Hellboy, vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom
Collects stories from: Hellboy: Box Full of Evil #1-2, The MonsterMen, Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead, Dark Horse Presents #151, Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998, Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999: DHP Jr., Dark Horse Extra #14-#19
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Mike Mignola
By Paul De Angelis
The Right Hand of Doom is the fourth collection of Hellboy adventures. The first half consists of six unrelated stories that take place at various times between 1947-1982. In each one, Hellboy goes it alone, without Abe Sapien and Kate Corrigan, fellow Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense members. The dates are arbitrary, as there doesn't seem to be any overall backstory for Hellboy's first forty years of demon fighting. Each tale begins well, with Hellboy already on the job, but they usually end too abruptly; the denouements have a lacklustre, almost pointless feel to them. The second half of the collection is two linked stories that add to the Hellboy mythos: "The Right Hand of Doom" gives us some indication of the true power of Hellboy's giant stone hand. "Box Full of Evil" reveals Hellboy's original demonic purpose, what his destiny was meant to be before he became a warrior against evil. It's good that these details were cleared up; writer/illustrator Mike Mignola doesn't cheat the reader by dragging out questions about his characters; instead, he resolves them, thereby forcing himself to come up with new angles with which to build suspense. After all, people can wonder who killed Laura Palmer only for so long before losing interest.
I'm not a big fan of Hellboy's physical design. The fact that he snapped off his horns is a clever idea, but the stumps look like goggles. And I can't stand those tiny feet of his below such a massive body. But his personality is what really counts. This is especially true in this collection, as he easily carries the stories on his own. That's not to say that Abe and Kathy are useless... but they can feel superfluous at times.
Although Hellboy goes into tough guy mode during fights, it's the quieter moments that make him distinctive. When given more details than he needs for an assignment, he responds with a casual "Yeah. All right." The unnecessary encouragement that follows is also met with a simple, almost absentminded "Okay." This may sound like apathy or cultivated coolness, but in context comes across as accommodating and patient, keeping in check his desire to just get the job done.
The art certainly has its fans, but it's not Hellboy's greatest strength. The mood, especially in regards to Mignola's use of shadows, is strong. But the characters sometimes resemble blobs, and the dashes added to faces in close up give the illustrations a sketchy look, instead of the clean, solid look preferred by some (like me).
As he did in the previous Hellboy collection, Mignola bases some of his stories on folklore. This points to one of the best things about Hellboy: its old-fashioned approach to horror. Although there is some blood and the odd mutilation, Mignola usually goes for a creepy atmosphere instead of the gross out. There are no serial killings, no sadistic violence. It's all ghosts and giant monsters, probably due, in part, to Mignola's admitted fascination with H.P. Lovecraft.