Happiest of Tuesdays, RVA comic fans! Welcome back to yet another week of comics, news, and pop culture in a one-stop shop that we call the RVA Mag Comics X-Change. April has been a pretty busy month, between various Marvel casting news (Stranger Things’ David Harbour is going to join the forthcoming Black Widow film? What?!), everyone and their brother’s mother gearing up for Marvel’s Wrestlemania at Caesar’s Palace known as Avengers: Endgame, and Hellboy starring Harbour finally released to…. Well, interesting reviews.
Yeah. Let’s go with interesting. Sure.
This week I reached out to local Richmond based musician and improvisor Josh Wright. When Josh isn’t busy bouncing around town making up comedy or playing some sweet indie tunes to listen to in the background while I read the latest issue of Snotgirl, he is a pretty big comics mega-fan. I knew if anyone was going to have some need-to-know picks for this week, he’d have us handled.
Oh, and after Josh’s picks, I am going to make an argument for Hellboy. Well, I’m going to try, at least.
Anyway, on with the comics!
Heartthrob by Christopher Sebela, Robert Wilson IV, and Nick Filardi
“I’ve really enjoyed [Sebela’s] work on Dead Letters [featuring art by Richmond local Chris Visions], and Crowded,” said Wright. “If you like crime/heists, romance, and meeting your own heart transplant donor, then this book is for you. Christopher Sebela always brings interesting concepts to his books, but never forgets to make his characters interesting and relatable.”
Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Omstron
“If you love superhero books and are looking for something outside of the ‘big two,’ you should check this out,” said Wright. “Lemire and Omstron are able to craft a story that feels familiar, but covers a lot of new ground, while harking back to classic archetypes.”
Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto, and Sunny Gho
“There are only three issues out right now [of the current run] and I feel like it’s easy for new readers to jump in,” said Wright. “Chip Zdarsky’s love for the character really shows throughout the book. I’m not reading that many Marvel books, but this is one I had to add to my pull list.”
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
“Monstress is an amazing book that I’m sure not enough people are reading,” said Wright. “If you are a fan of fantasy books with a dark edge, then you will love this book. The art is beautiful and the world building is amazing. Get ready for lots of magic, demons and revenge! There are currently three volumes, and you can pick up the first volume for only $9.99.”
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan
“Exit Stage Left imagines Snagglepuss as a gay southern playwright during the age of McCarthyism,” said Wright. “This story hit me hard and is a great exploration of what it was like to be a gay person (cougar?) in the entertainment industry during the 1950s.”
One day when I’m retired and living on a yacht and drinking iced vanilla lattes from a copper mug, I am going to write a book called So Here’s the Issue with Hellboy. If you paid any attention to numbers and reviews over the weekend, then you probably noticed that the latest installment in the Hellboy franchise followed the established pattern of having not-so-hot critical reviews. Unfortunately, not all of these bad reviews were necessarily even just critics “not getting it,” as often happens with third party or indie comic titles when they are translated to film or other media.
A solid 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is not even remotely just a case of critics chiming in. Oi.
Now, before I defend it, I want to start off by saying that this is by no means my favorite film that I have ever seen in my life. At the same time, I do think that, for what it is, it is getting an excessive amount of flack. Exactly two things got me and kept my interest in this film: aesthetics, and character development.
This film heavily focuses on its characters and trying to develop them, almost to its detriment. Even though I know the story of Hellboy and his origins inside and out by now (and who doesn’t love a good blowin’-up-some-Nazis plot line?), I was still intrigued by the way director Neil Marshall chose to go about it, focusing so much on both introducing us to Hellboy and the people in his life, and trying to dig deep into the entire mythology of the Hellboy universe.
The only downside was that it felt like Marshall got too deep into playing with the characters. It seems that, by the time he realized that he should maybe focus on story arcs and keep the film a little more on pace, we were already an hour and fifteen minutes into a two-hour film. Don’t get me wrong — as a writer there are few things that I love more than good character development. But there is also this beautiful thing called balance.
These early decisions created a disconnect. When the film finally got into the story, it felt very rushed in some ways, but repetitive in others. When the Blood Queen (played by Milla Jovovich) had to remind me for the twelfth time that she will have her revenge, I had to restrain myself from telling her to take a pill made of chill and let me enjoy the damn film. We will get there, I get it, calm down.
The film’s aesthetics were another point in its favor. While the original Ron Perlman imagining was superior in story development, David Harbour’s absolutely kills it in visuals and overall aesthetic. This is how Hellboy and his world are supposed to look. I really want someone to make a solid argument against this. David Harbour dressed as a demon while riding a dragon and wielding Excalibur to head-slamming punk music? Yes, dammit.
The only thing that would have made it better would have been if he flew out to the entirety of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell record, but I guess we can’t have everything we want in life.
Could Hellboy have been better? Of course — absolutely. If the overall story development had been better, more balanced with everything else, and honestly, if so much wasn’t crammed into one film, I think it would have been the Glenn Danzig daydream of a comic film that it so desperately aspired to be.
Enjoy that metaphor on the house. Until next time, comic fans!