Hellboy debuted in 1994, nearly a quarter century ago, with the indie comic book publisher Dark Horse Comics. Against all odds, the Right Hand of Doom has continued on and found himself in the upper echelon of comic book deities such as Spawn, Superman and Wolverine. Under the careful eye of creator Mike Mignola, Hellboy and his friends over at the B.P.R.D. have been delivering beautiful and entertaining stories buried in real world culture and lore for the better part of two decades. With the newest graphic novel featuring everybody’s favorite trench coat wearing demon, Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea proves that Hellboy can deliver a fun supernatural romp no matter when or where the titular hero finds himself.
Into the Silent Sea is a one-shot of Hellboy finding himself out to sea in a dinghy before coming across an old nineteenth-century frigate and immediately finding himself in trouble. The crew brings him aboard just to shackle him to the main mast with iron chains, proving themselves a superstitious lot and quickly also showcasing their capacity for violence. As the story progresses, we see that what seems to be a classic ghost story (in the vein of the best Flying Dutchman tales), turns into a tale of mania that is deeply engrossed in Aztec and Lovecraftian mythology. Hellboy meets the true overseer of the ship, a gaunt and ghostly woman who tells him of her search for Heca-Emem-Ra, an ancient dark serpent god. As the ship travels farther into uncharted waters, things get stranger and more dangerous until they mount to a frenzied conclusion.
The story in this OGN (original graphic novel) is a true love letter to fans weird literature. It’s littered with references to Cthulu, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and bizarre but true history. It changes themes on a dime but never causes any shellshock by doing so, instead of keeping completely fluid and allowing fans of numerous niche horror genres to enjoy the read. It’s a ghost story, Pan-American folklore, full of spectral sailors, elder gods, and giant sea creatures. With quotes pulled directly from oceanic fiction, it parallels much of Moby Dick, even winking at the reader with a quick wit reference to it amongst the dialogue. It pays homage to long-time Hellboy fans, referencing all the way to his second major comic book arc, but takes place between the panels. This makes it easy for new readers to pick up and enjoy but also allows long time fans to take a break from continuity and read Hellboy doing what he does best: beating up monsters with a giant fist and sardonic wit.
Mastermind of the Hellboy universe, Mike Mignola, scripts the affair with a story created by himself and the OGN’s own artist, Gary Gianni. Gianni is perhaps the best artist to handle the story, not known for major comic book acclaim but instead for illustrating long-running newspaper strip Prince Valiant and providing art for illustrated versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Game of Thrones. His style brings to mind a more modern version of the Renaissance-style woodcutting, with long swirling lines and frenetic movement. While his art is well suited for the entire comic, it really shines when he illustrates the ocean. His ships, sea creatures, oceanic scenery and cloud filled skies are gorgeous and bring the environment to life. The comic doesn’t shift into much action until the last act but when it does, it’s an explosive style that creates a dynamic sense of motion. Colorist Dave Stewart is no slouch either: his sickly green-blue overlay and bright reds help create a comic that stays true to its tone. Mignola, as always, bats a thousand. After so many years behind the character and the world he lives in, he is an expert in his craft. Mignola has a way of telling stories, perfectly interweaving dialogue, exposition, and excerpts from literature to create a wonderfully cohesive adventure.
The comic dips its toes into numerous genres without ever submerging fully into one but does so in a way that wistfully carries the reader through without ever frustrating them. It doesn’t carry any really heavy punches, whether emotional or physical, but it doesn’t need to be. Mignola proves that Hellboy is the modern day equivalent of the campfire tale: capturing its audience with a passion for mythology and a finely tuned craft of storytelling.