Overview

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1

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Hellboy:  The Crooked Man #1

Credits

  • Words: Mike Mignola
  • Art: Richard Corben
  • Inks: Richard Corben
  • Colors: Dave Stewart
  • Story Title: May He Lye Still
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Jul 2, 2008

In 1958 in Appalachia, Hellboy gets embroiled with practitioners of backwoods witchcraft, and learns of the legendary Crooked Man!

I must admit, I haven't kept up with Hellboy since the original couple of mini-series back some fifteen years ago. The concept was appealing, and I was, and still am, a huge fan of the artwork of Mike Mignola, but for a reason unknown to me, I did not pick up the books. So reading Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1 was almost like reading the character for the first time. Thankfully, the story stands on its own, not needing encyclopedic knowledge of Hellboy to follow it.

We find our demonic hero at the side of a bewitched young woman in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. Befriending a displaced local, Tom Ferrell, Hellboy investigates the residence of a young woman reputed to be a witch. Ferrell reveals his past encounters and experimentation with witchcraft, and how he once saw the Devil in the form of the Crooked Man! Mignola and artist Richard Corben author a haunting tale with some disturbing yet fascinating depictions of ritual magic. While Hellboy is a secondary character in this first issue, as Tom Ferrell's past is the vehicle for the story's exposition, I anticipate a more prominent role in the next two issues as the inevitable encounter with the Crooked Man awaits.

The southern wilderness as a setting for horror stories has a long history. Unfortunately, most of it concerns inbred families with a thirst for the blood of unsuspecting travelers. This enchanted forest approach with strange, animal based witchcraft is a fresh take. It’s not what I expected from Hellboy, given the character's European background, but I am glad to see him in a setting like this. The character is unflappable, even though he is pretty young in 1958.

There is no question that Richard Corben has still got it. His organic artwork is better suited than even series creator Mike Mignola's for the wilderness setting of Hellboy: The Crooked Man. A master storyteller, Corben makes even a page of dialogue exciting by varying camera angles, using silhouettes, and inserting mood conjuring illustrations such as a random owl or night creature to enhance the setting. The story calls for many depictions of animals, another strength of Corben's. It is difficult to explain precisely what is so compelling about Corben's artwork, but it lies in the exaggerated expressions, and large demonstrative eyes of the characters that draw the reader into the story. In other words, he is not only an excellent illustrator, but also a master cartoonist, who understands that without emotional attachment even the most beautiful rendering fails to engage a reader.

Paranormal investigators seem to be a dime a dozen these days, so finding a story as refreshing as the one cooked up by Mignola and Corben for this mini-series is quite an achievement. If Hellboy: The Crooked Man is representative of the quality with which the Hellboy franchise has been maintained these fifteen years, then I have made a big mistake in not keeping up with it.

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