Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artwork: Zach Howard
Colours: Dave Stewart
Release Date: 19th February 2020
1958. High in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Hellboy sets out to help a village plagued by witchcraft and stumbles on a vast coven infesting the woods and mines of the surrounding woods. With the cursed wanderer Tom Ferrell at his side, they seek out a way of saving both the souls of Tom and a young witch, Cora Fisher, from the demonic gatherer of souls known as The Crooked Man and the evil witch Effie Kolb. With the assistance of Father Nathaniel Armstrong Watts, Hellboy banishes The Crooked Man, and Tom has his revenge on Effie, trapping her in the form of a horse.
1967. Nine years later, Tom Ferrell calls Hellboy back to the mountains. Something is stirring in the dark woods; the Crooked Man’s House no longer stands empty and ghosts of the past have come calling.
The Crooked Man has long been one of my favourite Hellboy stories, a fantastic folk horror story with an almost Lovecraftian twist to it, and some sublimely dark and disturbing art provided by the legendary Richard Corben. This is a story that I have revisited time and again, and I never get bored with it.
However, while Jeremiah Witkins is a creature of pure nightmare, he is not the only horror in this story. The Mellingeon witches dwelling in the mines, are satisfyingly twisted and nasty, and I love the concept that they are the remnants of the Roanoke settlement. Effie Kolb is a vindictive and sadistic woman who delights in the torture and misfortune of her victims. If you haven’t read the original story, then firstly apologies for the multitude of spoilers, but think of Harrow County’s Kammi and you won’t go far wrong. I would go as far as to say Effie Kolb, and the Crooked man story as a whole, could easily have been the inspiration for Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s masterpiece.
The fact that we’re now getting a second chapter in this story twelve years after the original three-part story was released is, therefore, a massive thing for me. The opportunity to see how Tom Ferrell and Father Watts have fared in the intervening years, and the possibility of a new encounter with Effie and the other evils of the woods and mountains, is very exciting.
I have to say that I’ve been a little underwhelmed by some of the recent entries in the world of Hellboy & the B.P.R.D., but this first issue is definitely Mike Mignola back at his best. He effortlessly strolls back into the mountains and woodlands of Appalachia and into the affable embrace of the congenial, if now elderly Tom, and the familiar horrors that you know are lurking in the dark.
There are also a couple of new characters that we are introduced to, some of whom are definitely not what they appear to be. We also have the enigma of Sara May Blackburn who may or may not be a witch but who I could definitely see appearing in future Hellboy stories (I hope I haven’t just jinxed her before the next issue).
This story has the same familiar, tone and depth as the first chapter, but has a new artist on board, in the shape of one Zach Howard, who manages to retain most of the feel of Corben’s original artwork while bringing something more contemporary to the page. Trying to follow Richard Corben on a story must be quite daunting, especially one as well-known as this, but there is no sense of this in Howard’s artwork. He has embraced the story, made it his own, and delivers a world that is warm and familiar while also being dark and full of menace.
I freely admit that my feelings towards this particular story are tinged with more than a hint of nostalgia and a genuine desire to see more chapters in this particular story, but don’t let that detract from the fact that this is a genuinely great addition to the original story. I can only hope that this will lead Mike Mignola to spend more time revisiting smaller, more claustrophobic folk horror tales in his future writing.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek