Hellboy: Weird Tales vol. 1, vol. 2 TPB (Hellboy: Weird Tales #1 – 8) – Various

3 out of 5

I generally dig these kinds of anthologies: themed around a character, notable and hand-picked artists allowed to roam free.  And Hellboy seems like such a great, fun match for it, with the character already having a history of spook-soaked one-shots, and pulpy action and one-liners built into the book’s DNA.  But in case the last, I dunno, 20+ years haven’t made it clear: Mike Mignola is a damned talented, creative, intelligent dude, and crafting the exact tone he has on his main creation may have occurred semi-naturally, but it’s not without consideration.

In short: no one really writes Hellboy like Mike.

There are a ton of great artists in these collected issues, with a lot of rewarding takes on Big Red, but not very many of the writers really get the character.  They write him like a standard comic book guy with some snark, but it’s somehow lacking in the unique blend of world-weariness and innocence that comes through when Mignola’s scripting things, and while I rag on Mike’s need to overload his tales with folklore exposition, when you completely subtract that and just give us ghosts and vampires… well, it becomes generic pretty quickly.

And so we get 8 issues’ worth of a punchy one-liner guy investigating haunted houses.  Some writers try their hand at something more serious… which doesn’t work at all in the short format, but the vast majority go for more mirth and manage to entertain, especially on the back of the visuals, which editor Scott Allie remarks were purposefully showcased to live up to the lineage of the pulp comics which were, in turn, influenced by the original Weird Tales magazine that kept Mike read as a youngster and shared a title with the series.  One or two writers do get it, and write a compelling Hellboy and B.P.R.D.  John Arcudi – the best Abe Sapien writer – gets a special shoutout for a hilarious Abe segment.

Copious sketches backup volume 1, with only a couple in volume 2 to allow the Lobster Johnson backups from all the individual issues to be collected together.  Scott gives us some wordy intros that do the job as hype, and Mike has some nice after-words to say.  The stories are rearranged for the trades – presumably to make room for the LoJo thing – which puts some longer stories together in volume 1 which probably should have been broken up, but otherwise, the ordering of things, since most of the stories are average, isn’t a plus or minus.