Koshchei the Deathless (#1 – 6) – Mike Mignola

3 out of 5

Gang: I’m calling it.

Hellboy is still fun; Mike Mignola is still immensely talented, and his nurtured pool of artists – Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart on this mini – generally impress, as that duo absolutely do here, Stenbeck in particular in amazingly emotive form.  But there was some writing (no pun intended) on the wall with John Arcudi’s departure – coinciding with the culmination of years of BPRD plotting, and with Hellboy In Hell rather officially bringing HB’s storyline to a close: mission accomplished.  What’s left to be done is no longer stacking pieces up to complete the ever-evolving Mignolaverse, it’s exploring the less fortified nooks and crannies.  It’s going back to side characters – say, an enemy from a previous arc, e.g. Koshchei, delegate of Baba Yaga – and having them sit down with our ‘Boy in Hell for a chat and a review.  How did you come to work for Baba, Koshchei?  Care to take six issues to explain?

Back in the day, the pulp Nazi-fightin’ scraps of early Hellboy got drops of mythology, wended through Mike’s love and fascination with the world’s many sources of folklore.  Characters taken from the lore would thus pop up, or maybe an extra in some anthology book somewhere would have HB as, essentially, a ‘guest’ in some straight up adaptation of whichever cultural tale of bogeymen and spirits.  As these were side notes to our ongoing story, they felt like part of the Mignolaverse establishment; further allowing Mike to explore his poetic, dreamlike, sprightly narrative style.

And he’s danged perfected it.  At a couple of issues, Koshchei’s i-lost-my-soul-and-became-a-monster woeful recollection would be ideal, HB and K chatting like two buddies in Hell’s bar while Mike dances so effortlessly over sprawling and kooky ideas.  But then it keeps going.  And an affect that’s charming in small doses begins to feel wandering; whether or not it’s actually the case, Koshchei (the miniseries) comes across as multiple bits of folklore mashed into one, and we keep coming to a conclusion, and then starting down a new road.  I’m pretty sure he becomes ‘deathless’ right away?  I’m pretty sure he strikes a deal with Baba Yaga right away?  But we keep going.

I have a love for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so as long as writers are embracing what I consider to be foundational aspects of the characters, I’ll continue to read their travails.  However, the TMNT were never really borne into this world-creating-and-destroying epic that HB and the BPRD set up, so it’s rather easier to continually extend their stories.  With Hellboy, I’m incredibly appreciative that the creator is still kicking around with his creation, but it lacks drive; it feels more like addendum stuff because we’re not quite ready to let go.  But I’m calling it.

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