Hellboy vol.6 TPB: Strange Places – Mike Mignola

5 out of 5

Yessss… proof positive that the Mignolaverse can handle the impossible juggling between isolated incidents and world-building majesty like no other, as well as a soothing reassurance that the last arc, Conqueror Worm, as it was not to my liking, was something of the transitional tale – from Hellboy the agent to Hellboy the wanderer – that I felt it to be, successfully splintering the HB and BPRD titles to allow them each their own feel.

In the case of the former, Mignola reinstates his fairy tale wandering narrative voice; the cut and paste imagery that his brain maps into cohesive and flowing pages; and the rarely matched combination of slapstick action, horror visuals,  and punctuated pathos that we almost take for granted since Mike does it so we’ll.  Volume 6 combines two two-issue tales, which are surprisingly linear in terms of building off one another while also completely working as standalone myth adaptations.

In ‘three wishes,’ Hellboy follows up on his pledge to head to Africa, only to chat up some type of dream shaman who gifts him a bell which sends him on an underwater journey involving the Bog Roosh, who wants to do right by the universe and prevent HB from fulfilling his Ogdru Jahad fate.  But Hellboy has had enough of being yoinked around due to his supposed path and so cuts that down humorously fast with some good ol’ biff, bops and pows.  After stumbling out of this adventure, he stumbles into a castle in The Island, in which he is maybe killed by a mini Ogdru, then gets to hear all about the seven-headed dragon’s creation.  Instead of this being an info-dump, though, it’s mythic: It’s Mignola revealing his tapestry in its due time, and it is sincerely awe-some to witness.  Not because it’s especially twisty and turny, but in the same way that earlier volumes exploded with mini-revelations, here we finally get the full birth.  It feels truly rewarding to be part of its creation via our reading, and to have seen / felt it grow so organically.

Mignola and colorist Dave Stewart together are a blessing, and their work here is particularly grooving: Mike’s blocky shadow work is perfectly complemented by Dave’s sense of pop colors and subtle palette shifts; this is an art duo firing on all gears.

Some extra pages that show Mike’s pencils for an aborted version of The Island show how much work goes into making what may seem like simple images.  This extra, along with Mike’s usual open and informative text intros and a new Island epilogue definitely make the collection that much more valuable.

While what came before is of course necessary to appreciate this volume, Stranger Places is, I feel, where the title really became the Mignolaverse in full, carving out its own path that has proven to be hallowed ground since.

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