Hellboy: Krampusnacht #1
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Adam Hughes
Letter: Clem Robins
Publisher: Dark Horse
Review by Frank Lanza
There’s just something special about a holiday Hellboy tale. The way Mignola seamlessly weaves myths, legends, superstitions and religions from around the world into his narratives has always been my favorite thing about these books. And frankly, I’m just a little bit of a sucker for some great occult or Lovecraftian fiction. And nothing says Merry Christmas like Hellboy trading blows with the Krampus, right? So, when I saw the solicit for this Krampusnacht story with the legendary Adam Hughes of all people, I was immediately sold. So now that I’ve showered this book with dubious praises before I had even read it, I suppose I should get to the review and back up my claims.
Hellboy: Krampusnacht #1 tackles one of my favorite Christmas myths: The Krampus. The Christmas we know and love today, the Christian holiday dominated by shopping, gift giving and putting up your tree after Thanksgiving, was once a pagan celebration associated with Saint Nicholas and his dastardly counterpart the Krampus. I find it utterly fascinating that this figure who snatched up bad boys and girls was an actual part of the Christmas season ages ago. He’s hideous, resembling some kind of demonic man-goat, thus making him a perfect foil for a Hellboy story.
This particular Hellboy tale finds our hero in Austria circa 1975. Passing ghosts in the forest, as Hellboy is often wont to do, he is led to a lonely house deep within the woods. Met there by an elderly gentleman by the name of Wilhelm Schulze, Hellboy is invited to stay for dinner. As he was not expecting an invitation, Hellboy dons his natural scepticism and discovers Mr. Wilhelm is the cause of a supernatural disturbance at a nearby church, knowing it would lure Hellboy to his home. Schulze eventually reveals that he is none other than the Krampus and after hundreds of years of devouring the bad children at Christmas time he is finally ready to retire. He asks Hellboy to kill him and end his torturous existence. As is typical for Hellboy, things do not go as expected as the battle ensues, and the conclusion is as mysterious and satisfying as I expected from a Mignola Hellboy tale.
When I first saw the solicits for this book with Adam Hughes attached on art duties, I was a bit surprised. While Adam is no stranger to interior work, he typically produces art for more lighthearted affairs such as Betty & Veronica. While I had no doubts he’d churn out a beautiful Hellboy tale, I wasn’t at all sure if he would do it while maintaining the dark tones and deceptively simple line work that Mignola and Fegredo have established with the title. Boy, was I surprised when I dove into this book. Adam turned in one of the most amazing Hellboy books I have ever read. He managed to stay true to the deep shadows and foreboding lighting that is the hallmark of Mignola’s Hellboy work while still producing a lavish and detailed book. He even pays homage to Mignola’s style in so many places, right down to the angular flames on the candlesticks. I think I’ve read my review copy three times just to soak in every page that Mr. Hughes has given us. I would love to own this issue in an oversized hardcover edition, I think it’s absolutely worthy of it. Line work, composition, colors and atmosphere, Adam hit every single note perfectly.
As for Mignola’s story, there is not much I can add other than it is another addition in a long line of phenomenally moody and spellbinding Hellboy stories. I’ve been reading these Hellboy tales for years now and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Mignola is so skilled at taking what appears to be a simple action movie character like Hellboy and turns his stories into such masterfully woven yarns that by the end you are left just a little bit winded by the pace he put you through. His love of folklore and mythology shines through yet again, and the Krampus proves a perfect foil for Mignola to spin into his universe.
Buy it! I know I have gushed about this book, but trust me, if you are any kind of Hellboy fan then Hellboy: Krampusnacht #1 better be on your pull list. I especially enjoyed the Christmas postcard wrap-up pages and the sketchbook material. This is an incredible book from beginning to end.