Sixteen of the biggest names in weird literature come together to pay tribute to Hellboy and the characters of Mike Mignola’s award-winning line of books! Assembled by Joe Golem and Baltimore co-writer Christopher Golden and featuring illustrations by Mike Mignola and Chris Priestley, the anthology boasts sixteen original stories by the best in horror, fantasy, and science fiction, including Seanan McGuire (October Daye series), Chelsea Cain (Heartsick), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger series), and more! The new writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., iZombie co-creator Chris Roberson, pitches in as well, and Chris Priestley (Tales of Terror) provides a story and an illustration!
Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, released on August 29, 2017, is the latest anthology of Hellboy short stories, once again edited by Christopher Golden. It’s funny the way things have turned out, with me having jumped to reading the newest one after having just gone through the first one back in August. When I read Odd Jobs the experience came as a great surprise. I picked it up as a novelty, wanting to see how a change in medium would feel for the character and the world, not expecting how much I’d love it. This precise experience is not something that could happen a second time. I’d been curious of how well a new collection would fare, considering it is now the fourth one produced and long after the first.
It was nice to see upon finishing this book that nearly 20 years after the first anthology there is seemingly no shortage of talented authors willing and able to write Hellboy stories. Once again I came away from this collection satisfied with what each tale brought to the table. Some appealed to me more than others, but there are none I would say are poor or lacking. The only thing I’d say hurt this book a little, comparatively, is it felt a less unified by a core idea. Odd Jobs — though its title was still a flexible umbrella — was mostly comprised of stories that were at their heart very, well, odd. Whether they were on the funny side of odd or the more disturbing, upsetting side, it was a small thing that connected all the stories together for me. This new book was itself more noticeably varied, and “an assortment of horrors” doesn’t really say anything specific enough about the stories collectively. This is a nit-pick of mine, no bones about it, but something I feel is worth noting nonetheless.
Many stories from this collection are not told from Hellboy’s point of view. In a few cases it was instead Liz Sherman, the pyrokinetic BPRD agent. She seems to be a popular choice for authors if the two books I’ve read are any indicator. I especially liked “Burning Girls” by Seanan McGuire, which deals with the incident in the comics when Liz deposited her powers into a dormant homunculus, which nearly killed her. In the comic book she was pretty much catatonic, so it was really neat to see what was going on internally for her. Kate Corrigan is another recurring series character, a folklore and occult expert for the BPRD, who got a few of her own tales as well. As a more scholarly character I liked seeing how differently she had to deal with the supernatural forces threatening her. Many more perspective characters are new and specific to their story, adding a uniqueness to each case as we don’t see events filtered through Hellboy’s expertise. Sometimes he’s only really a plot devise, resolving what could otherwise be a strange little horror story. These all really helped to keep things varied and engaging.
There are plenty of more typical Hellboy cases too, where he travels to a strange old place and fights some monsters, but even these have delightful twists to them that are particularly creepy or demented. Some such twists include a witch taking a young woman’s mouth and attaching it to her own face, a giant god-like hag imprisoned within a mountain, and a giant made out of people. The final example, from “Tales of the Worm Lord” by Nathan Ballingrud, is exactly as horrific as it sounds and also serves up one of the better compromising positions Hellboy finds himself in, where he cannot simply punch his way out.
I really appreciate how much these short stories continue to cover ground the comics never really did. Sometimes Hellboy is accompanied by soldiers in a war-torn area of Afghanistan to rescue a friend’s captured nephew, or he’s storming a Neo-Nazi compound that has been meddling with an occult pylon on a hill, or investigating strange deaths in an American urban centre. These places may not be as strange as the old world Gothic locales that we’re used to, but I welcome them as out of the ordinary for him. Many stories interestingly deal with themes of abuse and traumatic childhoods as well, all of which are handled with appropriate tact and care.
Though it lacked the surprise in quality of the first anthology, I liked An Assortment of Horrors a lot and I’m pleased that Hellboy as a character still inspires so much in these authors. I do feel the need to note the same caveat as I did with Odd Jobs, however, that I think this is something written more for fans than newcomers. I’m sure readers with a basic understanding of the characters and the world could enjoy it without issue, but it doesn’t really contextualize some of the greater mythos that still plays a part. It would almost certainly leave you a little lost if you hadn’t read any other Hellboy before.