I got the feeling while reading this graphic novella that the main reason it exists is because Mike Mignola wanted to work with Gary Gianni more than anything else. The story itself is fairly slight as it involves Hellboy sailing off the island at the end of “Strange Places” and finding himself prisoner on a 19th-century sailing ship and its superstitious crew. They’re in the service of a woman working for the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra who is looking for the serpent Heca Emen Raa who provided the early Hyperboreans with the knowledge that became their downfall. She believes that knowledge is never a curse and that what the serpent has to offer can be used for the benefit of all — by way of herself.
What does Hellboy think about all this? He notes that if you listen to a talking snake there’s going to be trouble. Mignola has Hellboy is on fine comic form here as he responds to his extraordinary circumstances with an air of bemused detachment that can only come from someone who has seen all of this before. Even if the story itself is slight, Hellboy’s one-liners here are some of the best I’ve read in the series.
This volume isn’t worthwhile just for the funny bits, however. The real selling point of this story is Gianni and his meticulously detailed art. He’s not a prolific artist because you really can’t rush the kind of quality work he puts out here. From the overgrowth adorning the ships in a nautical graveyard, to the period-perfect captain and crew of the Rebecca, and the monsters which swarm the ship near the end, there are so many ways to appreciate the intricate nature and design of Gianni’s art. Hell, even the linework of the fog is impressive to take in when you consider all of the lines he had to draw in order to get that effect. Even if the story and page length of this novella aren’t substantial, it’s worth picking up just to appreciate the artist’s work alone. Though the comedy helps too.