Hellboy: An Assortment Of Horrors

Hellboy has been in the news quite a bit lately, from the roller coaster that was Ed Skrien’s casting as Ben Daimio to David Harbour’s beefcake reveal. Aside from movie news, there has been pieces on how he is a timely hero in an age where Nazis are a thing again, as well as enjoying a slew of new releases this year. The most recent is a short story anthology, Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors.

If you’re only familiar with Hellboy’s origin story or the Del Toro films, this is an easy book to get into. The stories are stand-alone features and do not draw much on the big events that have unfolded in Mike Mignola’s comics over the years; there are few references to the Nazis, and I don’t recall any mention of the Plague of Frogs, Rasputin or Baba Yaga. There are some quick references, but nothing that will make you feel lost. Even if you’ve only seen the 2004 movie, just keep in mind that in the comics, Liz and Hellboy never date and you’re good to go.

Short story anthologies from various writers are sometimes hard to review, but the quality here is mostly consistent. I only disliked one or two stories, and even then I just found myself speeding through them rather than actively hating what I was reading. It wasn’t so much that I thought they were terrible, just less enjoyable than the others.

Fans of comics know that when new writers take over a character, it’s common to see their personality totally change to fit the new writer’s view. This isn’t the case here. What is particularly lovable about Hellboy is that even when he’s snarky, he’s ultimately a sweetheart. The stories range over the decades and different periods of his life, but each writer nails what makes Hellboy, Hellboy. The Other Side Of Summer by Chris Roberson, for example, takes place in 1950 when Hellboy is five and decides to investigate a haunting with a girl he just met. Most other stories cover cases he takes on as an adult BPRD agent, but it’s really great to see his brief childhood years covered as well.

There is a story or two that seemed to have been written to showcase an original character the writer thinks is cool rather than concentrate on established ones; The Duelist by Jonathan Maberry features a hot young woman named Lilah who is mildly psychic after a few years of dropping acid and we’re supposed to care. The story works just fine without her. It’s not the only story to have an original character, of course, it just feels like a waste of space to read how pale Lilah’s breasts are, and how she folds her arms under her breasts, when we could be focusing on the ghost haunting her town.

There are some great original characters here, mostly by having Hellboy observed from their point of view. Fire Is The Devil’s Only Friend by Michael Rowe does this extremely well, and I think is my favorite story out of the collection. It focuses mostly on a little girl named Hazel, her mother and the mother’s scheming boyfriend. When Hazel is targeted by a child sacrificing cult, she sends out a psychic cry for help that Hellboy picks up on. Hazel and her family aren’t perfect, and she isn’t exactly a cool new character to show off; mostly, she’s a scared and troublesome young girl that Hellboy has to race to save, and it’s genuinely suspenseful and touching.

Other BPRD characters do get some focus. We are treated to two stories all about Liz Sherman, and one focusing on Kate Corrigan, BPRD’s folklorist. Chelsea Cain’s One More Radical Stone Fox follows a teenage Liz Sherman as she runs away from BPRD Headquarters, and it’s one story I wish I could see in comic format. In fact, I’d follow a whole series by Chelsea Cain about teenage Liz Sherman; Mike Mignola writes women well, but Cain absolutely nails a relatable Liz that explores her past and her powers without delving into self pity or unbearable teen angst.

Really, all this anthology was missing was Abe Sapien.

Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors was published on August 29th by Dark Horse Books and is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.