Tag Archives: P. Craig Russell

Review: “Hellboy Vol. VII: The Troll Witch And Others” by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, & Richard Corben

Title: The Troll Witch And Others
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Additional Artists: P. Craig Russell & Richard Corben
Series: Hellboy
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2007

That figures. I stated in my last Hellboy review that I couldn’t wait for the next volume to figure out where the story was going, and so of course the next collection was an anthology. Oh well, I like those best anyways….While he still handles most of the art, this time out, Mignola collaborates with a couple guest artists for special occasion stories.

We open in Malaysia, 1958 as Hellboy investigates a local creature known as The Penanggalan, a demon born when an old priestess accidentally kicked her own head off. (“That might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” “I did not say it was true, only that I believe it.”) A short, predictable, and delightfully strange tale. We then move on to Alaska, 1961 as Hellboy investigates claims of a monster haunting the grave of Hercules in The Hydra And The Lion. Mignola is the first to admit that this one doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in Hellboy’s world that really doesn’t matter too much. The Troll Witch takes us to Norway, 1963 as Hellboy investigates a series of horrific murders. This has the distinction of being one of the only stories where Hellboy doesn’t get to punch something, which leads to a bit of a subversion of your expectations. The Vampire Of Prague is set in 1982 and is Mignola’s first time writing for P. Craig Russell. This is some good stuff. I especially enjoyed the part where the vampire is chasing his own severed head down the street…. Dr. Carp’s Experiment takes us to New York, 1991 as Hellboy and the BPRD investigate a newly-discovered secret chamber in a notorious haunted house. This one was good, I always love a good time travel story. The Ghoul is set in London, 1992, and is one of the strangest Hellboy tales I’ve seen. It features our favorite demonic hero beating the crap out of a ghoul who speaks solely in creepy poetry, and a puppet theatre production of Hamlet. Makoma is another weird one, this time a collaboration with Richard Corben. Mignola draws the framing story set in 1993, while Corben draws the legend being narrated. I’m not entirely sure how to understand this one, but it seems to be about Hellboy in a past life. Sort of a “Wheel of Time” thing where everything repeats throughout time. If so, it sheds some light on Hellboy’s eventual battle with the Ogdru Jahad….

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Mild sexual content, and some non-sexual nudity. A fair amount of occult content, however. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Ghosts, vampires….the Beast of the Apocalypse…..

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Review: “Tales Of The Slayers” by Joss Whedon et al.

Title: Tales Of The Slayers
Writers: Joss Whedon, Amber Benson, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, & Doug Petrie
Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Tim Sale, Ted Naifeh, P. Craig Russell, Steve Lieber, Mira Friedmann, Gene Colan & Karl Moline
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Standalone Graphic Novel Anthology)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2002

I like anthologies. It’s fun to pick up a collection of works by different people, see how different writers handle a common theme or idea. In a graphic novel, that also translates into lots of different art styles, which is also cool. Some you’ll enjoy better than others, but that’s fine because the next person to pick up the book will probably have a whole different set of favorites. In the case of a media tie-in, an anthology has the added benefit of freeing an author from the bounds of what is happening in the show, allows them to explore character histories or even totally unrelated tales set in the same universe. In this particular anthology, the writers of the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer teamed up to write a series of short tales about different slayers down through history, from the first slayer all the way up to Fray living an undisclosed amount of time in the future.

Joss Whedon and Leinil Francis Yu start things off with the Prologue, visiting the first slayer as she is cast out of her village to fight the demons alone. Whedon then teams up with Tim Sale to bring us a tale (in verse!) of a medieval slayer defending her town in Righteous. Amber Benson and Ted Naifeh then take us to the bloody days of the French Revolution as a young slayer is pointed at an aristocratic accused-vampire in The Innocent. Jane Espenson and P. Craig Russell take us to Regency-era Britain, where a young slayer stalks her prey at a country ball in Presumption. We then whisk off to the American West with David Fury and Steve Lieber in The Glittering World as a young navajo slayer takes on the vampire who killed her Watcher, and witness the founding of Sunnydale. Rebecca Rand Kirshner and Mira Friedmann take us to Germany at the rise of Nazism, as a young slayer learns that not all evil is undead in Sonnenblume. Doug Petrie and Gene Colan take us to Harlem in the 1970s in Nikki Goes Down! as slayer Nikki Wood seeks to avenge the death of her cop boyfriend, dead at the hands of a vampire smuggling ring. Finally, Joss Whedon takes up the pen once again, this time teaming up with Karl Moline in Tales to bring us a story of a future slayer, Fray, as she discovers her heritage for the first time.

I really enjoyed this particular graphic novel. Writing-wise, I particularly enjoyed Jane Espenson’s Presumption, with it’s dialogue that paid obvious homage to Jane Austen’s characters and style and its killer twist just when you think you’ve figured out what’s what. I also tip my hat to Joss Whedon’s epic poem that serves as the narration for Righteous. From an artistic standpoint, the only tale I actively disliked was Mira Friedmann’s in Sonnenblume, but I admit freely that that is a matter of personal taste. I just hate that particular style, regardless of who is drawing it or what franchise it belongs to. Leinil Francis Yu’s artwork in the Prologue reminded me of Jan Duursema’s in certain Star Wars books, but that may have something to do with the character design of the first slayer resembling a more primitive Quinlan Vos. Tim Sale’s art in Righteous reminded me slightly of Mike Mignola’s, if slightly less stylized. Gene Colan’s take on Harlem in Nikki Goes Down wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I have to admit it fit the tale really well. It reminded me of something else I read a long time ago, but for the life of me I can’t place it. Lastly, the Karl Moline art in Tales is perhaps not my favorite style, but one that I’ve read quite a few excellent stories in and so have a certain fondness for….

CONTENT: Vampire violence, both biting people and being staked or otherwise killed. One is decapitated in a spectacular two-page spread. A girl is burned at the stake for witchcraft, and several other humans are killed as well as the vampires you would expect in a Buffyverse collection. Mild profanity. Brief sexual innuendos, pretty mild. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occult content, given their demonic nature.

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Review: Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” Set I

Title: Fables
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Various (See individual books on Goodreads for details)
Average Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DC Comics, 2002-2005

What if all the characters from your beloved fairy tales lived here in our world, in New York City? Welcome to the world of Bill Willingham’s award-winning Vertigo series Fables. This review is for the first five collected volumes, or issues #1-33. (I decided against reviewing each individual volume on here due to spoilers and generally not having enough to say to justify a full-out write up. On the other hand, Willingham doesn’t play nicely with status quo, so my secondary plan to just blanket review the whole series fell through as well. Instead, I’m reviewing what I consider to be longer, mostly-contained story arcs–from one earthshaking change to the next. You can find links to my short reviews of the individual volumes below.)

The premise is simple. Centuries ago* all of the Fables were driven from their lands by The Adversary, winding up in our world. They congregated in the New World, setting up their own community among us where they have been living ever since in relative peace. As a founding principle of their community, all sins commited in the Homeland are forgiven–you start out in Fabletown with a clean slate. No one embodies this fact more than Bigby (Big Bad) Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown and one of the main protagonists of the series. There are others, of course–this is an ensemble book, and you will get stories featuring everyone from Snow White to Flycatcher and everyone in between. Willingham has created something truly awesome here, taking characters we all know, as well as less familiar ones like Bluebeard, and putting a different spin on them. I’ll avoid spoilers, for the most part here. Some memorable characters we are introduced to here include:

-Bigby “Big Bad” Wolf: Sheriff of Fabletown and a werewolf (or more accurately a werehuman, as a wolf is his original form.) In the Homelands he was a feared beast before the Adversary came, at which point he became a severe thorn in the enemy’s side.
-Snow White: Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, first ex-wife of Prince Charming. King Cole, the Mayor, handles the ceremony and gladhanding; Snow handles the dirty business of keeping things running.
-Prince Charming: A serial womanizer and ex-husband of a number of Fable princesses. He has been spending most of his time in Europe, mooching off of the royalty there, but seems to have outstayed his welcome….
-Jack: Rose Red’s feckless boyfriend, always up to one get-rich-quick scheme or another. Former owner of some magic beans, among other claims to fame.
-Bluebeard: The richest man in Fabletown. In the Homelands he had a habit of killing his wives on their wedding night. He can’t be charged for this given the General Amnesty that holds the Fables community together, but everyone can’t help but wonder if he has returned to old habits.
Other characters drop in and out, usually becoming important in later volumes. Beauty and the Beast make an appearance, still together although when Belle gets annoyed with him Beast’s curse will begin to reappear. Little Boy Blue shows up as Snow’s assistant, seemingly young but with a deep-seated tragedy in his past haunting him. Cinderella would seem to be nothing more than a local shop owner, but is in reality one of Fabletown’s most experienced black operatives. Assorted other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters make up the supporting cast, from goblins to the Three Little Pigs. The tales in these first five volumes run the gamut, from a murder mystery to an attempted revolution, from an invasion to dealing with a Mundy who thinks he’s discovered their secret–the Fables are all vampires! I promise, you’ll have fun with this series. You can see the reviews for the individual collections below, but be forewarned that all but the first will have spoilers for the previous volumes….

Volume I: Fables In Exile (*****)
Volume II: Animal Farm (****)
Volume III: Storybook Love (*****)
Volume IV: March Of The Wooden Soldiers (*****)
Volume V: The Mean Seasons (****)

Content: This is a series from DC’s Vertigo line, intended for adults. Its firmly rated R, though maybe not so much as others from that house such as Preacher or anything written by Alan Moore. R-rated language, not on the level of a Tarantino flick, but assorted uses of the “F-bomb.” There’s not infrequent violence, and sometimes it can be a bit gory or disturbing. Sexual content also sometimes shows up, with occasional nudity. Some magic, but given the fairy tale setting I wouldn’t really describe it as “occult.”

*It would seem that the Fables are functionally immortal, though they can be killed.

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