Just a Warning:

December 7, 2008 at 2:36 am (Comic Books)

This one’s kinda wacky, insubstantial (I spend a lot of time commenting on the plot as I regurgitate it), and lacking evidence or citations. It’s okay if you skip it.

You HAVE to go out and buy this comic #4: Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch

Mike Mignola hasn’t drawn a comic in ages. He’s done the occasional cover, sure, but it’s been awhile since his images have been sequential. Surprisingly, it’s his draftsmanship that’s loose here, his figurework more coarse than chunky, his ink lines sloppy instead of thick. Less than perfect, it’s still Mignola with imaginative monsters told in ominous shadows surrounded by gothic Kirby figures and statues.

Honestly, I was more impressed with its one issue long plot that Mignola has always made feel either rushed or inconsequential: here it’s actually a kind of bitter story of art, and the hurdles fame brings to inspiration. While I’m not normally the type to separate visuals from script, it’s really worth discussing at a level of pure narrative, because it’s almost allegorical. Which might mean that Hellboy’s burning out Mignola, but I don’t know; stick around to the end to find out the exciting conclusion to this piece of blogoriffic criticism!

The victim of B.P.R.D.’s latest case is an artist who just keeps “ripping off Goya.” He could not produce blazingly original artwork, so he rests his entire oeuvre on a conceptual conceit. As I paraphrase his landlord explaining his art, no one today knows anything about Goya, and he’s bringing the unknown past to confront an ignorant present, hopefully shattering the artistic world with the temporal collision. Which would shock anyone, except, of course, Mr. Hellboy, who’s seen everything. Even surreal portraits of demons.

We stumble onto the artist’s blazing, innovative creation, a single statue of a demon produced in darkness and seclusion. Now it’s time to connect some dots.

Mignola spent most of his earlier, pre-Hellboy career doing popular but short stints on plenty of popular projects after he had a couple of recognized but inconsequential runs (Rocket Raccoon was his first full length interior work, and it’s pretty good, with homicidal robot clowns sent by opposing toymakers, and the beaver/policeman must restore order to the region). After that Mantlo madness, he steadily got higher profile assignments with DC until Hellboy gave him financial success.

Anyways, the triumph of both artists is a spawn from Hell. While I don’t know too much about Mignola’s personal life, I feel safe in making the following assumption: Both are informed by Goya’s visions and a secret, occult demon that possesses the artist every night informing their hands, whether stained in clay or ink. The idiosyncratic worship of both has infected the land with a malaise, and made the artist a zombie, to add even more insult to injury when a singular vision possesses the creative soul.

So we have an artist driven by an interior desire, but all he can produce is copies except for one final monument consuming him. Who does Mignola have save the artist from his obsessive creation? Hellboy comes in to save the day. Making it an even better moment, BPRD are name checked at the beginning, but they were delayed. “I’ll be able to go it alone,” Hellboy reassures. BPRD has never been the big seller.

Our hero saves the day by erasing the obsession of the artist, the demon that comes in every night and possesses him. But the artist protests its destruction. He can’t imagine living without inspiration, however ill begotten. It’s okay, Hellboy tells the artist in the wake of its destruction, “this was the only good way this was going to end… now you can go on living.”

I can’t help but think of Mignola’s current work as a co-writer and architect instead of carpenter for his universe. I mean, I’m not going by anything really concrete, only how I imagine Mignola writing his stories, which involves him talking with Arcudi about a plot, the entire thing being produced under his supervision. The universe subsides more on his inspiration than diligence, as it was when it began: He could stop doing corporate owned work, and produce his own obsessive creation. And Hellboy, literally and biographically, is what saved him from that obsession, from creating individual work without anyone seeing it.

It’s really heartwarming for a Hellboy story, and while this intensely allegorical reading may be the critic’s own imagination rather than the author’s imprint, it’s still a wondrous moment of authorial appreciation wrapped in a giant monster slug fest! And it has one of those awesome panels where the menacing beast and Hellboy face off in a huge panel where background and setting fade, and only energy crackles as his huge fist smashes alien flesh!


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