I wonder, at this point, if Mike Mignola could write a bad Hellboy book if he wanted. Seed of Destruction was `94 and we've had about a dozen Hellboy books, a hugely successful spin-off series, BPRD, and numerous other associated titles, assorted Hellboy anthologies, prose novels, and, of course, the superb movies. In other words, in the nearly 20 years since Mignola debuted Hellboy, he's turned a cool random sketch into one of the greatest comic book characters ever inhabiting one of the richest worlds created in comics. He knows Hellboy inside and out and knows exactly what kind of stories suit the character perfectly. So when in this latest book he basically retells Carlo Collodi's world famous novel Pinocchio with a young Hellboy in the lead, he knocks it out of the park, again - were you expecting anything less?
Set in Hellboy's youth, our plucky red hero escapes the BPRD one night and runs away to join the circus. But this is no ordinary circus as he is about to discover. Filled with devils, demons, monsters, and assorted spooky beings, he meets an over-familiar circus master and his feminine friend who show him around their shadowy carnival. As Professor Bruttenholm searches frantically for his young ward, Hellboy enacts the Pinocchio story through a series of magical tents - but who is the circus master really and what does he want with young Hellboy?
In Mignola's hands, Collodi's already unsettling story becomes even more warped and gothic, helped in large part by artist Duncan Fegredo's utterly gorgeous illustrations assisted by award-winning colourist, Dave Stewart . Longtime Hellboy readers will know what some of the more cryptic scenes mean as they allude to the overall Hellboy storyline where he is currently "dead" and in Hell, but new readers can still enjoy this book as a standalone spooky fairy tale.
It also has a really sweet moment between Professor Bruttenholm and Hellboy at the end as the Professor scoops up his adopted son - who will grow up to become the toughest dude in this world and the next but is right now a crying child wanting his dad - and the two walk off home together. The story starts out with father and son apart with the son feeling that he doesn't belong, to ending with the two closer than ever - and we get an awesome story in between as well! That's why I love this series so much - for all its imagination, wonder, and sheer artistry, Hellboy is a comic that also possesses a heart and true emotional core, and it's why I'll keep coming back to this comic for another 20 years.
The Midnight Circus is far shorter than the usual Hellboy book at just 56 pages, but still manages to tell an involving and memorable story from an era in Hellboy's life that remains largely unexplored, ripe with storytelling potential. It's yet another excellent book from the superstar creative team of Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo.