If I knew the way back home...
In the eight issue limited series Hellboy: The Wild Hunt writer-artist and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola changes up his characterization of the demon intent on living as a human. No less introspective, no less brooding, Hellboy now finds himself thrust into a world of action. This shift has been slowly built towards, over the course of the decade since Hellboy’s departure from paranormal intel agency BPRD at the end of 2000’s Conqueror Worm. But this shift also marks a new direction for Mignola’s own vision of his character. With a more active Hellboy, a host of imaginary beings, and the resolution of earlier plot elements, Mignola seems to be preparing for the endgame to the Hellboy saga.
Like all longer Hellboy stories, the major plot of The Wild Hunt is elegantly simple yet absorbingly picaresque. Hellboy returns to England, the homeland he was first manifested in on the night he was summoned to Earth. While there he accepts an invitation to join the Wild Hunt in tracking and killing a pack of newly awakened Giants. Unbeknownst to Hellboy or the members of the Hunt, the Giants themselves are answering a call. Nimue, the seducer of Merlin in legend, has been resurrected. She is appointed as Queen of the Witches and leader of the Faerie. Instead of adjusting to the role, she begins recasting herself as a Goddess of War. Her machinations force the hand of Morgan le Fay, the mythic sister of King Arthur of Camelot, to induct Hellboy into his true heritage.
Artistic duties are executed by Duncan Fegredo, providing for an engaging visual texture, sometimes an homage to, sometimes at odds with the established imagery of Mignola. While it may seem that one of the crucial strengths of The Wild Hunt is this interplay between Mignola’s sensibilities and Fegredo’s, the true value of Fegredo executing artistic duties is the introduction of the panoramic.
Fegredo has definitely captured the scope and style of a typical Hellboy comic. Mignola’s comics shine with an uncommon reciprocity between object and character, with carefully detailed and richly evocative backgrounds, with a careful registry of glances and foregroundings of Hellboy himself to position the lead character as the quintessential observer. More than anything, Hellboy is a comics of pacing, of plodding, of the supernatural awash in a sea of human mystery. In this sense, Mignola has been expert in rarefying a comics that would adequately master such classic explorer’s tales as Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Fegredo captures all Mignola’s established visual genre exquisitely, and expands on them capably. Moreover, he successfully masters Mignola’s comics.
Like any worthy artist, Fegredo however, does bring his own flair. Fegredo on occasion breaks with the rigorous minimalism established by Mignola. The wall tapestry appearing as backdrop to the first meeting between Hellboy and the Hunt Master is a clear example of Fegredo in a breakaway moment. But later, in more subtle ways Fegredo evidences this innovative spirit. His panels become slightly larger windows on Mignola’s worlds. And the worlds themselves begin to take on slightly more characterization than before.
Just as Fegredo’s visualization grows more panoramic, so too does Mignola’s story. The microfactional moments begin to multiply and so too do the personal stories of the supporting cast. Grugach, the rogue Faerie who swore a vendetta against Hellboy, relates his personal history, as does Morgan le Fay as do the original members of the Hunt. Each tale is crafted, paced and timed in such at way that Mignola seems elevated to Shakespearean levels of perspicacity and storytelling. The experience of the comics is richer for the collaboration between Mignola and Fegredo.
The Wild Hunt marks a turning point, not only for the lead character but also for Mignola as a creator. What makes this book ultimately worth reading is Mignola’s apparently ceaseless capacity for invention and creativity.