by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Clem Robins, Dave Stewart
In the tradition of the best geeky, superhero comics storytelling, Hellboy meshes disparate elements together into a grandiose action adventure tale: The eponymous hero is always fighting a varied menagerie that included Nazi agents, Japanese vampires, European werewolves, or Lovecraftian alien monsters. But like many serials begun in the late nineties, it is framed by a larger story arc: In those early stories there was already a sense that there was more going on. Creator Mike Mignola took those monster-fighting episodes as far as he could before setting his protagonist free to explore his place in the larger cosmos. With Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, this phase of the character's development seems to be over as he's forced to make a choice between the various factions determined to start a war that could possibly destroy the world. The story is the latest in a series of revelations beginning with The Island that answers many previous unexplained elements; outlines the history of the universe Hellboy inhabits; and reveals his role within it. Mignola finally seems to have finished preparations for the presumably climactic end of the series.
As with the previous Darkness Calls, the linework is by Duncan Fegredo. I sometimes miss Mignola's visuals, but Fregredo is a more than capable replacement. He's able to duplicate Mignola's angular character designs and idiosyncratic chiaroscuro; but his style is more realistically detailed; and his panels far more panoramic. While Mignola's backgrounds would progressively become more pared down and abstract, Fegredo uses establishing shots and often pulls back from the characters to illustrate the larger physical setting. Fegredo excels at highlighting interior details e.g. the underground passage of the Wild Hunt filled with decapitated giant heads; or the mysterious floating knights found in Morgan le Fay's castle.
It's fortuitous that Fegredo took over as the primary artist when the series began to concentrate on certain female characters. The Wild Hunt deals with the aftermath of Hellboy's conflict with Baba Yaga and the witches in Darkness Calls; and his ongoing conflict with Hecate. In The Wild Hunt, Fegredo gets to portray three pivotal characters in Hellboy's development: The queenly Morgan le Fay; her adversary Nimue; and the adult version of Alice - last seen way back as a baby in the The Corpse. Fegredo imbues them with a physical presence usually not found in Mignola's character renditions. The villanous Nimue is a gloomy figure cloaked in perpetual shadow; Morgan carries herself with a certain inherent nobility that belies her evil reputation; while Alice possesses a down to earth charm that sets her apart from the other Hellboy characters. Her addition to the cast has the effect of softening Hellboy's typically reserved machismo. Her influence allows Hellboy to take positive action.
The Wild Hunt marks a first step past the emotional conflict between the human and demonic sides that has often paralyzed Hellboy. From the beginning he's been beset by hints that he is the Beast from Revelations that will bring about the end of the world. When he left his surrogate family at the BPRD, the knowledge he gained only cast him further adrift. Morgan supplies Hellboy (and the reader) with a dizzying amount of detail about his Arthurian heritage; which helps fill in some important plot points and gives him an abstract ideal to fight for. But with Alice, Hellboy has at least found an emotional anchor and one human connection.
None of this should be misinterpreted to mean that The Wild Hunt doesn't have its fair share of ass kicking. Mignola has given Hellboy more than the usual "just doing my job" rationale when its hero was working for the BPRD. But this story functions as an interlude before the long delayed showdown between Hellboy and the forces of Hell commited to destroying the world.