The HELLBOY Winter Special is everything you want an annual to be: several quick, entertaining, well-written stories with some really fun art that showcases a lot of talent.

Maybe what draws me most to this issue is that we don’t have to know a whole lot about the comic or the Hellboy character to enjoy it. It’s accessible and, frankly, refreshing. The most annoying thing about reading comics is the near-constant upkeep of tracking which timeline is which, who’s a clone of whom, and who’s dead or alive.

The Winter Special features four stories, all of which have so much to offer individually without taking away space from the others. The first features a lone traveler clothed only in skulls that he thinks will call down a fire from the air to make the world paradise. The art in this story is fantastic. It does a great job of using muted colors to make a winter scene and contrasting this tone with the yellow eyes of the traveler’s skulls and the meager but persistent blaze of the campfire he approaches.

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The next story, “Wandering Souls,” shows us Hellboy and another B.R.P.D. agent named Susan investigating a supposedly haunted industrial building in Wyoming. Any suspicion about supernatural influence on the building is confirmed the second a sheriff is possessed by the spirit of a long-dead Chinese railroad worker. Then, we get to watch Hellboy do what he does best: punch demons.

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Still, the demon-punching only lasts so long. This story is great because Hellboy eventually opts for non-fisticuffs conflict resolution.

“Mood Swings” takes us to Christmas Eve of 1975, where Hellboy and a teenage Liz Sherman (Hellboy’s pyrokinetic pal) are celebrating Christmas. Their walk in the snowy woods is suddenly interrupted by Snow Geists, parasites who crawl inside snowmen and feed on whatever unfortunate creature should happen to pass by.

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This was my favorite story of the bunch. The scenery in the woods is beautiful, and I loved the Snow Geists. One panel, it’s the picture of childhood play; the next, it’s a vicious demon dragging you to your doom. It feels like a really fun villain for Hellboy to have, and it lends itself to some so-campy-you-can’t-help-but-love-it artwork.

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The other great part about this story is seeing the young Liz Sherman. She’s moody and insecure, leading to some dialogue between her and Hellboy where you can almost hear Hellboy boiling over at how annoying she is to him.

The final story, “Kung Pao Lobster,” crams as much weirdness into two pages as it possibly can, which is why I love it so much. It’s a simple story: A man discovers that a Chinese restaurant is out of Kung Pao chicken and demands justice. The woman behind the counter then sheds her skin and reveals her hideous demon form. It’s only two pages long, and it’s this kind of surreal art style and simple story that makes it so much fun. You know that the artist was relaxed and had fun drawing it because of how silly it is. Personally, I like knowing people are having a blast with their work without taking it too seriously. This story is just so strange, and I love it.

This special delivered its four dollars’ worth by cramming a ton of great art and storytelling into one comic. It’s a lot of fun to read, and I love the winter theme. I’ll be reading this until Spring rolls around and re-reading in in joyful anticipation before the 2017 Hellboy Winter Special.

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