CRT: Hellboy: House of the Living Dead Review
As a somewhat mini spoiler of our readpile on the next podcast for Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, my opinion on Hellboy was mixed.
The story wasn’t bad. The art was Mignola’s gorgeous gothic style that fit the Lovecraftian tale they were trying to tell. Still, it didn’t seem that impressive. It seemed very “of its time” in terms of word bubbles and clunky storytelling. (There aren’t a ton of stories from the early 90’s that I still hold up as really great, which is ironic because that’s when I was really starting to get into comics.) Obviously, characters grow over time, and seeing as the first Hellboy story included a script from John Byrne amongst other elements that have disappeared in time from the HB universe, I felt like I wasn’t giving the character a fair shake when I said that it’s not bad, just not for me. Stew sang the praises of the later Hellboy tales, and Andy was on board, too. I really wanted to like Hellboy; I just didn’t.
Then, Andy mentioned in passing a story where Hellboy turned into a lucha libre wrestler as an example of good Hellboy. I actually picked up that story years earlier but had never read it. I like wrasslin. I might like later HB. So, I figured that could be my second shot at Hellboy to see if it’s really good and I’m missing the boat, or if I can chalk it up as not my thang.
So this week, we’re going to dive into Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, featuring a story by Mike Mignola and art from Richard Corben. This was released as a stand-alone graphic novel back in 2011. Apparently it ties into a previous stand-alone story from Mignola and Corben the year earlier called Hellboy in Mexico, and it continues the overall arc of the character in the big long-term story. Still, there’s enough here for a basically new reader to get the gist of the story without too much baggage getting in the way, at least until the ending.
I will say that the way Hellboy stories are (or are not) organized is one thing that keeps me on the outside of the universe. It’s a petty grievance, I guess, as I could always look online for release dates, but a lil’ Volume: 8 or whatever on the spine of the graphic novel could go a long way to helping me realize where this story fits in. If this was a sequel to the previous Mignola/Corben effort, though, mention that on the outside of the book. Certain story elements later on in the story definitely could have benefited from context that I didn’t know I was missing until I started googling later.
The basic gist of this story involves Hellboy recounting his time in Mexico where he befriended three luchadores.
These luchadores teamed up with HB to fight monsters until one eventually was turned into a vampire himself that had to be destroyed by Hellboy. Then, while Hellboy is drinking his sorrows away, he’s basically propositioned to wrestle Frankenstein’s monster in order to help save a girl.
From there, there’s a wolfman and more vampires; the girl doesn’t get rescued, and Hellboy has to come to terms with the fact that he can’t save everyone all the time. He tries, and that’s the best he can do. Then, he has a drink with the Frankenstein monster and… passes out for a few months? He wakes up covered in spider-webs in time for the girl’s funeral and for Rasputin to tell him he will never know the peace of a grave. “You were born from hell and bound for hell in the end.” Ok. There’s that. The lucha libre and monster fighting I was good on, the ending kinda confused me. I’m assuming either there’s something I missed along the way, or Hellboy frequently passes out after tequila with Frankenstein to a world filled with forgotten skeletons. It might be a thing for all I know.
Richard Corben’s art, which I discussed briefly before from an Incredible Hulk: Banner miniseries, has that gritty, exaggerated underground flavor that lends itself to over-the top stories. It’s definitely a departure from the more gothic style of Mignola, but it fits this story. He’s an ideal choice for a story about lucha libre wrestlers fighting vampires and succubi and wolfmen to rescue a beautiful damsel. His work reminds me of the early Eastman/Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a slightly more polished yet grotesque bent. Maybe it’s the way he draws human hair. It’s fun and energetic and the action sequences were clear, even if there were a few perceived storytelling gaps.
The Final Tally:
I liked Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, but I didn’t love it. It hasn’t inspired me to seek out any more HB stories, even though I enjoyed the majority of the first portion of the book. I worry that the stuff that happens in the end might be more indicative of what normally goes on in a Hellboy book, and I wasn’t a fan. That’s not to say it’s bad, just not something that’s going to keep my interest. In the dedication page, Mike Mignola recognizes old school lucha libre vs. monster movies by saying, “I’ve never actually seen any of them, but I sure love the idea of them.” I feel the same way about Hellboy, I guess. I like the idea of the character, but I don’t know if I’m going to seek out much more. I can see why others find this appealing, and good for them.
Maybe someday I’ll go back and revisit the character and find that story that’s not too wordy like Seeds of Destruction or not too fuzzy like the ending here. Or maybe not. I’m ok with filing the Hellboy universe in the file of “not my thang.”
Final Grade: B-
If you have a story that’ll change my mind, let me know in the comments section!
Until next time, I’ll be out there in my own luchador mask, fighting classic movie monsters! Or not. We’ll see.