It can be an odd experience to look at the early work of an author (and artist) who later proves to be innovative and masterful. The work here is souIt can be an odd experience to look at the early work of an author (and artist) who later proves to be innovative and masterful. The work here is sou rough, the plotting so silly, and the characters unrecognizable to fans of the later series.
But then, no artist emerges into the world fully formed, and even Moebius had his awkward stage. In this fisrt story, Tintin himself is less the clever, charming figure of the later books. Much like Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie, the character starts off as an unpleasant prankster eager to fight anyone he meets.
The story, itself is very goofy and cartoony, full of pratfalls, one-liners, fights, and spectacular crashes. Guns and bombs are not frightening things, but tools of slapstick.
The book also has none of the painstaking research which marked Herge's later work. His depiction of Russia is simple propaganda with the Soviets as overblown villains. There is no attempt to look at any real cultural differences.
However, there are some glimmers of possibility here. The clean lines and motive sense of gesture is present, and the influence of American cartoonists like McCay and McManus are very clear. But anyone looking for a genuine Tintin story is not going to get one, here. The only reason to read this volume is for completeness' sake, for those who are curious to see the sketchy, awkward beginnings of a series that became a worldwide phenomenon.
It feels somewhat odd to finally arrive at something like an end to the grand saga of Hellboy--very like an end. Though there are certainly enough thrIt feels somewhat odd to finally arrive at something like an end to the grand saga of Hellboy--very like an end. Though there are certainly enough threads open for Mignola to start up again with a new story where this one left off, for the first time, the main plot arc which began in the first issues of the series, so many years ago, has a conclusion. I'm not sitting here, idly wondering what happens in the next volume.
Of course, that may have a lot to do with me, who does not mind a dark, somewhat ambiguous ending. If there were never another story which continued Hellboy's main plotline, I would be happy with this ending. Others might feel differently, wanting all of their questions answered, desiring some convenient, 'happily ever after' prologue--ever looking for book XIII of the Aeneid.
But while I like the plot itself, I was not always happy with the treatment. Ever since Strange Places, the series has become increasingly complicated, and as a result Mignola has expressed more and more of the story in narrative explication and redundant summaries. I don't need an author to reveal everything to me, in fact I prefer that they don't, especially if it reduces the amount of time characters spend explaining the history of the world to each other.
I want a story primarily shown through actions: decisions the characters make, hardships to be overcome, solutions which take into account both the nature of the character and the situation they find themselves in. Mignola is capable of telling stories this way, and there is a lot of action and movement in this collection, but the pace gets gummed up by occasional spoon-feeding of plot points.
Mignola also does that thing where we get quotes of things people said in previous issues repeated over a different scene. This can be interesting if the new scene lends the quotes some different, subversive meaning we didn't really understand before, but I can't think of a comic writer outside of Alan Moore whose been able to do that--hell, even some of the ones inside Alan struggle with it, though how much of that is the result of the painful, aeons-long process of being digested, it's hard to quantify.
With all the complex backstories, references to old events and characters, melded mythologies, and stylistic allusions, there is a lot going on in this terminal volume. Really, plenty going on--enough so that the sudden introduction of a romance felt tacked-on. Not all stories need romances, nor do they all benefit from having one grafted on. There are stories that are busy enough, already--thank you very much. As Scriptshadow points out in his analysis of Aliens, sometimes all you need is the hint of a romance, because putting in a whole subplot would just break up the pacing of an otherwise perfect story.
I understand that Mignola wanted to give HB an emotional connection, someone for whom his choices have extra-personal repercussions, but he's been a loner for so long--a fundamentally introspective character--that I don't feel we really needed it. His personal struggles have always been there, and central to the story, and to his growth as a character, so I didn't feel adding in a romantic sub-plot made those internal conflicts any more important or dramatic.
He might also have wanted to stick one in because some people feel that a story can't be over unless the protagonist finds love by the end of it. I don't think it's useful for us to limit ourselves in this way. There are many experiences out there, and many stories to be made of them. Not all characters need storybook love to 'complete' them.
Once again, I was glad to see Fegredo's work on this title again--he's cemented himself as one of my favorite artists working today and I'm going to start picking up books just because he draws them, which is pretty rare for me, who usually selects by author. Perhaps the strength of his work is part of the reason I've found Corben's work on the series so disappointing, despite his great reputation.
At the beginning of the series, I found the main plot arc much less interesting and less inventive than the collections of unrelated stories. As things have gone on, I've reversed my position--partly because the plot has gotten stronger, partly because the collections have grown weaker and less idiomatic. Perhaps in working on this big, complex conclusion, Mignola was focusing less on the odd one-off story.
In any case, I was glad to see the series come to some kind of end. It is undoubtedly one of the most intelligent, unusual, and interesting series in comics today--at times it is as good as Sandman ever was, and it is certainly better than most current titles, especially fantasy titles, like the awful Fables. But unfortunately, I feel Mignola lost the thread somewhere in the middle of the series and never quite reached the potential I saw glimpses of throughout.
If he had been able to take the sparse, mysterious storytelling of the short pieces and meld it to the grand concept of the central story, it would have made for a true masterwork. He showed some signs of doing just this in Darkness Calls, which has excellent pacing and great tone, but in which Hellboy, himself, is a rather bland caricature of himself. While Hellboy returned to form in this volume, we lost the succinct, fey storytelling to long runs of exposition and convolution.
But for all that it did not coalesce into the dream I had of it, it is certainly a delightful book, full of twists and interesting characters, and it was well-worth the read.
One more, I'm having trouble getting into Corben's art. Some of it is great, and I love the EC vibe, but it's making me nostalgic in the wrong way: inOne more, I'm having trouble getting into Corben's art. Some of it is great, and I love the EC vibe, but it's making me nostalgic in the wrong way: instead of thinking 'this is a great homage to the EC classics' I start feeling like I should just put Hellboy down and read the real thing. Some of Corben's character and backgrounds are great: expressive, detailed, idiomatic. But there are also a lot of little details that throw me off. Some of the exaggeration on the characters lacks a sense of shape and form, so there are a lot of oddly flat faces and problems with proportion, particularly when we're looking at the characters from a distance.
Then there's the fact that every woman who shows up has huge, pendulous breasts which are barely contained by a plunging neckline--and I mean all the women: old crones and young ingenues alike. The style is more Harry Crumb perversity than busty superheroine exploitation, but it still strikes me as an odd and tonally inappropriate choice. There are also various perspective issues, such as tables and the rooms they are in having vanishing points that simply don't match.
As for the stories themselves, they are less remarkable and less expansive than earlier volumes. There are some truly odd moments, but they tend to the goofy rather than the mythic. Otherwise the stories we're getting are rather straightforward examples of classic British and American horror. They're not badly written or stupid or anything, they just aren't particularly impressive.
Earlier collections constantly enlarged Hellboy's world and character, changing tone, culture, and time period frenetically, building by implication a much larger world in the vast space between all those disparate points. These stories, being more tonally and culturally similar lack that implication of depth.
Normally I like the odd Hellboy collections more than the main plot--they have greater variety in theme, tone, and homage--but this isn't one of my faNormally I like the odd Hellboy collections more than the main plot--they have greater variety in theme, tone, and homage--but this isn't one of my favorites. The title story was rather simplistic, compared to other Hellboy shorts. No real surprises, no inexplicable, vivid monsters, just a straightforward country witch story. I appreciated that Mignola was riffing on the classic EC titles, but I didn't feel the imitation came off that well.
I know Corben is one of those artists with a great reputation, but I was not moved by his art in this story. Some of the panels had some really grotesque, well-textured caricatures, but many of the other depictions felt a bit flat, particularly the faces. I can appreciate when a form is distorted well, with a sense of volume to it, but there was something soft about the edges and lines here that weakened the characters, especially when the EC homage was making me nostalgic for Wally Wood's implacable inking.
Both Wood's and Mignola's art tends to be defined by those dark, inky spaces, the chiaroscuro separation of light and shadow which throws the grotesqueries into sharp relief, so I felt the more vague forms Corben used were a poor choice for either Hellboy or an EC allusion.
Fegredo's work is splendid as always, and it was nice to see Mignola return and do a bit of art, himself, though his contribution struck me as particularly unadorned. Whether this is because Mignola has taken a hiatus from art and is not in his top game, or whether I'm comparing him to Fegredo's masterful draughtsmanship, it's hard to say. Dysart's work was fairly strong, with good coloring, but again, I missed the crisp lines that defined most of the series.
In The Chapel of Moloch is a fun exploration of the old Lovecraftian notion of the artist whose minute senses bring him into accidental contact with the Other World, but again, it was a bit bland and predictable, particularly in comparison to some of the more imaginative and wondrous stories of other collections like The Chained Coffin. This is one of those rare times that I'm more interested in the overarching plot than in the eccentric asides, so I won't mind returning to it in the next collection.
It's hard to overstate how impressed I continue to be with Fegredo's artwork as this series continues. He took in Mignola's style, refined it, and recIt's hard to overstate how impressed I continue to be with Fegredo's artwork as this series continues. He took in Mignola's style, refined it, and recreated something which perfectly captures that feel--which is somehow even more Mignola than the original. The fact that his work on other books explores completely different styles with equal effectiveness has left me with the strong impression that he is one of the most skilled artists working in the medium today.
I'm also glad that Mignola has been freed up to concentrate just on the writing, and all of the allusions, references, and loving homages to the great horror authors and tales of myth are delightful. There is here, in terms of depth, just as much in play as in Sandman.
Unfortunately, I am not always pleased by the pacing. Too much of what goes on is given to us as explanations, as exposition. I would really like to be able to see these stories and characters playing out before my eyes rather than be told the state of things. The moment we are introduced to the Arthurian mythos, the whole thing is explained to us in a few brief scenes. It would have been much more satisfying if it had been introduced, allowed to build, then turned on its ear as a climax. Subverting it at the same moment as its introduced doesn't give the reader much time to get into the story.
But then, much of it feels like it was thrown together from disparate parts instead of planned from the beginning. Previous characters are resurrected in new, odd roles, events are reinterpreted, and it sometimes felt a bit forced. I really liked the odd, scattered, brief tales we get of Hellboy exploring a grand, disconnected world, and so the idea that Mignola would try to simplify and streamline that into something small and digestible is not appealing. There's also a lot of redundancy of Hellboy recalling things people have said, rehashing of old scenes, and other such bits which made me feel like Mignola was striking me in the head with the plot.
It's not as bad as Strange Places, which is one long piece of overblown exposition sucking all the wind out of the series, but it's hardly ideal. I am glad that Mignola recovered from the dull storytelling of the Island, and from the doltish Hellboy of the movies, whose influence could be felt in the clanging dialogue of the previous volume.
It gives me hope for the future of the series. The complexity and drive of the plot is promising, and if Mignola can find a way to show more and tell less (which should be less of a chore with Fegredo as master-shower), the series could again reach the heights to which it sometimes magnificently rises.
Moebius is unquestionably a great artist, but his visions as a writer often suffer from an overabundance of Frenchiness, which I feel is best typifiedMoebius is unquestionably a great artist, but his visions as a writer often suffer from an overabundance of Frenchiness, which I feel is best typified by the introductions to his collections where we get psudointellectual wackiness like this account of where he gets his ideas from:
"One finds things on the beach. Things dragged up from the depths, and casually abandoned by the sea, almost as a peace offering to its eternal opposite, the land."
Such overbearing attempts at deep symbology always feel forced to me, and they distract from the story, itself. I tend to think Moebius is at his worst when he is trying to deliver some grand spiritual or social message about The Great Truth, since it's hard to do that without coming off as pretentious and vague, as in the conclusion of L'Incal.
But this story takes a different tack, focusing more on humor than on Big Questions. The humor is subtle and pervasive, and the sci fi story behind it fun and fast-paced, so that I began to imagine what it might have been like if Moebius had illustrated a version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--which, judging from this book, would have been amazing.
The visuals were some of the most consistently beautiful and wondrous that I've ever seen in a comic, including Moebius' other works, which are myriad and masterful. The use of psychedelic color and chiaroscuro was always inventive, clear, and expressive, though some of the highlighting on the characters was a bit sketchier, and stood out from the overall style a bit.
All in all a delightful piece, and proof that Moebius never sat on his laurels, but improved and refined with every book he drew.
Like many, I read comics as a child, but I was not avid--never a collector--and it was not until I became an adult and returned to comics that I beganLike many, I read comics as a child, but I was not avid--never a collector--and it was not until I became an adult and returned to comics that I began to look at what they can be, and the stories they can tell. Whatever avidity I lacked then, I have since made up for, becoming an incidental snob for European comics.
Similarly, despite my familiarity as a child with Japanese anime, it is only in recent years that I have returned to that tradition. I watched Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and Ronin Warriors when they first appeared on American television in the mid-nineties. I recall seeing violent, action-packed films on the weekends on the Sci Fi channel.
This was before America had a concept of 'anime' or 'manga', but I recognized the art style in the 'Special Interest' section of Blockbuster, and began a tradition of renting one of these over-the-top movies each time I had a birthday. I still remember my friends and I waking in horror one morning to discover my mother had put in the tape of our latest blood-spurting Sci fi flick--against our expectations, she enjoyed it--she even took us to see Ghost in the Shell during its art house theatrical release.
Yet I drifted away from it in the intervening years, and even when I started reading comics again in college, I didn't seek out manga. To some degree, my disenfranchisement was due to the American fandom, which has made popular a lot of very inane comics and shows. Many of the movies I enjoyed as a pre-teen were juvenile romps which I cannot enjoy now.
Yet there are great comics and pieces of animation coming out of Japan every year, even if they don't always become popular. So, one day as I found myself searching in vain at the tenth comic store for back issues of a late nineties anthology which included a translation of a Franco-Belgian cowboy comic I have grown to love, I suddenly asked myself why I wasn't doing the same thing for Japanese comics--especially because there was a whole wall of them the next aisle over, a luxury an American fan of European comics has never known.
So I began with Lone Wolf and Cub, primed by my love of Kurosawa movies. In terms of Legend, the next choice was obviously either this or something by Tezuka (who will surely follow). Since I had seen the film as a child and made it my first DVD purchase when I got my laptop (one of the few breaks in the long anime hiatus of my college years), the pull of this book was strong.
Otomo is one of those preeminent figures in comics--like Moebius or Tezuka--who both as artist and writer revolutionized the way comics looked and felt, and the ways they told stories. Between his meticulously realized architecture and technology, epic fight scenes, and influential body horror visions, his work seems nigh irreproachable. The reader is often struck by the power and beauty of his panels. Additionally, the transitions he chooses are inventive and lend some scenes that subtle, sensory pacing never seen in American comics.
Yet there are odd moments when a head or arm will be the wrong shape or size, and lacking dimension. It is strange in such a detailed work to see such elementary mistakes--the sort of thing I have never seen Moebius do. These errors are few, and hardly compromise the work, but they are somewhat jarring.
The manga has much more plot and complexity than the film, but you don't see it until later volumes. Even though there is often a lot going on--many characters running around the city, all at odd and running into each other periodically--the story sometimes lacks for depth. All the back and forth and action keeps things moving, but it's not always the most direct or effective way to tell the story. The frenetic pace often progresses at the cost of character development.
The characters in the story are not dynamic, changing figures: their mentalities and goals stay the same throughout the series, which is a long time to go without change. We do get moments of confrontation between the characters where their relationship is brought to the forefront, but since we rarely get any buildup to these moments, they tend to feel rather artificial.
In fact, when I watched the film again, I found it does a much better job of developing the characters and their relationships, using a gradual series of meaningful interactions to let the audience know what these characters think of one another, and why.
Otomo touches on a lot of ideas about power, technology, military force, and personal identity, but often, these notions are communicated though exposition--characters sit down and talk about them. It would have been more effective if there had been shorter character arcs withing the story where the personal conflicts and changes they went through would help to reveal these concepts and explore them more fully.
But that has long been a critique of many of the more lengthy manga (and anime) series: that they end up spending a great deal of time going back and forth with lots of similar instances of combat to the detriment of the story and pacing. There is a real artistry to the combat, which Otomo clearly takes delight in crafting--and the visuals are often effective and engrossing--but he's constantly calling back to these big ideas of philosophy and interpersonal conflict, so the form and function are sometimes at odds.
But for all that, it's impossible to ignore how well visualized everything is, and how complex and multi-layered the society and politics are. This is clearly a work of great intensity and concentration, where (nearly) every panel is the result of forethought and an abundance of ideas. It is no wonder that this work is widely influential because it is so full of imagination that it challenges the reader to think about the medium in new ways, and demonstrates the power of the singular vision of an artist....more