If you follow my comments about this title over the past several months (or couple of years as it were) in the “Dark Horse Previews Picks” I write, you may have noticed an air of cynicism from me about this title. My main issue with it is how it was marked as an ongoing title and yet new issues came out on a very infrequent basis. You can’t really build up momentum or energy around a title that doesn’t come out. So when Mike Mignola announced that the series would be ending with issue #10, I was of the opinion that it would be ending with a whimper rather than a bang. Particularly when Mignola had said that the series was originally planned to run for longer than that.
Reading “The Death Card” now, I realize that I had things wrong. While being able to read these issues all at once without having to wait months for the next one is great, the thing I had to understand was that this isn’t the climax to the grand “Hellboy” saga. That, as it turns out, was “The Storm and The Fury.” “Hellboy in Hell” is just the epilogue.
When you think about it like that, ten issues of falling action which document the title character’s (final) adventures in the underworld makes a lot of sense. An extended sojourn with Hellboy that gives us more of the kind of stories that have defined his life before he meets his destiny. In that respect, “The Death Card” really delivers.
We get to see Hellboy take on a card-playing vampire seeking revenge after he was banished by the character to the underworld. Then he gets involved with the trial of a doctor who can help him with the parasite that’s attached to his soul, after the man’s vengeful accuser is taken care of. Following that are Hellboy’s fateful encounters with another family member, his wife, and his embrace of the role of Beast of the Apocalypse in a way that I don’t think any of us saw coming.
Even if these stories are all set in Hell and are working towards a singular goal, they still feel like classic “Hellboy” adventures. The mix of occult weirdness, mythology, and irreverence that has defined the series is on full display here. I mean, where else will you read a story where someone is asked to fend off a giant rampaging demon long enough so that his soul can be trapped inside a dead cat? There’s also the requisite amount of monster/demon-punching in these stories and a welcome undercurrent of irreverence that flows through these stories as well. A good portion of this volume feels like one last joyous go-round with the big red guy before it’s all over.
The rest of it is equally interesting for different reasons. There are callbacks to other stories, “The Midnight Circus” and Hellboy’s wedding specifically, that wind up taking on a larger significance here. I wasn’t expecting them to be relevant to seeing the hierarchy and fires of Hell snuffed out, but that’s a good thing. One of the core ideas of the Mignolaverse is that this world IS ending and will be replaced by something new. We get a pretty big hint that’s going on as planned, and that the undoing of Hell is part of it as well. Having it tie into Hellboy’s acceptance of his role as the Beast of the Apocalypse is also a masterstroke on Mignola’s part as well. Would it surprise you if I said that turned out to not be such a bad thing after all?
Mignola illustrated this volume as well, with colors by the incomparable Dave Stewart. As with the first volume, it’s great to have him illustrating as well as writing his signature character’s adventures again. There’s not another artist in the industry who has such elegantly simple linework and can utilize it to such elegantly spooky effect. The best example of this comes towards the end in battles with Leviathan and Behemoth. Epic fights which are over in a matter of panels. Some might feel shortchanged by this, but they’re framed and colored in such a way to give them mythic resonance. I also liked how the sequence involving the new world tree had this otherworldly inkwash effect to it. This is unique to Mignola’s art and it helps to sell the idea that the new world is coming.
Yeah, “The Death Card” really beat my expectations by showing me that I had this whole series figured wrong. As an epilogue to Hellboy’s struggles on Earth, it turned out to be exactly what I wanted. The final pages may be a bit on the vague side, but I’ve got a pretty good idea about where they indicate the character will end up. While “Hellboy’s” adventures will continue on for now in flashback stories with the B.P.R.D., this is the real end of his story and a very worthy one at that.