3 out of 5
…I’m bummed out that this collection wasn’t a homerun for me, because it’s of massive importance to the HB universe. But maybe that’s it: That previous Hellboy stories had successfully hinted at an expanded world, whereas Worm gathers all of that (via an every-other-page reference to a previous issue) and then heads off into an equal amount of different directions.
This clutter of ideas in and of itself is something of a Mignola hallmark – forever offering us thoughts and scribbles of worlds beyond – but I think it’s more disruptive to the reading this time because its intention is more disruptive. Not necessarily directly, rather that its clear that we should be absorbing all of this. In making the narrative a bit more forceful, Conqueror Worm becomes notably repetitive: Hellboy is, surely, a litany of tales of HB punching big monsters, and we were Wowed by all the weirdness of aliens and vampires and space gods. …And then it’s as though these pieces were re-realized as a denser puzzle, so Mignola lays them all out again, only this time: it’s for real.
Having read what comes after, while the denseness remains, the Mignolaverse definitely settled into a more confident cadence. So we can perhaps forgive the growing pains of Conqueror Worm. Especially given all the greatness Mignola almost makes us take for granted: The fantastic character designs; the complicated actions boiled down to genius minimalist layouts; the oddball humor mixed with occasional gut-punching pathos; and then the fact that the world does keep expanding. Hellboy (the comic) never hit a ceiling of ideas and shrugged: Whenever possible, the team would strive to continue tuning things up while giving them room to grow.
We know del Toro loved this series, both because of his intro to the collected version and that the first Hellboy movie blended in some elements from it. And it certainly cannot be skipped due to all of its major revelations and plot points. So I might be in the minority of reading this as a bumpy ride. Regardless, its mix of too much and not enough affects me as such. However, there would have been no denying that, at this point, Hellboy was primed to launch into some crazy territory, so Conqueror Worm may be underwhelming in certain regards, but it certainly whets the appetite for more all the same.