In 1948 a young Hellboy sneaks away from the BPRD headquarters only to encounter a weird travelling circus. Taken on a tour by the enigmatic ringmaster, Hellboy is shown portents of his existence that could only originate from hell.
Traditionally the Hellboy stories are told as a series of mini series’ or one-shots, each in some way playing off others to form a larger continuity while managing to stand-alone. This has always made for a very reader friendly library and allowed the Hellboy saga to unravel in an organic way that avoids the slavishness, and often dips in quality, of an ongoing series.
Despite an excellent record for producing fine quality collected trade paperbacks and deluxe hardbacks, The Midnight Circus marks the first original graphic novel Hellboy outing from Dark Horse, but if they can manage to sustain this level of quality, let’s hope it’s not the last.
First off it should be stated that this graphic novel should not be anyone’s introduction to the Hellboy stories (I would always recommend reading in published order as they’re all still in print.), it is, however, highly recommended to those who’ve read the occasional Hellboy story and a MUST read to regular followers, not because it has some major continuity effecting beats, quite the opposite in actual fact, narrative-wise it could be put next to the more ‘throw away’ one-shots in the Hellboy canon; no, The Midnight Circus needs to be read because it’s so damn beautiful.
Regular readers will know that the only artist Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola, has trusted to illustrate core stories, besides himself, is British artist, Duncan Fegredo, and it is Fegredo who has been tasked with producing the art for this story. Purists may look down on his style simply because it isn’t Mignola’s but those of a keener eye can see that while he my not wield the pure graphical stylisation of Mignola, his line work and inking does contain that undeniable Mignola spirit, while at the same time having a more ‘traditional’ illustrative look, higher levels of detail and more dynamism.
The beauty of this story can’t be entirely laid on his shoulder’s though as much of the congratulations also belong to Dark Horse super-colourist, Dave Stewart. Always a perfect judge of what is required for a story, Stewart here has combined his ‘usual’ Hellboy style of flat earthy colours combined with shocking red for the more down to earth sections of the story, with a lighter, more detailed colour-wash for the ethereal elements of the story. It all comes together for form a stunning looking final product that begs to be leafed through time and again.
The story, penned by Mike Mignola himself, is brisk and less literal than the average Hellboy story. Some may describe it as trippy, others esoteric, which may or may not be your cup of tea, but you’ll be through it within twenty minutes either way as isn’t much longer than a two issue mini and with a reduced word count at that. This may in fact put some people off, being that it has the price tag of a premium product, but trust me when I say that if something that looks this excellent, presented in such a beautifully designed hardcover edition came from one of the Big Two companies, they would certainly be charging at least $8 more for it.
Hellboy: The Midnight Circus may not be an ‘important’ Hellboy story but it most assuredly IS an important Hellboy product, and one no real fan should be without.
B- grade – for storytelling
A grade – for artwork
B grade – for pacing
Overall grade – B+