Before spring arrives, there’s still time to cozy up with the latest Hellboy Winter Special, a single anthology issue of three supernatural tales. The eponymous demonic-looking investigator features in only one story, and it’s the strongest in the collection. However, the remaining tales satisfy with their own glimpse at the occult world Hellboy inhabits.
The anthology issue opens with Hellboy’s story, “The Miser’s Gift.” Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is back to write another tale for his iconic hero, crafting a solid short story. Hellboy is a warmly familiar presence while he helps out a guy with a ghostly problem. The paranormal investigator subtly shows his depth of character as he intervenes, ranging from his matter-of-fact attitude in the face of weirdness to his ever-present undercurrent of kindness, particularly demonstrated when he tries to initially talk down the spirit causing the problem. The other characters serve their purpose, with brief glimpses of nuance. The man Hellboy helps show a nice mix of mild and genuine, and the ghost ends up with a heavy sense of melancholy that feels like a consequence of a greed-filled life. The most paper-thin character is the professor, but he moves things along with exposition well enough, and even winds up as a morbid punchline in the end. Regardless of one character’s fate, the whole cast ultimately shares a story of compassion and goodwill winning out over greed, fitting the ideal spirit of the holidays.
While Mignola writes for Hellboy again, Mark Laszlo takes care of the art this time. Mignola’s stylized and shadowy drawing for Hellboy is unquestionably the signature look of his creation, but Laszlo’s illustration is wonderful in a different way. Laszlo’s lines feel looser and sketchier, creating a warmer tone. Dave Stewart’s colors bring extra warmth, and are used to distinguish between flashbacks, the characters’ present in the ‘80s, and even past worlds literally encroaching on 1989 Budapest. Laszlo’s art helps with the border between worlds, warping the ghostly city while the buildings of 1989 are more straight. Altogether the art does feel like a good match for a winter special and a perfect fit for Mignola’s story. Laszlo and Stewart’s work even feels a little reminiscent of Peter de Sève’s illustration.
Though the remaining two stories don’t feature Hellboy, they feature other characters found in his world: fellow paranormal investigator Sarah Jewell and the Knights of St. Hagan. Jewell’s story, “The Longest Night,” is a paranormal riff on murder-mysteries that starts in media res and goes straight to figuring out the culprit. But this is a murder-mystery operating in Hellboy’s world, and even if he’s not around to carry out justice, it feels fitting that another supernatural being takes care of things—though far more viciously. Overseeing all of this is Jewell herself, whose character gets the most time to shine with masterful grace and perceptiveness.
The anthology concludes with “The Beast of Ingelheim,” arguably the weakest tale in the collection. It’s a vague and ambiguous little thing featuring the Knights of St. Hagan that may mean more to someone who knows the full continuity of Hellboy, but isn’t as accessible as the previous stories for new readers. However, towards the end, its ambiguity seems to transform into something a little more intriguing due to a twist and the realization that the ending leaves with a question—did the narrator spare or take a life?
After debuting in 2016, the seasonal series is still going strong today. With a classic Hellboy vibe, a mix of murderers devoured by paranormal creatures, and self-proclaimed holy warriors chasing shadows in the woods, this year’s Hellboy Winter Special is a nice collection of stories to peruse.