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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/8/16 – Verdammtendämmerung)

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Last week saw the release of the tenth and final issue of Hellboy in Hell, which is not necessarily the last Hellboy comic creator/writer/artist Mike Mignola will ever draw -- there is definitely some wiggle room left through which the character might return -- but clearly is meant to function as a potential 'ending' to the Hellboy series, at least as far as its title character is concerned. I'm going to discuss the comic a little, so skip down to the capsules if you don't want it spoiled.

The image above is not from Hellboy in Hell; it's from issue #5 of the 2006 miniseries B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine, a comic mainly drawn by the much-missed Guy Davis, though Mignola himself, as you can see, opted to draw the closing pages, as they commemorated the death of a popular supporting character, Roger the Homunculus. The series was in large part about how death is not permanent in these types of horror/fantasy/superhero stories, so in the end Roger makes an affirmative choice to remain dead, and thereby not repeat the cycles of violent combat that had come to define his life... and perhaps action comics themselves, with their popular franchise characters revised, relaunched, rebooted ad infinitum. This itself can be a sort of hell for the characters, but because Mignola is running the show he can grant Roger a genuine, eternal peace.

This is ironic; while Hellboy is over for now (possibly for ever), B.P.R.D. and the many Hellboy spinoffs will continue, which means much of the enormous Mignolaverse cast cannot be used in Hellboy in Hell - the red man himself faces a lonely fate.

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Mignola too has isolated himself, working only with colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins and, lest we forget, editor Scott Allie on the project - maybe some of you solo practitioners are laughing, but for a major superhero-tangential project this is a skeleton crew. Moreover, Mignola has intimated that Hellboy in Hell was driven in significant part by whatever he felt like drawing at a particular time, giving it a digressive and somewhat disconnected feel when read as a whole, though the story is unified by the g[h]oulash that is Mignola's fascination with the western mytho-poetic/dramatic canon. At one point, Hellboy is coaxed by his wife into murdering Satan, Macbeth references flying. Elsewhere, he is framed by his half-sister for the murders of his uncle and brothers, leading to what can best be described as a Charles Band production of The Kindly Ones, as the Furies descend in the form of enormous sickly-green talking flies, the overweening zeal of their vengeance ultimately extinguishing the Lake of Fire and putting poor Jack T. Chick out of business. Classic villains like Baba Yaga and Rasputin cameo, while Sir Edward Grey (a frequent supporting cast member) appears in the form of a living anatomical doll encased in a full-body iron suit.

Eventually, we realize that Hellboy's destiny isn't so much to take over Hell as facilitate its ultimate harrowing. By the final issue, the remnants of perdition's society have gathered on the estate of Beelzebub, a garbage-tier aristocrat with half-baked plans to make Hell great again by reviving Pluto of the ancient pantheon; Plutonian elements throughout the series can be identified by the color green, as Mignola & Stewart are as prone to use hue for characterization as much as dialogue or caricature. Suddenly, Hellboy appears in the form of a giant, and wearily beats the shit out of enormous foes; he and his artist are so, so tired of these superhero fights. The Right Hand of Doom is raised, and lightning descends to obliterate everyone, save for those who fling themselves into Hellboy's burning maw, a curtain of fire severing the mythic world as sure as Wagner's finale. Then, Hellboy is himself again. He enters the house that is his soul. It's like 2001: A Space Odyssey now, but he does not see himself reborn; instead, he sees his superhero origin, where as a child he was whisked away to Earth, and embraced by humanity to be raised as one of them. A golden light shines, and he is again the child, and he is also the light in the room, and the stars in the sky, and he is What he Is.

It is quite sentimental, and not a little ambiguous-in-a-potentially-commercial-way, but what I see Mignola doing here is not simply placing his hero into a time loop so that he is born anew, but transformed into the stuff of story. He is seeing the comic of himself as much as seeing himself, much in the way Mignola has marshaled all kinds of tales and legends into the Hellboy story. Now, Hellboy is as much a story as Jacob Marley or Baba Yaga. He's emptied Hell, you know - does this mean Hellboy has saved our souls? More likely, Mignola is showing religion too, once fervently believed as literal and geographical space, receding into lore and literature.

And there's something else.

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In 1993, Todd McFarlane released issue #10 of Spawn, as written by Dave Sim, the creator of Cerebus and a frequent speaker on the idea of creator ownership, which many popular comics of the time, Hellboy included, were glad to embrace. I like to think of Spawn #10 as the final issue of Spawn, though I know many more stories followed. The story is a blunt allegory for creator's rights, in which the titular demonic superhero encounters hooded, weeping men and caged champions, representing the corporate-owned superheroes of Marvel and DC, and the creators who never profited so much as the publishers. Spawn cannot save them, even with their combined power, and eventually Cerebus himself rolls in to encourage Spawn to just walk away. They tour Kitchener, where Dave Sim lives, and then head up to Todd McFarlane's house. Spawn looks at McFarlane's daughter, and begins to cry. Cerebus tells him that this is the life he can lead, in the end, because he and McFarlane are fundamentally inseparable. Spawn leaves to greet his wife. That's all.

And while a Todd McFarlane drawing of Spawn weeping over a baby is admittedly some of the most high-octane kitsch you can get from the capeshit '90s, I have always loved this denouement of Sim's, because it is so completely against the chest-beating grain of superheroes in excelsis.

Now look again at the top of the page, and see Mignola granting Roger an eternal rest, because he can. Look down a little, and see Hellboy so powerful, and so fucking tired of fighting things, still on a path he's been walking for decades. So when he stares into the light, and beholds himself as a child, it is the superhero origin as the antithesis of superhero conflict. Hellboy's origin is marked by love. He, a demon, is beheld, and accepted - for the first time, he is loved, unconditionally. And in his final moments, he sees again love, and desires to love in return. Theological to the end.

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PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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Bird in a Cage: Two tales of the everyday up here in the spotlight this week. This is a 112-page Conundrum Press edition of work by CCS alum Rebecca Roher, chronicling the "complicated history and inner life" of her grandmother, suffering from early onset dementia; $15.00.

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LOVF: An Illustrated Vision of a Man Literally Losing His Mind: And this is a new Fantagraphics release from alternative strip and comics veteran Jesse Reklaw. Funded via Kickstarter, it's a travel journal documenting a time of off-meds homeless wandering, revised at a later date into the present, 172-page color softcover comic; $24.99.

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PLUS!

The Secret Voice #3: The latest from the fantasy adventure series by Zack Soto - an editor of Study Group Magazine, to which I contribute, JUST SO YA KNOW. I've been reading this since its AdHouse iteration in 2005, though... it's now published by Study Group itself, and distributed to comic book stores by Alternative Comics; $8.00.

Ghosts We Know: Another Conundrum release, this time 144 pages from artist Sean Karemaker, making his book debut. Contains "stories of his wild BC country childhood contrasted with his downtown Vancouver bus riding adventures. In between are stories of small town parties, drawing in cafés, school misfits, scrolls, street people of all kinds, and winding through it all are the ghosts, both known and unknown." Told without panels, from the samples provided; $20.00.

The Black Dahlia: Woof, okay, let me untangle this, your Eurocomics release of the week - if I am understanding the mechanics correctly, it's a 2013 French comics adaptation of James Ellroy's 1987 (English-language) prose novel, structurally adapted in part by the American filmmaker David Fincher -- who was attached to direct a movie adaptation, ultimately made by Brian De Palma and released in 2006 -- but scripted by the French writer Alexis "Matz" Nolent (of the long-running series The Killer with artist Luc Jacamon), first in English for Ellroy's approval, then translated by Matz to French, and now returned to English for a 176-page Archaia hardcover release via BOOM! The artist is Miles Hyman, an American based in Paris, making what appears to be his debut appearance in English comic book stores. Preview; $29.99.

Sherlock: A Study in Pink #1 (of 6) (&) The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book 4: Two very different types of mystery manga up for you this week. Sherlock I think is familiar to even some non-manga readers, as this Japanese comics adaptation of the very popular BBC television program has been covered in curiosity pieces throughout the wider 'geek' media. It's a monthly series that runs in the seinen magazine Young Ace (noted for its many cross-platform tie-ins, usually to anime), fronted by an artist known only as "Jay." Titan's comic book edition runs 52 pages for this inaugural translation. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a longtime and somewhat infamously slow-going Dark Horse translation of macabre work by Eiji Ōtsuka & Housui Yamazaki (which, incidentally, also runs in Young Ace) - compiling vols. 10-12 of a prior edition, this will presumably be the last of the publisher's 600+ page doorstops until the English vol. 15 sees release, which will place the translations six volumes behind the Japanese editions; $4.99 (Sherlock), $19.99 (Kurosagi).

Island #8 (&) Flinch Book 2 (of 2): And here's two anthologies, from different points in history. Island is an Image magazine fronted by Brandon Graham & Emma Ríos - its eighth issue is notable for a new story by Michael DeForge, along with several returning contributors. Flinch was a 1999-2001 horror comic in which seemingly everyone with contact info at Vertigo was given a short piece on which to work, with sometimes interesting results. Issues #9-16 are collected here, with art by Danijel Žeželj, Frank Quitely, Bernie Wrightson & Tim Bradstreet, David Lloyd, Sean Phillips, Bruce Timm (paired with Joe R. Lansdale), Tim Truman (same), Cliff Chiang, Ryan Sook, Roger Langridge and others; $7.99 (Island), $16.99 (Flinch).

Midnight of the Soul #1 (of 5): Being Image's publication of a new crime drama from writer/artist Howard Chaykin, concerning a WWII veteran's professional and marital troubles in an ominous and shadowed 1950s U.S.A. I like the latter-day Chaykin solo works for their distinctly world-weary takes on the stuff of genre fiction - there's a sense that these pop comics are straightforwardly aimed at older readers in a way I don't generally get outside of the more middle-aged terrains of seinen manga. Preview; $3.50.

Russ Heath's Yellow Heat - Artist's Edition Portfolio: This is another one of IDW's less-expensive Artist's Edition iterations, in which a short story is presented in its entirety as loose facsimile pages of original art in a folder. The subject this time hails from Vampirella #58 in 1977 - you'll recall that Vampirella magazine, while typically well-stocked with sexy lady horror characters, was, fundamentally, just the third horror series in the Warren magazine line (see also: Creepy, Eerie), and thus contained 'normal' horror or dark adventure/fantasy shorts too. "Yellow Heat" was written by Bruce Jones, though it's Heath's photo-realist art that really enlivens this nasty little coming-of-age piece about a savanna tribesman, which starts out as one form of African continent exotica only to veer into another, far less reputable type; $40.00.

Otto Binder: The Life and Work of a Comic Book and Science Fiction Visionary: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is a 352-page biography of the novelist, editor, and very prolific Golden Age superhero writer, as presented by Bill Schelly, early comics fandom figure and author of books like Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert (Fantagraphics, 2008) and Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America (Fantagraphics, 2015). This one, a North Atlantic Books softcover, tells its story "through comic panels, personal letters, and interviews with Binder’s own family and friends," balancing the subject's personal and professional lives; $19.95.

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7 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/8/16 – Verdammtendämmerung)

  1. Sunny says:

    Really fantastic write-up Joe. If you don’t mind me reporting a typo, “so that his born anew” should probably be “so that he is born anew”. Hope this isn’t indicative of any grammar-Nazi lumber I’m carrying around in my head. Just wanted to help.

  2. Joe McCulloch says:

    Thanks, I’ve fixed that… hopefully the post title won’t present a continued formatting problem on the front page…

  3. John Platt says:

    “Capeshit” — genius.

  4. Joe McCulloch says:

    Thanks; I heard young people using it on Twitter so I used it too, in the hopes I would stop aging.

  5. Craig Fischer says:

    It all goes back to the relationship between Bruttenholm and Hellboy, doesn’t it? The unconditional love the professor shows the demon, and his insistence that Hellboy be raised as a little boy rather than as an apocalyptic menace….

  6. Joe McCulloch says:

    Yes, and it’s reflected throughout the final issue by the blind, dying demon’s desire for the company of his grandmother… but, this being Hell, it’s always a bit late to really appreciate these things. We all die alone… even after death! (At least the jolly mapmakers/historians seem to have each other…)

  7. Lee Stone says:

    Omg… I’m going to start using “capeshit” when referring to the grim and gritty era of comics we’ve seen for so long. Satirical levels of over-seriousness and grim posturing.
    They say that once a fad has a name, it’s quickly rebelled against.

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