Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Kevin Nowlan
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

One of the many things I’ve always appreciated about Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is that he’s not afraid to shift its tone from one story to the next. So right now, the "main" arc running in Hellboy: The Storm (and the upcoming Hellboy: The Fury) is a dark and serious story, with great portent for what’s still to happen to the world. But then, in-between those two mini-series, we get something like Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish, which is one of the stranger and funnier Hellboy stories to date.

It’s a little hard to talk about the plot of Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish without giving away half of the fun, because Mignola’s story is built in no small part on a series of non-sequiturs and bizarre moments that follow, one after another. It starts simply enough—a young man in Kansas begins a satanic ritual with his friends—that is immediately followed by Hellboy investigating a herd of cows that are all (quite neatly) missing half of their bodies. And then, just when you think you know where the story is going, Mignola begins a series of swerves and surprises.

Does Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish make sense? Not particularly. Does it need to? Absolutely not. If anything, it deliberately peppers itself fully of "what the hell?" moments, as if Mignola is just trying to come up with funny things for Kevin Nowlan to draw. This is a classic example of a "turn off your brain and just enjoy" kind of comic; it’s goofy and silly and meant to make you chuckle at each turn of events. After the darker atmosphere of Hellboy: The Storm it’s nice to just relax and enjoy a low-stakes paranormal event.

Of course, half of the fun probably comes from the fact that it’s Nowlan drawing the comic. Every time there’s a new Nowlan comic it’s a reason to celebrate, with his expressive and slightly strange looking characters and creations. When we first see Buster Oakley and his friends, every single one of them looks like a distinct individual, slightly off-beat (not a one of them falls into the "fashion model" route that so many "normal people" in comics do), and instantly appealing. Then again, this is the same artist who on the next page takes the time to make each of the framed photographs of the farmer’s cows look different and unique from one another. Nowlan thinks everything through carefully, from the design of the farmer’s house (which I now covet), to the tear running down the farmer’s face, to the sudden surprise appearance of… well, that would be telling.

Since Nowlan is a one-man show (pencils, inks, colors, letters) every bit of the visual appearance of the comic is tightly integrated. From the "wwwwwoooshhhhh" of an escaping vehicle moving along its trajectory, to the slightly off-kilter "tap tap tap" words rising up and away from Hellboy’s fist investigating the halved cow, it’s all thought out and just as much a part of the art. Even something as simple as Buster Oakley’s prayer/spell being written in a slightly smaller font as it’s repeated during a later sequence in the book is perfect, that reminder that it’s something that was spoken in the past but now resurfacing, rather than something that’s actively being said in the moment.

Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish is one of the goofier comics I’ve read in a while, and I love it. Whenever Mignola and Nowlan want to work together on another comic, I am fairly certain I won’t be the only one lining up to buy a copy. This comic was a hoot, from start to finish, and it’s nice to see that Mignola hasn’t forgotten how to write funny as well as serious. More, please.

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