Hellboy - In The Chapel of Moloch
There is invariably some disappointment amongst fans of Mike Mignola's various comics that Hellboy - In The Chapel of Moloch--the first Hellboy story drawn by Mignola since 2005--is only a one-shot, but the format is perfect for demonstrating how far Mignola's skills as a writer have developed during his years spent penning so many books. In The Chapel of Moloch is a fully fleshed narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end (in that order), that features the flights of mythological esoterica that are the hallmark of Mignola's stories and throws in some comments about the creative process in general.
Though I realize that I spilled considerable ink discussing Mignola's narrative acumen in a previous post, it is a topic that is worth revisiting in the context of this new book. Mignola's Hellboy stories have always required a considerable amount of necessary background information and he has not always been as adept at working it into the flow of the narrative smoothly. Considering it is a one-shot, In The Chapel of Moloch includes significant background detail. Mignola works the details of the setting and situation, and the attendant mytho-religious background into the narrative action, making it part of the story.
Compare this to earlier Hellboy narratives in which the first several pages featured little more than panel after panel of Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm sitting in an office with huge text-filled speech bubbles laying out a tome's worth of mythological minutiae. This made some of those early stories difficult to get into and likely turned off more than a few early readers.
There has been considerable discussion in the circles in which I run about the effect that Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy movies have had on Hellboy comics. The most obvious contribution del Toro made to the Hellboy universe was in helping to develop Hellboy (and Abe and Liz, for that matter) into a fully realized character. It may be that this increased attention to narrative structure and execution has been another, more subtle effect of del Toro's collaboration with Mignola.
It seems somehow telling that in the first Hellboy comic he has drawn in three odd years, Mignola would choose to tell the story of an artist who is possessed by a demon when he creates. While perhaps as much a wink to the readers as an actual comment on Mignola's feelings about the creative process, it is such little details that make Mignola's work so satisfying. Mignola's art throughout the book is filled with such subtle winks and other details that repay repeated readings.
There are some great sequences of wordless or near wordless panels in which the action is advanced in a very economical fashion, but which also include significant narrative information. An example of this is the sequence in which the little monkey-demon climbs up Jerry's back, whispering in his ear and then Jerry begins to sculpt. Jerry's gaunt face and his look of haunted inevitability are terrifying on their own, not to mention the motif he sculpts into the clay.
Mignola also includes these fascinating little juxtapositions in which he links characters or images by mirroring some of their features. In one example, the panel of the monkey-demon running away screaming after Hellboy threw the silver button in his eye faces an image on the opposite page of the awakening statue of Moloch which corresponds almost exactly to the monkey-demon, with Moloch's nostrils standing in for the demon's eyes. A few pages later there is a panel featuring a figure from one of Jerry's paintings atop a panel featuring Hellboy with a similar mirroring effect.
After the destruction of Moloch and the weird thorny-vined heart at his core, Jerry tells Hellboy he will never paint again. To which Hellboy replies that this is not the worst news he has ever heard. While nobody wishes Mignola to give up drawing his comics altogether, if you consider the significant contributions artists such as Richard Corben and Jason Shawn Alexander have made to the Hellboy universe, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.