Writer/Artist: Mike Mignola
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: August 26, 2015
Mike Mignola’s greatest strength has always been his sense of space. He renders figures like no one else on this planet and his ability to pace a page is impeccable, but the most revelatory aspect of his cartooning is the spatial relationships between objects and people. He’s able to make epic, expansive spaces seem intimate and quiet, rendering five feet between characters as infinite and abyssal. The exteriors of urban environs and landscapes communicate a clear sense of scope and size, and the interiors—rendered in Mignola’s singular, abstract style—have a wonderful sense of depth.
With simple, minimal lines, the cartoonist uses space to highlight figures and dramatize moments. The architecture and space through which the characters move is a character unto itself under Mignola’s pen—an effect that has always set him apart from the other fantastic artists who have contributed to Hellboy and B.P.R.D.. Hellboy in Hell #7 flows naturally from setting to setting with Mignola’s signature bravado and spatial magic. His heart ripped out by a witch, the titular Hellboy has been consigned to a hell right out of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the infernal cosmopolis he’s confined to teems with motion and sensory stimuli.
This new issue, the first installment in the two-part “The Hounds of Pluto” story, begins with an ominous dream, which is beautifully colored by longtime Mike Mignola collaborator Dave Stewart with digitally colored ink washes. The issue is about the end of the world and its rebirth, and Hellboy’s role in the whole thing. Unlike previous Hellboy series, this prophecy doesn’t rely on ambiguous language or vague metaphor; Mignola keeps it straightforward and clear. Unlike the hellish travelogues of issues five and six, this recent chapter sees a return to the structure of the first four, which drove the plot forward.
In this first chapter, Mignola explains the physiology of the dead as his epic red hero discovers that a phantasmagoric parasite has wrapped around his immortal, but not immutable, soul. As an introduction, this issue successfully lays the groundwork for an exciting and pulpy adventure.
This more direct, less atmospheric shift is apparent even in the way that Mignola lays out his pages. Their composition is denser than normal, lacking any empty, black panels—a technique the cartoonist uses to quickly denote the passage of time. Every image bursts at the borders with energy. The Kirby influence—the bombast and barrel-chested heroics—comes through clearly in the monster-filled climax, where Mignola brings each figure’s otherworldly qualities to the fore with exaggerated traits. While Mignola’s latter-day abstract, heavily geometric style might seem ill suited to a brawling action comic, he adapts his expressionist chiaroscuro effectively. The chunky geometry of his figure-work gives his forms a tactile illusion of weight, which lends the action a sense of impact.
Mignola paces the issue quickly, which plays well with the home-stretch feeling that permeates the issue, and that’s down to Mignola’s writing—primarily the way he writes with images. His panel composition and page layouts have a strong sense of movement, and they convey a kinetic energy, a forward momentum that carries the eye well. It’s also important not to ignore the layer that Stewart adds, as well. The trademark murky grays and browns here are inflected with oranges, yellows and reds that draw the eye and hold its attention. He uses these fiery colors to represent character’s emotional states, and these hues add a layer of storytelling that’s only possible in a stylized visual medium. These emotionally charged colors intermingle with Mignola’s masterful spotted blacks and ease the reader from page to Kirby-esque page.