3 out of 5
Oh, okay, I guess it turns out I never really like Hellboy so much as the idea of Hellboy. An idea that was helped along by select, isolated mini-series, and Arcudi’s generally great work on B.P.R.D.
Let me take us on yet another boring trip down my unremarkable Memory Lane: stirred interest in Hellboy material by the movies, I’d started buying B.P.R.D. issues, but was holding off on HB floppies for whatever reason, slowly catching up via the trades instead. And then I was either caught up or I got anxious and decided to take the plunge: Wild Hunt was, I think, the first HB series I actively bought. And I remember reading it at the time and remarking that I just didn’t get it – I mean, I got the gist, but there seemed to be a heckuvalot of referential stuff that was flying over my head, which I chalked up to missing a trade or two, and having read them with long time gaps in between. I vaguely pledge to play catch up at some point, assured that I would then fully appreciate how massive Wild Hunt seemed to be.
It’s now. I’d fallen out of favor with the Mignolaverse some time back, when I felt like it grew beyond its britches and Arcudi departed, and that gives me a solidified set of books in my collection with which I can finally pursue that catch up: a full-on reread. I’ve since bought all the HB and B.P.R.D. material within that frame (okay, okay, I’m missing some things, somehow, but the internet catches me up), and have now read it all – sequentially, and fairly close together – and I’m back to The Wild Hunt.
Yeah. See above: I wasn’t missing a thing when I first read this. I just don’t like Mignola’s form of world-building all that much. I fully understand that people do, of course, but this just isn’t great writing to me. All of the myths and whatnot that Mignola recycles into HB’s world are not cohesive: they’re presented with an offhand air to give them a sense of always existing within Hellboy’s timeline, but instead, it just prevents them from being grounded. Hellboy, when presented in this fashion, reads like a list of things that are just happening instead of a dang story. In The Wild Hunt, when Mike focuses – in the latter half of the series – on one main bit of lore, and how it actually involves HB, it’s pretty great stuff, and reminiscent of the (by my opinion) best HB moments, when things are tight and focused and not trying to retro-justify the world-building that was added to the character after-the-fact. Wrapping HB into Arthurian legends is a bit of whimsical genius, in fact: a tweak I would never have guessed at. Using that to delve deeper into Big Red’s perpetual frustrations with being told that he’s “supposed” to be something – king of Hell; leader of some new army – is another smart way of finding an emotional in to a character who, unfortunately, is often pretty shallow. But prior to that, Wild Hunt is what doesn’t work for me: pages and pages of editor’s notes to previous stories that were apparently huge deals but happened across just a few pages; back-and-forth lore-slinging that involves witch queen Nimue coming back to power, and pig-demon Grugach’s desire for revenge, but told with A.D.D. gregariousness that makes Hunt seem like it’s both about a whole bunch of things and about nothing at the same time.
But, again, I sorta get it: people like this kind of stuff. And I don’t. That impression that I had – that I needed more to understand the story – is (again, by my opinion) just a result of poor pacing and framing. You may have a Compendium and list of events somewhere that you’re checking off as references, but I don’t want to have to keep looking at wiki for a who’s who to remind me of some name that popped up once years back.
…Keeping us in the reading game, until the story finds its focus in its back half, are some entertaining Hellboy scuffles and BOOMing, arted oh-so-perfectly by Duncan Fegredo, who, by this point, has fully adapted the Mignola style and meshed it with his own, lighter hand, to produce wonderfully engaging, emotive pages. Hellboy looks good, and that goes a long way toward making the clunkier bits readable.
I’m glad I got here. I’m happy for the years I spent invested in the Mignolaverse. But it’s also nice when you can confirm that your gut knew what was up.