Mike Mignola, Bill Wray, writers
Mignola, Hilary Barta, Dave Cooper, Stephen Destefano, Pat McEown, Kevin Nowlan, artists
Dark Horse Comics, January 2004
Originally written on June 23, 2004 for publication by The Comics Journal
The post-movie-version influx of new readers to a tie-in title has, at least since the first Batman film, been something of a chimera for mainstream comics publishers. This is most likely because nearly everyone on Earth is already aware that (say) Spider-Man comics exist, and have made up their minds long ago whether or not they are actually going to buy such things, regardless of whether or not they agree with Gene Shalit’s assessment that the character’s celluloid incarnation is “a non-stop thrill ride” or what have you. Seen in that light, Mike Mignola’s much-lauded but relatively obscure Hellboy actually has more in common with Ghost World than The Hulk, and the bona-fide sales boom for Hellboy graphic novels after the film’s critical and commercial success bears this out.
One can only wonder, then, what Joe & Jane Q. Non-Fanboy would think were they to wander into their local Android’s Dungeon (or, more likely, Borders) in search of further adventures of the sardonic, demonic paranormal investigator, only to pick up a copy of Hellboy Junior instead. Sure, Ron Perlman is a great comic actor, even under six inches of prosthetics. But could even his wittiest mid-battle bon mot prepare the unwary reader for a comic in which a young Hellboy pays for mail-order hallucinogenic mushrooms with gold teeth pulled out of the mouth of an emetophagic Idi Amin, who is later rewarded by Satan with sex for all eternity with a septuagenarian nun?
Such is the sense of humor on display in this completely out-of-left-field anthology, released this spring and comprised of comics originally published in the late ’90s. Primarily an extended riff on Mignola’s character by gonzo humor cartoonist and Ren & Stimpy collaborator Bill Wray, Hellboy Junior largely eschews the former’s eerie, deadpan comedy for something much closer to Angry Youth Comix. Pustules abound, as do vomit, interspecies sex, and dismemberment. It may sound overly broad and scattershot, but it’s done with an offensive brio that makes it difficult not to go along, and laugh while you’re at it. Well, laugh, or exclaim “Holy shit.” This is, after all, a Muppet Babies version of a beloved hero, and here he is involved in stories that end with Bob Hope emceeing at the crucifixion of Hitler.
The Hellboy Junior stories themselves are a mixed bag. “The Devil Don’t Smoke,” drawn by Mignola himself, contains the kind of non-sequitur humor that made Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head such a treat (there’s a one-panel cameo appearance by an imperious skeleton with a nail through his head, you know what I mean?), and as such is far removed from the sicko gags of the rest of the book. Artist Dave Cooper makes “Hellboy Jr’s Magical Mushroom Trip” every bit as visually rich as you’d expect, though the real star of the show may well be Cooper’s luminous covers and smart lettering, which depict the various stages of H.J.’s reverie with perfectly evocative clarity. But the two Hellboy tales drawn by Wray run on well past the point of diminishing returns–maggots, violence, abusing Hitler, yes, we get it.
Indeed, the funniest, and not coincidentally the most offensive, moments come not in the Hellboy material, but in Wray’s incongruous parodies of old Harvey comics and other storybook & cartoon icons. Baby Huey, for example, is re-imagined by Wray and artist Stephen DeStefano as Huge Retarded Duck, an enormous diaper-clad imbecile who graphically disembowels three redneck ducklings during their attempted rape of his mother, only to impregnate her himself. Folks, that’s comedy. Throw in an Acme-style ad for the Spear of Destiny (“I couldn’t have killed Christ without it!” raves Gaius Cassius, Roman Centurion) and sharp, sleazy art turns by Hilary Barta and Pat McEown, and you’ve got a package that’ll amuse the deviant 15-year-old in all of us. Let’s just hope it doesn’t single-handedly derail the semi-horned one’s marketing mojo.