Hellboy: Oddest Jobs is the third book in the “odd jobs” trilogy of anthologies edited by Christopher Golden, telling stories about the comic book character Hellboy created by Mike Mignola. This book brings together 15 different authors of fantasy, horror, and mystery. Most notable among them is Joe R. Lansdale, the introduction proclaiming his story as the reason this book started coming together in the first place. Accompanying each tale is an original black and white illustration by Mike Mignola.
Since I read Odd Jobs a few years ago, I’ve loved this idea for an off-shoot to a series. Specifically, coming up with standalone cases for Hellboy’s long career investigating the paranormal, with an emphasis on strangeness. It’s perhaps a tall order for a character like this, whose literal job is to combat the otherworldly on a regular basis, but the first collection was an excellent proof of concept. By this third entry the concept has perhaps worn a little bit thin, but it still had surprises in store for me.
For the most part, the book offered an eclectic mix of quality stories that didn’t wow me, but offered something to enjoy in their own unique ways. Some are action-packed and over-the-top, having Hellboy and his compatriots face off against world-ending threats, like in “Second Honeymoon” by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow, where they must stop the return of godlike monsters from Greek mythology. Others are much more scaled down, even poignant, such as “In Cupboards and Bookshelves” by Gary A. Braunbeck, which has Hellboy shoulder an emotional burden that the reader doesn’t fully understand until the end.
As a notable black sheep of the whole collection, I really liked “Monster Boy” by Stephen Volk, which is about a somewhat atypical young boy in Wales who shares in a love of movie monsters with his grandfather, the only family member he can connect with on a deeper emotional level. Hellboy’s presence in this story was incidental at best, possibly even imagined considering how nobody else remarks upon his appearance, but it struck a nostalgic, emotional chord with me while indirectly touching upon the nature of who and what Hellboy is as a figure.
My expectation for a particular oddness from these books is likely more self-imposed than intentional on the part of Golden’s organization of these stories. From what I recall, my presumption came solely from the title. Nevertheless, this conceit shone through so well in the first book that it’s hard for me not to consider it with each successive entry, especially with the more abstract possibilities prose can allow. Unlike the others before it, this one varied most wildly in this respect.
Some of them read like fairly conventional tales that fit a familiar mold of many other Hellboy stories I’ve read before, while others had more outlandish premises, to mixed results. “Feet of Sciron” by Rhys Hughes was the most unusual, involving a tantric sex ritual to send Hellboy to a rogue planet hurtling towards the Earth. This premise was ultimately so strange, however, that it just felt out of place. Like a misshapen puzzle piece, it just didn’t fit with this narrative world and I had trouble taking it seriously.
The stories that met my expectations precisely, as it turns out, serve as bookends to this whole anthology. True to Golden’s hype, Lansdale’s “Jiving with Shadows and Dragons and Long, Black Trains” was the opener and one of the best stories in the collection. It saw Hellboy teaming up with a former-werewolf preacher to investigate a phantom train that had been abducting the entire population of small towns overnight. They fight a train, and its beautifully pulpy and imaginative, being about much more than something ghostly afoot. The final story, “A Room of One’s Own” by China Miéville, had its own unique flavour of pulpy weirdness, built up to by a mystery that was downright unsettling. It involves Hellboy becoming transfixed by the new wallpaper in fellow agent Liz Sherman’s room and was the only story in the whole book to soundly creep me out.
I was close to rating Hellboy: Oddest Jobs the same as its predecessor: consistently good, but nothing all that special. The opening and closing stories were so much to my tastes, however, that it’s just a little higher in my esteem. The bulk of them were still more middling, though, with some interesting but a bit of a slog in writing style and others a little unimaginative yet still fun. It’s worth checking out if you’re at all interested in reading pulpy horror, with some definite gems within, but I wouldn’t set my expectations too high.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5