Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hellboy / Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Hellboy / Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice (Dark Horse, 2010).

There's no getting past it; I do have a problem with this book's ending. I just didn't get it. I'd rather address it at the start of this writeup than end on a sour note, though, because it's otherwise a terrific book. I just didn't understand what happened after the climax. In this new one-off from Dark Horse, the paranormal investigator Hellboy - you know him; he was in a couple of movies and some very good comics - runs across the dogs and cats from Dark Horse Comics' latest minor sensation, saves the world with them and then... well, he leaves the woods telling one of them that he'd be right back and the pug looks at him funny. Hellboy returns to the farm where the adventure began and evidently decides against going back, and then the last page confused the issue even more.

See, the last two pages might have left me scratching my head, but the other twenty-odd had me grinning from ear to ear. It might not be the best Beasts of Burden adventure, but there are certainly far worse Hellboy stories. Jill Thompson's artwork is reliably gorgeous, whether painting cute little puppies and pretty wood landscapes or ugly tramp hideouts and golem-like monsters with discarded human skulls for heads. Her Hellboy is really great, and I love the sense of confidence he portrays, and especially the way the dogs scatter and scurry around him, little blurs of motion caught in freeze frame. I especially liked a very quick scene where Hellboy takes in his new allies with barely a pause and moves on.

I call Beasts of Burden a minor sensation, and I'd like to expand on that. Thompson and writer Evan Dorkin have come up with one of the best and most genuinely original concepts in American comics in ages, and have been quietly telling stories that seem to get a good bit of critical praise, but I don't know that this has translated into the massive sales that such a neat series deserves. We all talk big about wanting to reward originality in fiction, and wanting to see new and clever ideas that haven't been done before. There's a great big beautiful hardcover collection of the previous Beasts of Burden stories, and hopefully this little one-shot will prompt more of Hellboy's many fans to give it a shot. You should, too, if you enjoy horror or black comedy at all. It's a hugely rewarding and very good series, and I'm looking forward to Dorkin and Thompson's next adventures with these characters.


Anonymous said...

Grant -

Thanks for the nice write-up on the series. I'm sorry the ending of the crossover confused you, we haven't had any complaints on it so far (a few folks new to the series found the Wise Dog epilogue a little vague, but no one's had any problem with Hellboy's inability to return to Burden Hill, etc).

Anyway - SPOILERS -

Burden Hill isn't in Hellboy's world. The walk through the woods wasn't just a short hike but a passage created by the Wise Dogs' summoning spell. The spell broke when the old gray dog died, and Hellboy was returned to his world -- where it's still daytime, not long after he left. Notice the farmers are still in the process of burying the vampiric creature from the opening scene. Everything happening in Burden Hill is at night, everything in Hellboy's world takes place in daytime. There are no time lapses between Hellboy's last appearance and the cut to Winshaw Ridge where the Wise Dogs are assembled (at night). .

The dogs also mention bringing in a champion back in the 1930's (if you look on the dead magician's forehead you'll see a nod to another bit of the Mignola-verse) and how they couldn't "keep" Hellboy in Burden Hill (or their world). Hellboy sees he's returned to the farm only a short while after leaving it and says he "should have figured", meaning he realizes he's not getting back to Burden Hill, he's cut off.
Anyway, there's no Burden Hill behind those woods for Hellboy to go back to. Sorry if that wasn't clear enough, but I thought we laid in enough visual and verbal clues to set things apart. Originally Hellboy questioned the farmers about Burden Hill, and they tell him there's no such place. Would have nailed it in more firmly, but we didn't have the space to fit it in, only so many panels in a comic. But that's the info you're missing. hope it helps clear it up.

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the comic despite the giant question mark the ending left for you. We try not to create giant question marks above reader's heads unless there's an actual mystery afoot(a-paw?), but sometimes you err on the side of not spelling everything out and find it could have used a few more letters.

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

Thanks, Evan. I had considered writing you to ask whether you might clear that up, but what minor journalistic integrity at play on this blog said that I should judge the work on its own. I hope for lots more from the Beasts in 2011!

Anonymous said...

We're working on at least three short stories for the Dark Horse Presents revival, and fingers crossed we'll get a one-shot done or something of that sort in 2011. I wish we could go bi-monthly, I could work solely on writing this for a while and do nothing else and be very happy, but Jill has the heaviest lifting to do on the series and her watercolors take time. So, we'll see.

Thanks again!

Scott Bukatman said...

Count me among the confused, and thanks, Evan, for the clarification. Count me also among the Hellboy fans who immediately bought the hardcover collection and who now counts himself among Beast of Burden's fans.

Camel said...

Im also glad for the explanation, though I got most of it by rereading the ending a few times. but who was the wizard 'champion' brought back in the 30s? It looked like Zatara.