"Hellboy in Hell" #4 concludes the first story arc in Mike Mignola's new ongoing "Hellboy" series, and in many ways it's a great moment to stop and let everyone catch their breath. For a comic that doesn't have a single fight scene, there's a remarkable amount of tension built up as Mignola reveals the identity of Hellboy's masked guide, and hints at what's still to come in the series.
What's great about "Hellboy in Hell" #4 is that you could strip out all of the words and just gaze at the art and end up with a satisfying reading experience. I love how well Mignola composes every single panel in this comic. The opening page with two panels of Hellboy and everything else floating in the Abyss sets the stage perfectly for the sort of art contained in the issue. In the first panel, Mignola focuses solely on the strange and unknown; the edges of monstrous creatures coming into few from off-panel and gross blobs and spheres that also drift through the water. From there, the issue shifts over to seeing Hellboy's body in the second panel; in doing so, there's suddenly a better idea of just how big those massive tentacles really are as Hellboy looks puny in comparison. For beings that readers never see more than the edges of -- the better for which to let the reader mentally fill in the gaps with something even more horrific than anyone could draw on their own -- Mignola's art gives them a vast presence here.
It's that strong, careful usage of every single panel that makes "Hellboy in Hell" #4 sing. On the second page, when the masked guide uses a single finger to draw a rune on the surface of the mirror, it's a beautiful sequence of events. Mignola and colorist Dave Stewart take great care here; the fiery orange stands out after a page and a half of murky greens, and the careful zoom in gives the rune more and more import with each appearance until we finally see the reflection of Hellboy behind it, and its purpose becomes clear.
There's also a lot of just plain spectacle in "Hellboy in Hell" #4. The cramped buildings that form a city within Hell is worth drinking in as you stare at each roof, window, and chimney all carefully slotted into place like a massive three-dimension puzzle, for instance. Mignola's drawings of drifting leaves falling down onto the streets is just as beautiful as when he first tackled this sort of design in "Hellboy: The Wolves of St. August." When our mysterious guide gives his own past and how he came to end up in Hell, the monstrous beings that attack are just as impressive as the strange, ornate machinery that Mignola draws in exquisite detail.
But don't let all of this talk of the visuals make you think that the story isn't good, because it is. The origin of the mysterious guide comes at just the right time to keep our interest in the character, even as it also ties in another piece of the Mignolaverse in a manner that many might not have seen coming. Hellboy's decision on what to do next is one that is both unexpected and yet somewhat fitting, and it says a lot about how well Mignola's built up the character over the years. And the hints that we get on what's next in "Hellboy in Hell" when it returns (presumably) later this year are enticing without really giving anything away. That's something easier said than done.
"Hellboy in Hell" #4 is a great conclusion to this first story arc, and it makes me that much more eager to see what's up next. "Hellboy in Hell" shows a master returning to his craft and exceeding reader expectations. This is a horror comic that reminds just how good both the genre and the medium can be.