In 1994, Mike Mignola created one of the most unique and visually arresting comics series to ever see print: Hellboy. Tens of thousands have followed the exploits of “the World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator” in comics form, and in the novel, Hellboy: The Lost Army, written by Christopher Golden. Now, fans of the comic can enjoy the world of Hellboy as seen through the eyes of some of today’s best writers.
Hellboy: Odd Jobs is a 1999 anthology of Hellboy short stories edited by Christopher Golden. It gathers noted horror writers of the time to tell their own stories about the character, including a story by the duo of Golden and creator Mike Mignola, as well as a special cartoon by Gahan Wilson. The book presented a new opportunity for me: I haven’t ever read a book of prose adapting a comic book character before. Novel and comic book spin-off of movies and TV series are quite common, but novels and short stories supplementing comic book series doesn’t seem nearly as prominent. It felt a little risky. Hellboy is strongly defined by Mignola’s iconic art style. With that absent, save for a single illustration at the start of each story, I wondered how well these authors could capture the spirit of the character.
Honestly, I expected this book to be just okay. I imagined middling stories where Hellboy faces off against some new monster in some strange place. Like I said, it was the novelty that drew me in. The first story “Medusa’s Revenge” by Yvonne Navarro was well-written, but was in line with my expectations. It came as quite a surprise to find that this was the weakest point of this book. It is a little cliché to report that an anthology offers a mixed bag, though it’s cliché for a reason. In this case, however, I found it solid through and through. Some stories are better than others, of course, but no story noticeably dipped from the quality of the others.
While adaptation would be possible, I appreciate that these stories don’t feel like they’re trying to write a comic book with words only. While still capturing the spirit of the world and characters, they feel distinct, using the format to approach things in a unique way. We get a lot more insight into Hellboy’s thoughts and perspective, for instance, which are much more limited in the comics. We see situations where he has to deal with normal people’s shock or intolerance at his appearance too, a detail the comic books are noticeably unconcerned with, and how he deals with that internally. This doesn’t create any dissonance between these stories and the comics either, but rather allows the story to take its time with smaller details, interactions, and what characters are thinking. This could run the risk of being too indulgent in a comic book, but that is not so here.
True to the title, many of these stories get very odd indeed. From a custodian being fellated by a petrified head, to business arrangements with rodents, to bigfoot breeding, these stories tell misadventures that pleasantly surprised me with their willingness to be bizarre and disturbing. While those previous examples are on the more darkly humorous side of odd, there are a number that have Hellboy face tragic and troubling facets of reality too, such as racist Christian groups in the Southern United States, discord in politics, and the horrors of the Vietnam War. Each has their own paranormal twist to them, but at their heart deal with real-world horrors. Other stories explore dark themes in their own unique ways as well, where failure is a grim reality, friends are lost, and characters’ abilities are their own worst enemy.
All in all, Hellboy: Odd Jobs was a surprisingly great collection of stories, telling wonderfully weird, somber, and macabre tales about the iconic comic book character. My only real caveat with the book is I wouldn’t recommend reading it without any prior experience with the main series. None of these stories connect directly to them, other than passing references, but I feel the key information from the comics about his past and his place in the world would leave you with unfortunate gaps in your reading experience. This is ultimately supplemental material to a greater series, after all, and that should be remembered. If you’re a fan, or have decent experience with the character, I strongly recommend picking this book up if you can.