win, for any of the half-dozen or so of you who actually read these and like them.
Also, if you are one of those half-dozen or so people who read these, and you actually enjoy them, if you haven’t already – and thank you, to those of you who have, and for continuing to do so – please spread the word about the Weigh In/Spotlight/OpenDoor Comics in general to others so that we can get that half-dozen up to a full dozen, and maybe even beyond.
Because it was part of that one-off tie situation, The Mighty Thor #702 doesn’t count for the Bonus. Sorry.
So that leaves us with Wonder Woman/Conan #4 and Bettie Page #6.
First up, Bettie. So, yeah, she’s a spy now. The issue starts off with her getting some training, and the decision that her career as an actress and model provides the ideal cover. Upon returning to New York, she gets back into modeling, which provides some of the mildly salacious imagery one would expect. We don’t see the mission itself, but we see the fallout of one of her missions, which goes poorly, and leaves her thinking that she’s been fired, up until the point that some Reds out for revenge (as a result of that semi-botched mission) track her down, and she learns that she was being used as bait once she’s reunited with the lady cop she met in LA, who, like her is, also a secret agent now. Her next mission takes her to Cannes, where her cover is being herself, the star of Invasion of the Space Commies, the movie she’d been shooting in LA that was part of the scheme she helped foil that led to her becoming a secret agent. There, she and her companions are meant to meet up with a commie scientist who has some information for them…but unfortunately he turns up dead at a party before they get a chance to contact him.
An Amazon and a Cimmerian walk into a bar and…well, there’s no punchline to that setup, but there is a line of people who get punched. Conan continues to try to convince Diana that she is Yanna, and says he can prove it if she shows him her boob. (She doesn’t.) After swimming to shore, they stop at an inn – after Conan, despite Diana’s misgivings, commits a quick mugging – for food and drink. Too much drink for Diana, it turns out. While she’s passed out, she has a vision of her mother, and of herself as she truly is, and is informed that her lasso, which will reveal the truth, is in the hands of the slaver from whom she and Conan escaped. Her mother tells her, however, that she should not trust Conan. (We see, though Diana doesn’t, that it’s actually one of the Corvidae, not her mother. We also see the other member of the Corvidae visiting the slaver and telling him to wait until Conan and Diana show up and then murder all of his slaves in front of them.)
Upon awaking to discover Conan having…a disagreement with several soldiers, Diana reveals that her full strength has returned, and she shatters the chain that had left her connected to Conan. After they clean house, she tells Conan he’s free to go his own way, but he decides to follow her, telling her the rest of the story about Yanna, which ends with her taking an arrow to the chest (which is the reason – or probably only part of the reason – Conan wanted to check out Diana’s boob), and her falling off a cliff to her apparent doom.
I have to say that Aaron Lopresti is really killing it with the art on this. It’s a career high for him, and the issue overall was a lot of fun.
Because it’s nearly Christmas, and my heart has grown three sizes or whatever, and Hellboy killed the Krampus, here’s your Christmas Bonus.
I have to say that voting for the first part of a four-part story spread across three titles – one of which I don’t buy, and may not buy, even though it’s part of the story in two books I do buy, because I don’t care for this iteration of the Teen Titans – is an odd choice. If Superman #37 had won, I would have only written about that one, not the second part in Super Sons #11.
But, again, Christmas, so…
In Superman, we find the Batman of Tomorrow (Tim Drake) attacking Bruce Wayne and – presumably non-fatally – shooting him to take him out of action, and to get his hands on some of Batman’s “In Case I Have To Kill My Friends” emergency supplies. Next up, he takes on the Man of Steel himself, trapping Superman in a cage lined with Red Kryptonite (which, apparently, doesn’t have the classic effects) revealing that he’s travelled back in time to prevent a future tragedy by any means necessary. The means in this case being killing Superman’s son.
In Super Sons, Jon tags along to help out the Teen Titans, without their knowledge or permission, and while they all argue about it in their headquarters, Tim takes control and traps them all there, having Raven read his mind so that she can see his memories of Superboy destroying Metropolis, the tragedy he’s come back to prevent. The strange black goop he uses to try to immobilize Jon, however, causes the Boy of Steel to freak out and lose control of his powers. On Damian’s command, he flies away, then appears to emit a super-flare, a power that we haven’t seen him demonstrate before (or seen Superman use, post-Rebirth). Apparently, that was exactly the kind of thing Tim was trying to prevent, as it looks to be an accidental super-flare that will kill everyone in Metropolis sometime between now and future Tim’s time.
It ends with some damage to Titans Tower and the Titans themselves from the energy burst, and Tim’s fellow former sidekicks of the future observing the loss of Tim’s signal and making plans to travel back to the past to get him.
These future, brutal, do-whatever-it-takes “heroes” – future versions of Conner (Superboy) Kent, Cassie (Wonder Girl) Sandsmark, and Bart (Impulse/Kid Flash) Allen – made an appearance years ago in Teen Titans, that I dimly recall, and apparently future Tim has similarly made appearances in the Bat-comics that I haven’t read.
Like I said, I don’t know if I’m going to bother picking up Teen Titans next week, and I’ve honestly been thinking about dropping Super Sons. (Damian just gets on my nerves.)
Fooled you! Three ghosts visited me in the night, so you don’t get a lump of coal when it comes to The Mighty Thor #702!
We find Thor thinking about all of the places she should be and the things she should be doing – fighting in Vanaheim, delivering aid to Nidavellir, getting chemo as Jane – but instead she’s in a bar arm-wrestling Hercules in an effort to secure the help of the Olympians in fighting the war. Before a victor can be determined, the Odinson shows ups and breaks it up. Before she died, Karnilla warned him that Jane is on the verge of death, and so he’s come to convince her to put down the hammer for a while and fight the more important battle. After seeing the condition that Volstagg is in after being beaten by the Mangog and having the hammer of the War Thor destroyed, she agrees, though not in the way he expected. Instead of resuming treatment, she angrily pounds on the door of Odin, who’s been in hiding, watching over the comatose Freyja. She finally gets him to come out after nearly fomenting an Asgardian revolution, but unlike the other gods assembled, Odin’s not impressed by her words, and is about to deliver a smiting. However, Jane’s words reached Freyja, and she climbs out of her bed to tell Odin that Jane is right, and that they need to become actively involved in the War of the Realms. Unfortunately, Jane did not hear any of that, as she has collapsed.
Whew! I’m not sure that you were all nice enough to warrant that much – or naughty enough to suffer through it – but hey, it’s a season for giving. Just remember: Christmas. This is not going to be a regular thing. One book plus whatever qualifies for the Bonus from here on out, no matter what the vote outcome may be.
Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday. (So that you can vote once.)
Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate, or don’t enjoy whatever holiday you don’t celebrate, or…well, do whatever it is you want to do.
But whatever you do or don’t do, here’s a special holiday message, in the form of a picture I did several years ago, from me and the Krampus (RIP)