Saturday, October 15, 2011

Review: v2 Wake the Devil

I don't usually read successive volumes of a comic series in such close proximity to one another, but I felt myself drawn to Wake the Devil over the plethora of unread comics sitting on my shelf.  As Autumn settles in here in the north west, like every year, I find myself gravitating towards the darker, more devilish works that populate my shelves.  Fall, horror, and weird fantasy are a great combo, and I knew Hellboy would be able to deliver the necessary goods.

In Wake the Devil a mysterious crate marked Giurescu, Lot #666 has gone missing from a New York City wax museum and the evidence at the scene of the crime points to the evil Nazi unit Ragna Rok being involved.  From the intelligence Hellboy's employers at the B.P.R.D. have collected, it looks like the Ragno Rok folks are dedicated to resurrecting a deadly vampire.  Hoping to prevent vampire troblems (troubles and problems) Hellboy and his fellow B.P.R.D. operatives are sent in to investigate.  Throw in some Nazi occult business attempting to bring about the end of the world, and you have an action packed second volume.

The biggest difference between Wake the Devil and the opening volume in the series, Seed of Destruction is that the writing duties are wholly handled by Mike Mignola this time around.  So what does that mean for the story?  Well, there's less Lovecraftian beasts in the mix, and a greater sense that there's a distinct effort to tie everything into myth that already exists in the real world.  There was still a bit too much wordy dialog and weird occult stuff that is hard for me to wrap my head around, and I worry that I'm already getting sick of Nazis as the bad guys.  That said, there's plenty to like in this second volume too.

Once agian, Mignola's art stands out as the strongest quality of this comic.  The guy is great at drawing strange beasts of both magical, and weird science origin.  I'll never get sick of looking at art that depicts beasts, monsters and science constructs, I love that shit and Mignola is one of the best at drawing that stuff.  I mentioned this in my review for Seed of Destruction, but it bears mention again: Mignola is a master at setting tone and mood with his art.  Granted that mood is almost always set to "dark and creepy" but he does it well time and time again.  I love how there are often massive slabs of black on each page.  Though Mignola uses this technique a lot, it never feels overused, and really gives the comic a dark, grim feel, not to mention, a great signature style.

Another enjoyable quality is that this volume is all about strange monsters, occult plans for Armageddon, and demon battles.  However, Mignola also craftily adds depth to his titular character by throwing Hellboy an  inner demon to confront on top of the regular flesh, blood and brimstone demons he usually faces: his purpose on earth.

I'll admit, this was very much a reading experience full of ups and downs.  Though great art, exciting action, and fell beasts populate the pages, there were some low points as well.  For one, there's a vampire involved, and if you've been reading the blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I'm sick of those bastards.  Lucky for me, the vampire has sort of a supporting role here. The theft of his body is what sets the plot in motion, yet the vampire himself isn't much of a player until the end.

Another gripe I have is that the same Nazi crew was back as the baddies for consecutive volumes.  Like vampires, I'm also a bit sick of Nazis.  I understand that these comics were written back in the 90's before popular culture was swamped with video games where you shoot hordes of Nazis and shitty books with goofy ass vampires but still, I'm reading them now with all that cultural bullshit clogging my brain.  What is a man to do?

In regards to the occult Nazi crew, I think I was more disappointed with the lack of variety than I was fed up with the use of a familiar trend.  Hellboy is part of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense right?  To me, this opens up the doors to a lot of possibilities, the only limitation being Mignola's imagination, so I expect a weird and wild variety of investigations.  There's no need to limit the antagonists to one group.  In order for me to stick around, Mignola is either going to have to branch out, or somehow weave his clan of Nazis into a greater tapestry, because right now, the story has too narrow of a focus for me.

I gotta say, so far the Hellboy series has been an atypical comic read for me.  Usually if I enjoy a comic, it is because I get sucked in by the characters, and the plot.  However, with Hellboy, I'm not sucked in at all, yet I've enjoyed each volume thanks to key elements like the art, the beastly creatures, and the weirdness.  This series offers up some of my personal favorite elements, but somehow it isn't blowing my doors down.  I'll admit, I'm a little bit confused.  Still, I'm intrigued enough to read more, but I'm still on the fence.

Grade: C+

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