The first five issues of "Hellboy in Hell" were nothing short of fantastic, a huge tour de force return by Mike Mignola to his signature creation. And now, with a few months off to finish some more issues, "Hellboy in Hell" #6 features the return of the series. But unfortunately, this issue feels like it might have needed a little more time in the incubator.
The issue starts off quite promising, as Hellboy meets two deceased spirits who are trying to map out all of Hell. And while their map isn't quite done, just listening to their description of how all of the different components click together -- from the Stygian Sea and Lake of Fire, to the City of Hell and the Abyss -- is entrancing. It's nice to finally get to understand the relationship of all of these different terrains and areas, as well as how Mignola brings in a certain sense of dread with the reminder that you can map all you want but there's still no escape coming.
But as the issue progresses, and Mignola has Hellboy go up against an old foe, something doesn't feel quite right. This face from Hellboy's past just isn't that interesting, and the fight itself feels a tiny bit pointless. We haven't quite hit the deus ex machina conclusion here, but it also isn't fun either. Honestly, it feels like a stalling technique more than anything else. There's no special atmosphere (like the breathtaking battle in "Hellboy: The Wolves of St. Augustine") that makes this seem like anything more than punches being thrown. Even the idea of the card game never quite gels into something more than an interesting background notation.
I think the lack of spark here has to do with Mignola's art. It's less distinct, more rough than up until this point in "Hellboy in Hell." The foe in the second half is the biggest problem; he looks very indistinct and even generic. Monsters in any "Hellboy" series normally are beautifully designed, so get what feels like a tossed out background extra just doesn't quite cut it. Every now and then it almost works, whenever we get glimpses of the streets of the City of Hell, but then we're back in the fight and it isn't energetic or stylish or neat to look at. Not even the occasional toss of playing cards can distract that these ink lines are rough and crudely formed, with characters almost looking emaciated as a result. For those looking for Mignola's normally strong, brick-like art, you won't find it here.
"Hellboy in Hell" #6 is hopefully just a blip on the overall passage of this title; the first five issues were so good that having a substandard installment is distressing. And after all, a not-up-to-par issue of "Hellboy in Hell" still beats out a lot of other series on their good days. In this case, though, I think that it's safe to say that one normally expects more from Mignola. I've been loving "Hellboy in Hell," but this is probably not the best introduction to the series if you haven't read it up to date. Go pick up "Hellboy in Hell" #5, instead. It's fantastic.