The first “Hellboy” comic I picked up was “Hellboy in Mexico,” released earlier this year and I picked it up because it was a self-contained single with art by Richard Corben. Oh, I’ve always planned to go back and buy the “Hellboy” and “BPRD” collections, but a one-off comic with Corben on art is hard to resist. And, here’s another one before the year is out. Those folks at Dark Horse must like us or something. “Double Feature of Evil” is an entertaining horror comic with a strong lead story and a funny back-up story, both framed as films being shown in an abandoned movie house with corpses in the audience.
The lead story has Hellboy investigating a house that makes its owner kill people. The pacing is slow and meticulous, allowing for Corben’s art to raise the tension. It’s a story of mood, contrasting the seeming normalcy of the owner with the absurdity of his problem. Corben is very good at making ‘normal’ people look creepy or abnormal. The shift is shown on a page and handled through some fantastic body language. Of course, he turns on Hellboy, but how different he is visually before and after is fantastic. It’s as if being in the house really does change the man.
Corben uses light and shadows to heighten the tension and mood. Despite it being the daytime, a mysterious stranger is in shadows completely to underscore his lack of identity. He plays with how much we’re shown in darkness, reducing a character like Hellboy to his basic elements in the dark, only the vague outline of his body with a hint of more. Corben’s focus is obviously on impression and feeling rather than ‘accuracy.’
The climax of the lead story comes down to the art with Corben’s use of cuts and choice of angles/shots. Beginning with a grotesque giant decayed body with a giant, still beating heart, the climax happens quickly and with one powerful image after another. It’s not a fluid sequence, more of a scene made up of purposefully static images as Corben mimics film. The panels are brief static glimpses of action and that actually builds the excitement and tension of the scene more as it leads to some panels that are more fluid.
The second story has a more absurd, comedic tone that suits Corben’s more hyperbolic and crazy leanings with an insane man that thinks he’s an Egyptian priest. The contrast between the calm Hellboy and the frantic man adds to the humor. As does the depiction of Hellboy taking on the worst, most easily defeated mummies in the history of mummies. It’s a brief comedy that comes off like a story that Hellboy would tell over a beer when someone asked about one his ‘dumbest’ cases and Corben embraces that mentality.
If you’ve never read a Hellboy story before, this is your sort of book. Both the lead and back-up require almost no prior knowledge of the character and there’s the gorgeous Richard Corben art. Both stories seem constructed to work with Corben’s strengths as an artist and, at 70, the man can draws a fantastic comic page.