WARNING: Contains light spoilers for Hellboy in Hell #10
by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, Sebastian Fiumara and Dave Stewart
It’s all kicking off in the Mignolaverse. Hellboy in Hell #10 saw the possibly permanent end to the main series and now Abe Sapien #34 brings a tone of quiet reflection that simmers before inevitable dark times. This issue is very much the calm before the storm. A self-contained one-off story, this issue is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac as Abe continues his semi-aimless wandering of self exploration, all the while ignoring his destiny: An interesting parallel to big red finally embracing his over in Hellboy in Hell #10. These two issues coming out so close to each other was no coincidence. Mignola is a master world builder and, sadly as he’s stepping down to paint water colours for a year, he’s at the top of his game right now.
With this issue Mignola, Allie, Fiumara and Stewart make one thing very clear: An ending, of sorts, is very much a coming. The end of Hellboy in Hellboy in Hell #10 & Abe admitting he’s tired of “ignoring what he is” in this issue (combined with the fact B.P.R.D is a mere 7(ish) issues away from the end of the Hell on Earth cycle) makes clear that major upheavals are underway. For better or for worse, this universe is changing. That long promised apocalypse is a hell of a lot closer than the characters of its world would like. (Great for readers though…) After years of being told the end times are coming all across these books, and readers feeling like the child in the back of the car constantly asking “are we there yet?”; the answer from Mignola is finally: “Nearly.”
Where Hellboy has always been self-contained short stories, invoking a format similar to classic Sherlock Holmes, and B.P.R.D has always gone for the anthesis: vast, sprawling, near tapestry like story lines brimming with sub plots, diversions & requiring hardcore issue to issue commitment, Abe Sapien has always struck a balance. Since turning ongoing, Abe Sapien has juggled a micro and macro story, the micro being the, for want of a better phrase, “monster of the week”, whilst the macro has been Abe’s wandering around the universe in search of himself: Like a gap year student with one hell of a skin condition. This issue is the perfect demonstration of what it is that this comic does, reduced to a mere 20ish pages. We are treated to a one off story of Gods and monsters and religious fanaticism, but in the process learn a great deal about where Abe needs to head next. These teams are masters at atmosphere; you can always feel the presence of the world as if it’s truly palpable, and there is no difference this week: this issue capturing a tone of simmering piano before an inevitable explosion of fast metal. As Abe dives underwater you can feel the weight of the water. As devotees to monstrosity smear blood onto their faces, you can smell the iron in the air. This comes down to an expert synergy word & art. The language is truly poetic. Shonchin’s vernacular is rich with rhythm and bite. His dialogue a lyrical yarn that near dances off the page. Normally such purple prose spindling out the mouth of a character would be grating. “But real people don’t talk like that!” But the structure of this story makes clear Shonchin has been waiting a forever or two to meet Abe, and it feels like he’s either destined to tell this tale, or has been so eager to do so he has practiced it every day whilst waiting for the fishy ex B.P.R.D agent to finally arrive.
The artwork, as always, is exemplary: Though it feels with Mignola as your boss, an artist will always bring their A-game considering the shoulders they’re standing on. Fiumara’s work is scaratchy, with muted colours from Stewart. This combination of complex pencilling with a murky palette is reminiscent of classic horror comics. The sort of pulp strips about possession that would be serialized in Creepy or Weird Stories. You can almost hear Edvard Grief’s “In The Hall of The Mountain King” as you turn the pages. There seems to be a very conscious decision to reject modern, flashy, glossy artwork in favour of something that feels a little more disposable, yet better for it. It makes it feel like this comic is something you swipe from the newspaper stands when you’re a little to young for it and read at 4am with a torchlight.The only negative I could possibly throw out there is that our titular former sidekick current star feels a little sidelined to Shonchin. In the grand scheme of reading this in a trade that could well work. But as a monthly “floppy comic” it’s a little bit of a shame to be focusing on the teller of the tale, not the listener.
But the whole Mignolaverse has been taking a goth tinged saunter toward the apocalypse for some time now. Perhaps too long. And it would appear we have finally reached the last corner to turn around.