December 10, 2009

Hellboy: Wake the Devil

By Michael Mignola

I've only got one more review to go before the doctorate!

The second Hellboy trade is dedicated to Dracula which is appropriate considering that one of the main baddies in this trade is a vampire. Here Mignola continues his mythic tale of Hellboy and adds Norse and Russian myths to the mix. Most of the story is set in Romania in a quite Draculan setting.

Roderico Zinco, a very rich entrepreneur, offers sanctuary to the three Nazis whom we saw emerging from their life preservation bods at the end of the previous story. Their mysterious master had appeared to Zinco and recruited him.

One year later, the trio is in New York and Ilsa kills the curator of a wax museum. Later, the BPRD investigates and finds out that the seemingly simple murder gives a clue to a far larger conspiracy; the owner used to hold the body of Vladimir Giurescu. According to the Romanian folk tales, Giurescu could never die; that the moonlight would revive him when he was in a specific room in his castle. The Nazis made an effort to recruit him but after meeting Giurescu, Hilter ordered him and his family (six women) to be killed and burned. However, it’s possible that one of the Nazis preserved Giurescu’s body and brought it to the US. In fact, the murdered curator turns out to be German.

The BPRD sends three teams to Romania to investigate. Hellboy has the honor to check out Giurescu’s castle all by himself. Meanwhile, Ilsa has brought the crate where Giurescu’s corpse is supposed to be, back to the castle. When Hellboy shows up she makes a cyborg Nazi fight him.

Later, the Nazi trio’s Master from the previous trade appears as a ghost-like being and Ilsa follows him without question. The Master (I’m trying very hard not to spoiler here) is again the main villain of the story. We learn his history and connections to a famous Russian fairy tale character. Also, Hellboy finds out why he’s on Earth and to fight against his inner demonic being.

The art is again very distinctive. It borrows from the ancient mythologies and the more modern vampire mythology. I also liked the close-ups where we could see just how many of the equipment that the BPRD uses are made by the Zinco Corporation. The enemy was nearer than the BPRD agents ever knew.

The story continues from Seed of Destruction and I recommend starting with that trade. The main villain is the same and story of Hellboy’s origin continues here.

Some of the characters get more flesh in their bones. Ironically, they are mostly the villains, the Master and Ilsa, whom we’ll hopefully see in the future. I also enjoyed the return of the old Greek goddess and the way that the people in the village near Giurescu’s castle reacted to his return. Dracula came strongly to mind with the latter.

I found it quite remarkable how well Mignola was able to mix the different myths. Hecate, Baba Yaga, Lovecraftian monsters, the seven-in-one, and vampires can co-exist in the same world without it feeling forced. Not to mention all of the other characters from their respective myths. Impressive.

However, the ending was somewhat disappointing especially if the three people stay dead. Giurescu didn’t really get a chance to do anything; the Master and the Nazis got to do pretty much everything.