July 7, 2021

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Cool Off with Hellboy: Haunted Houses, Hellboy & Horror


I will often only read horror stories in the summer because reading horror during the long nights of winter seems like a great way to give myself nightmares. Scary books can serve as a cheap alternative to air conditioning. For instance, I remember spending happy hours at the beach reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. So when I saw that there was a new Hellboy title set in a haunted mansion, I knew this would be the perfect thing to read on a hot, muggy day.


The eponymous house is appropriately creepy, but you can also see that it still has good bones (I just started house hunting, forgive me for my musings on the Zillow listing of this place). The house has to still be somewhat desirable to own because otherwise you have to wonder why these people don’t just run out of there and go to the nearest Holiday Inn. Instead of the furniture and artwork being reduced to dust by the passage of decades, it instead seems as if the residents suddenly vanished without taking anything with them. Hellboy is met by the psychic Madame Zemperelli who asks him, “What's your approach to a place like this? A true haunting?" Hellboy, in typical nonplussed fashion responds, "A wrecking ball or a really good fire."

 

I like the exaggerated facial features of Shawn McManus’s characters. Madame Zemperelli has the thin, arched eyebrows of the 1950s, and she holds her cigarettes like film stars from that era did. McManus does a great job with the fashions, hairstyles, and makeup of the mid-1800s, 1920s, and 1980s when this story takes place. Carter Stroud, the current heir to the house at first doesn’t come across as a typical rich kid. Instead, of putting him in yacht-wear or giving him a Knives Out fisherman sweater, McManus uses Carter’s body language to show the reader that this man is a spoiled skeptic.

The writing by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden reminds me a bit of British mystery writers Agatha Christie and P.D. James. Both Christie and James were able to establish their supporting characters (who were often also suspects) very quickly, which pulled the reader into the story. Since this is a limited two-issue series, the story has to hit the ground running. And not only does the reader get a sense for the personalities of the great-great-grandson of the house's builder and his fiancĂ©e, but he also gives those characters goals. Just like with most great murder mysteries, the events in this story are set into motion due to a will. There are some scary and gory moments, but nothing too extreme, which I really appreciated. And Hellboy's perpetual annoyance at the supernatural, psychics, and entitled heirs is always amusing and serves to relieve the tension. That the first volume ends on a cliffhanger isn’t surprising, but I was pleased that the cause of the house’s haunting isn’t what it first appeared to be.

Huh. Do you think home sellers are required by law to disclose that their house is haunted? I wonder if it varies by state.


Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Secret of Chesbro House #1 (of 2)
Mike Mignola: writer
Christopher Golden: writer
Shawn McManus: art, Cover A
Dave Stewart: coloring
Ben Stenbeck: Cover B