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Comic Review: Hellboy: The First 20 Years
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Hellboy: The First 20 Years cover by Mike MignolaHellboy: The First 20 Years
Hardcover | Kindle
Art by Mike Mignola
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Cover Price: $19.99

It has been more than two decades since Mike Mignola‘s demon-spawned defender of humanity Hellboy first debuted in the pages of San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2. Since then the character has endured into countless comic book miniseries, specials, one-shots, spin-offs, direct-to-video animated features, and two big-budget Hollywood adventures that have only furthered enhanced and expanded Mignola’s rich, mysterious, and often terrifying mythology.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of their most beloved characters Dark Horse Comics has assembled Hellboy: The First 20 Years, a lavish hardcover volume (also available for Kindle) of original and vintage artwork chronicling Hellboy’s rise from his auspicious beginnings as a cult favorite horror comic hero to an icon of pop culture.

The First 20 Years doesn’t feature any reprints of classic Hellboy stories. Rather it’s comprised of previously available art produced by Mignola for the covers of various titles featuring the character, including his own starring comics, spin-offs focused around characters such as Abe Sabien and Lobster Johnson, and his guest appearance in The Goon #7 dating back to the early 1990s.

There are also a variety of sketches for unfinished paintings and watercolors, a print produced for the 2006 and 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, poster art for the 2008 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthlulucon, and a 2009 Calgary Comic and Entertainment print included in this treasure chest of eerily beautiful images.

Film animation character designer Peter de Sève (A Bug’s Life, the Ice Age series) contributes a heartfelt introduction, and there is also a foreword written by Mignola himself.

In short, what we have here is a hardbound gallery that boils the entire Hellboy universe to over 100 new and vintage drawings. It is gorgeously geek to marvel at in you don’t already own all or most of the covers featured in this book. But unless you are a hardcore fan of Mignola and his mastery of the brusque, pleasingly retroactive character design there is little to recommend about The First 20 Years. I was hoping that it would feature more new material, original art pages, excerpts from some of the character’s best stories, a section devoted to Hellboy’s presence in multimedia, and perhaps a few appreciative essays from writers and artists who have been influenced by the work of Mike Mignola.

It’s quite surprising that avowed Hellboy super-fan Guillermo Del Toro had nothing to do with the creation of this volume. His films based on the Hellboy comics helped raise the character’s profile outside of the comics, and giving him and those features such unwelcome short shrift makes the book less of a recommended buy.

It’s hard to suggest anyone buy it when there the only motivation behind its creation was to bilk Hellboy followers out of money they would be better off spending on paying the rent. This book is a mercenary endeavor, nothing more. At least it also serves as a fine tribute to Mignola’s artistic gifts and Hellboy’s place in the modern history of comic book storytelling. That about sums up the best qualities of Hellboy: The First 20 Years.

Hellboy: The First 20 Years cover by Mike Mignola

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