February 16, 2011

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The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects

Written by Mike Mignola (with Katie Mignola)
Illustrated by Mike Mignola
Dark Horse

This is a collection of Mike Mignola written and Mike Mignola illustrated stories, with all the usual weirdness this implies. That's really all you need to know, because you're either a fan of the Hellboy creator or you're not--his style doesn't exactly lend itself to being neutral.

If you are a fan and haven't read this one yet, you definitely need to find a copy right away. Much as I'm grateful that Mignola teams with other artists so that we can get more creative work from his brilliant (if obviously demented) brain, there is nothing quite like seeing Mignola's vision as laid out by Mignola himself. His layouts are often easily as interesting as the story itself, leading the reader's eyes all over the page and allowing Mignola to let the dialog part of his script take second fiddle to the art when it's appropriate.

This collection leads off with a proto-steampunk story where a superhero known as the screw-on head battles the evils of the world at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln, looking totally awesome Mingola-ized and completely unflappable, despite facing horrors that make the Civil War look like a parade march. Using a clever combination of snark and Victorian seriousness, Mignola earned a well-deserved Eisner for this story that fits perfectly within the Hellboy world while not actually being a part of it.

It would be hard to top a story with an animated robot head and Abraham Lincoln, but the rest of the contributions are pretty solid. A follow-up tale of sorts uses a variation on the Jack in the Beanstalk legend to good effect, with Mignola drawing a cool and creepy devil that takes on the role of the giant. Mignola's representation of the beanstalk is something to see, with his dialog again balancing old ideas with modern speech.

That's not the only appearance of the devil, however, as he shows his evil head again as a flippant lord of evil in The Witch and Her Soul. This time around, Old Scratch wants two creations of a witch who sold her soul to the devil. They bargain for their life--and win. Or do they? I think it's kind of funny that even in a collection with no Hellboy, we still see Mignola drawing large read creatures. Guess you gotta go with what you know!

Prisoner of Mars more or less closes down this collection, with Mignola putting on his early science fiction hat (doing it better than Alan Moore, and with a lot less things that make me want to wash my eyes out with bleach) and using stereotypical British stoicism to relate a rather fantastic story. Within the space of just a few pages, a man kills a crazed colleague and ends up with his essence turned into a walking tin pan on the surface of Mars, only to be rewarded for heroic action in saving two planets. It's absolutely preposterous and the pacing of the story makes it even more ridiculous. I love Mignola's artistic choices here (he mentions in the bonus material how much fun it was to draw characters in this story), and if I'd only seen in text form, I'd have guessed it for a piece contemporary with Verne and Wells.

I'm a huge Mignola fan, so this was an easy sell for me. It's obviously not the place to start for those looking into his work for the first time, but anyone who only knows his Hellboy universe material really needs to pick this one up. Abraham Lincoln will thank you!