Hellboy is one of my favourite comics ever.
I’ll go one further and say that the Hellboy universe is also one of the greatest franchises ever. Mike Mignola created something truly special nearly 30 years ago. Hellboy blends horror, the occult, strange heroes, tall tales, myths, pulp sensibilities, humour, and more. There’s an easy, laid back everyman quality to Hellboy himself and an engrossing world that seems rife for endless exploration in numerous spin-offs and formats. From the comics to the novels, the animated to live action movies, the toys to the tabletop roleplaying game, it’s all mostly good or better.
In the realm of live action, Hellboy has already seen two iterations. The first built off of Seed of Destruction and then went off in fantastical directions with the second movie. The second iteration used source material from the Arthurian trilogy period with Darkness Calls. While I loved the first version and liked the second, recently there was announced a new kick at the can. This third iteration is set to use one of the greats from the comics series as its inspiration, Hellboy: The Crooked Man, by Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Dave Stewart, and Clem Robins.
Similar to a television show like The X-Files, there have typically been two tracks of Hellboy stories. There are those that primarily take place in the present, adding to the ongoing saga of the characters. And those that often take place at various times in the past, often as standalone tales. The Crooked Man fits in the latter format. It makes for a situation where it’s very easy to just pick up this story and go. You don’t really need to know anything else to dive in.
Mike Mignola takes influences from some of the best of horror and pulp short story writers, like Ambrose Bierce, Sheridan Le Fanu, HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Robert Chambers. Here he delves into the territory of Manly Wade Wellman and backwoods Americana terror. Set in 1958 and the Appalachian Mountains, Hellboy finds himself in a situation where witches abound. The titular Crooked Man is a miser has taken on a demonic bent collecting souls. And Hellboy’s set to help a local bury his father and cleanse the evil. It’s kind of free-flowing in how it plays out, very nicely mixing in some local myths and the kind of evil that is almost always present through affluent wealth.
Richard Corben’s artwork is exquisite. There’s an ineffable quality to it that makes it feel alive. Really. The way that Corben approaches shading and texture gives everything a kind of rounded feel through a mixture of shapes, stippling, and solid shadows that you don’t see often in comics. It helps give all of his characters and otherworldly feel and really makes the appearance of the Crooked Man himself creepy.
Dave Stewart’s colours beautifully enrich Corben’s linework. There’s almost a sickly pallor to it, with Stewart using hues of blue and green for much of the backgrounds that feel awash with grey. It helps make the red of Hellboy stand out more, true, but it also makes the world feel tainted.
There’s also just something about the lettering from Clem Robins in Hellboy that is unmistakable. The word balloons and text feel just a little bit larger than many other comics. The result is something that I’d say almost feels timeless for adventure or horror stories.
Hellboy: The Crooked Man from Mignola, Corben, Stewart, and Robins is a tasty bit of backwoods horror. One that can easily be picked up on its own. It’s one of the stories that exemplifies the versatility of Hellboy and his enduring legacy. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this tale is adapted for the big screen.
Classic Comic Compendium: Hellboy – The Crooked Man
Hellboy – The Crooked Man
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colourist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clem Robins
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: July – September 2008
Available collected in Hellboy – Volume 10: The Crooked Man & Others and Hellboy Library Edition – Volume 4: The Crooked Man & The Troll Witch
Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!