It seems like Mike Mignola and artist Richard Corben had one plan for their recent collaboration on Hellboy: House of the Living Dead. Pack the graphic novel with as many classic horror monsters as possible then have Hellboy beat them to a bloody pulp. Congratulations guys, mission accomplished, they were all there in a manner of speaking, vampires, monsters, ghosts, and let’s not forget Hellboy, kicking in all their skulls. Mignola expresses his affections towards classic B horror movies in his introduction and proceeds to craft a love letter to them through Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, a love letter written in the blood of several unfortunate ghouls.
Now it would be unfair to paint Hellboy: House of the Living Dead as just a wall to wall action fest, in fact Mignola tells an almost forgotten chapter of Hellboy’s life that reminds us of how human he really is. Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, picks up after the events of Hellboy in Mexico, a one-shot Mignola did with Corben in 2010. Hellboy: House of the Living Dead tells the story covering the parts of Hellboy’s trip to Mexico he does not remember due to drunkenness or perhaps sorcery (with Hellboy it’s always a toss up). While in Mexico Hellboy had become close acquaintances with three luchador brothers, one of which he feels like he was responsible for the death of. In a whirlwind of booze and fists Hellboy takes it upon himself to replace his dead luchador friend and enter the ring. This is around the point were Hellboy: House of the Living Dead picks up, as Hellboy tosses around competitors it quickly becomes apparent that he is the best luchador around. He is soon approached and asked to wrestle the monstrous abomination that a doctor has created, of course if he refuses the doctor will murder an innocent girl. As you can imagine from here Hellboy punches, kicks, stomps, and pummels every bad thing in or around the mad doctors castle.
Hellboy: House of the Living Dead does provide pages worth of action, however, beneath that is a story about Hellboy on his constant quest to forgive himself for the deaths of his friends and family. As Hellboy travels the world we can only get the sense that he is running from the brutal truth he must come to. Hellboy: House of the Living Dead puts Hellboy one step closer to that inevitable conclusion he must come to, which is that he is not at fault for the deaths surrounding him. What could have become a throwaway chapter in the Hellboy series is actually a study of the humanity that Hellboy must face now that he has chosen to become one of us. Mignola’s writing for Hellboy: House of the Living Dead is an odd mixture of the tragic and hysterical. When a lumbering monstrosity walks into the local bar you expect Hellboy to rip him to shreds, when in fact he orders the monster a drink instead. Mignola crafts scenes like this with such precision that we are left feeling truly sorry for Hellboy. The concept of two unholy monsters sharing a drink together after just recently beating each others brains out is a testament to the strange and often times very sad world that we all share with our favorite demon prince.
Corben’s sense of atmosphere is stunning throughout the entire trade paperback. From the ancient stone castle to the mist consumed graveyard, Corben envelopes us in each and every location. Of course a Hellboy book wouldn’t be a Hellboy book if it were not filled with monsters and Corben makes sure it happens. His take on monsters that have been portrayed literally thousands of times is fresh and left me thinking about their hideous design long after I finished the book. The elongated features of the Frankenstein speak to Corben’s ability to make the familiar bizarre and frightening once again.
Mignola has been taking the Hellboy franchise in a distinct direction lately that involves a close examination of the concepts of loss and forgiveness all while trying to accept ones humanity. Hellboy: House of the Living Dead is yet another example of these human ideals that Mignola is attempting to understand through his characters. As readers we are lucky enough to get to experience a portion of this journey in Hellboy: House of the Living Dead. Mignola and Corben have crafted a deeply introspective book wrapping it in a monster vs. monster slugfest that was at times tragic yet a thrill to read.