Wednesdays tend to be Hell for me anyway.

*For all of you who fell in love with that Chris Ware cover art for the new Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Candide, here’s something of interest - images from a whole upcoming line of cartoonist-designed covers, including work by Anders Nilsen (Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson), Art Spiegelman (The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster), Roz Chast (Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons), Seth (The Portable Dorothy Parker), and Charles Burns (The Jungle by Upton Sinclair). This thread at TCJ has further whispers regarding future covers by Jason (Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac) and Chester Brown (unrevealed). Apparently, some of these new covers will incorporate sequential art on the flaps or back cover, though nobody is being quite as forward about the whole ‘comics’ angle as Ware was. Be sure to read the whole thread for some fun speculation as to which artists should be pared up with which classic - I’ve gotta say, Dan Clowes on Pale Fire would be pretty damn awesome.

Hellboy: Makoma, or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorers’ Club on August 16, 1993 #1 (of 2)

Yes, that’s the full title as listed in the legal indicia. But as always, Dark Horse also reserves for you the option of simply calling it Hellboy #25. It’s maybe a bit more significant to opt for the latter here; it firmly entrenches this miniseries as part of the core Hellboy canon, and thus locks in its own fateful position as the first such Hellboy outing in which an artist other than creator Mike Mignola takes on the majority of the art duties. There’s probably few surer choices for success in this regard than Richard Corben, a widely-admired talent whose muscular, often humorous horror/monster renderings instantly put him in spiritual cahoots with Mignola’s own vision. Still, it is necessary that we are eased into our transition to a world of less Mignola - the creator himself provides a generous 7-page prologue sequence, demonstrating that he’s not about to go away entirely on the visual side of things. But more pertinently, the Mignola-written story hews extremely closely to the friendly old folklore-meets-hitting Hellboy formula, with very little attention paid to the overarching Hellboy plot.

Not that we’re looking at too much of hurdle there - as far as standalone fables go, this one suits the title character well, even if the movement of the story seems distinctly inevitable. I’m no expert on African folklore (I mean, just look at my use of the term ‘African,’ in reference to a rather large continent with probably a ton of differing oral/written traditions), and for all I know Mignola might be pulling off a masterful fusion of differing tales into a seamless uber-narrative, but the story of this issue feels remarkably like Hellboy being simply plunked down into the ‘hero’ role of a single fable, with things pretty much progressing from there. Maybe my opinion is colored by Mignola’s prologue, in which our titular protagonist (circa 1993) is confronted at the titular club by the titular mummy, follows him into a dark place, falls asleep, and finds himself whisked off to Africa, replacing the titular Makoma, the heroic teacher/fighter of the titular tale that the mummy is telling. Thus, the notion of Hellboy being popped into a pre-existing story is acknowledged as part of the story itself, as we read it. Or maybe Mignola is just fooling with me.

The story of Makoma (as enacted by Hellboy) has many parallels to the ‘real’ story of Hellboy as we know it: he carries an iron hammer (iron hand), gets into lots of fights with strange things, and finds himself tempted by demonic forces (and maybe an aspect of his own being), even as he tries to do good on behalf of his human caretakers. Basically, he has to locate the source of an ominous thunder from far away; armed with a seemingly bottomless bag and his own two fists, Hellboy/Makoma fights a whole lot of stuff, and then the book ends. The Africa scenes are Corben’s territory, and he does a nice job of imbuing Our Hero with his personal rounded, three dimensional mark, while remaining faithful to Mignola’s classic design. And naturally the various beasties, ranging from humanoid giants to elephant men to fiery devils, look great - I especially appreciated the addition of some Abe Sapien features onto the slippery fish monster Hellboy confronts. Much credit must also be given to colorist Dave Stewart, switching over to a richer palette to accommodate Corben’s characters and landscapes, yet still retaining a measure of synchronicity with the distinctive ‘Hellboy’ color style employed in the prologue - it really goes a long way toward meshing these two artists’ contributions into a singular world, though I also loved the transitional trick of Hellboy’s red slumbering silhouette melting into the blood in that African water. It’s techniques like that which let you know you’re in the hands of top-grade talents.

And those talents produce a fine book. Entertaining stuff, if not the meatiest material by Hellboy standards. Corben’s image of a gigantic Hellboy striding across the savanna, a tiny rhinoceros looking concerned beneath him, nicely mirrors Mignola’s image of a towering talking rhino addressing diminutive young Hellboy - both of these scenes represent images of temptation for Our Hero, and represent images of formidable creators flexing their muscles for us. It’s far from unsatisfying.