Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1-3

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

When Mike Mignola announced two years ago at the end of the Hellboy: The Island mini-series that he was handing over the art chores on his signature character, the news was a little worrisome. Half of the appeal of Hellboy has always been the creepy atmosphere that Mignola’s art creates, and with that gone, would the book have the same punch to it? Well, aside from a small half-by-Mignola, half-by-Richard-Corben mini-series from last year, Hellboy: Darkness Calls is the first major Hellboy project to have someone else drawing Mignola’s scripts—and having reached its halfway point, thankfully all of my worries appeared to be for naught.

Hellboy is more than ready to just relax after his recent ordeals under the ocean. Unfortunately, even if he doesn’t go looking for trouble, it seems to find him. A congress of witches is looking for a new leader, and they’ve decided that Hellboy is the obvious candidate. When he says no, though, it lands him in a chain of trouble big enough that perhaps just agreeing to ride around on a broomstick once in a while may have been the smarter answer.

The first half of the Darkness Calls mini-series could best be described as a rambling chain of events, with an ever-changing setting and series of supernatural creatures for Hellboy to face off against. While Mignola’s writing on the series can be very focused, it’s this strange sort of meandering path that it takes from time to time that I think best describes his attitude towards writing the series. While a small part of it feels almost like the writing is just there to give him an excuse for amazing visuals, the main thrust seems to be that no matter what Hellboy does or where he goes, strange things are going to continue to flock to him. People expecting a tighter narrative will be disappointed, but seeing Mignola pull up one strange being after another fills me with a certain level of glee. It’s also worth noting that perhaps so there is no viewing in long-term reader’s heads that Darkness Falls isn’t a “throw-away” story with Mignola no longer on art chores, that Darkness Calls brings back quite a few characters from previous stories (complete with footnotes reminding everyone where we saw them last). It’s a subtle reminder that Mignola is planning on this being the new status quo for some time to come, and that skipping non-Mignola-art Hellboy will be skipping some major events in the series.

Speaking of the art, Duncan Fegredo certainly had an unenviable position to be in. For a series that is well-defined by Mignola’s art, it’s a rather thankless task to undertake. That said, I was impressed by how much he both kept Mignola’s same sense of atmosphere while also retaining his own art style. Like Mignola, Fegredo draws his characters with sharp angled features, keeping the basic iconic look of the comic intact. Fegredo also has an eye for detail, though, be it individual leaves of ivy on a tree to tiny pieces of rubble flaking off of a stone wall. Even the big details seem more numerous, with an entire army of skeletons pouring across the page towards Hellboy and each one looking slightly different than all the others. It’s a level of richness that I don’t remember being quite so strong in past Hellboy comics (although on a smaller scale it is something Mignola’s brought to his creation before), and it’s just subtlety different enough that I can appreciate Fegredo’s contribution to the comic. It certainly helps that long-time colorist Dave Stewart is on board, using his deep hues to help characters and locations pop off the page at a glance. Three issues in, I’m no longer thinking, “When will Mignola draw Hellboy again?” but rather, “I hope Fegredo sticks around for more Hellboy after this mini-series is over.”

With three more issues to go, at this point barring disaster it’s safe to say that the Mignola and Fegredo collaboration for Hellboy: Darkness Calls is an absolute success. The two seem to be artistically on the same wavelength, and reading these issues has reminded me yet again just how much fun the character is. Hopefully once Darkness Calls ends we won’t have to wait quite so long for another story. With an excellent usage of cliffhangers from one issue to the next, this is the sort of book you’ll actually be well served on not waiting for the eventual collection. All in all, a lot of fun.

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