Mike Mignola’s universe at Dark Horse is in an interesting era right now. When it started back in the 90s, it was simply Mignola telling stories with Hellboy in mythology, folklore and whatever he was passionate about. As that progressed, it became more of an ongoing narrative that necessitated the spin-off series BPRD. For a while, it was those books and a couple of other mini-series. But in 2019 the stories of the BPRD and Hellboy hit a definitive endpoint. The universe’s main stars’ adventures came to an end. But of course, we still love Hellboy and friends and don’t want to say goodbye, so Mignola found new ways to keep the franchise going. One of those is Young Hellboy, a series that focuses on the adventures of Hellboy when he was a child. Young Hellboy: Assault on Castle Death is the newest instalment in this series and what I shall be reviewing today.
This first issue is written by Mike Mignola and Tom Sniegoski with art by Craig Rousseau, colours by Chris O’Halloran and lettering by Clem Robins. The issue picks up after the events of the previous Young Hellboy story, The Hidden land. That story followed Hellboy as he was stranded on a pre-historic island and featured the same creative team as this issue. However, this is a pretty fresh start and fairly new reader friendly, catching you up to speed quickly.
After Hellboy’s adventures on the island, he and the BPRD are relocated to Connecticut. This issue mostly deals with the fallout of that as Hellboy struggles with settling into a new location. Parallel to this is the reveal of the story’s main threat. We are introduced to Mikey, a man living a seemingly very mundane suburban life. However, we learn that he was raised as a child to ultimately kill the Beast of the Apocalypse, known to us as Hellboy. So this issue focuses on laying that initial groundwork and introducing us to this new character.
This issue is somewhat hard to talk about because most of what I like about it is too spoilery to really get into. It brings in some of the pulpy sensibilities present in The Hidden Land. That story had a very old-school adventure serial aesthetic playing off old DC comics like The Land That Time Forgot. It was fun and adventurous, which reflected the wide-eyed innocence of Young Hellboy. This story immediately establishes itself to be a bit darker and with more of a connection to future Hellboy stories. Unfortunately, this childlike pulp adventure style runs into some issues when it brings in a darker edge.
The art by Craig Rousseau is very cartoony. It has hard lines and angles, emphasising character expression over background detail. On a heightened island full of creatures and animals lost to time, it makes more sense, everything is heightened, and there is an air of fantasy throughout. It has the look and feel of a Saturday morning cartoon while still feeling very grounded. However, this story has more ominous imagery and some genuine horror visuals. For these moments, the simplicity of the art seems to clash somewhat with the severity of the story. Mike Mignola could make simplicity work, but he always knew how to shade it to imply darkness. The art was simple, but the scarcity of detail let your mind fill in the blanks. Here Rousseau’s art doesn’t have that nuance and doesn’t seem to have any shadows.
The issue is sadly not helped by O’Halloran’s brighter and childlike colours, which look great but don’t work as well for this story. The Hidden Land felt like Indiana Jones, and in some ways, this still feels like that. It’s just that now, it wants to also be the Exorcist. It’s a shame because this artistic team has done great work before, and Mignola has shown that his darker stories can work with a cartoony aesthetic. Here though, it never quite clicked together for me.
However, this is still a good start, and I do recommend it if you love Hellboy as much as I do. It sets up an interesting conflict and introduces an element that Mignolaverse fans are bound to love. I only hope that, in the future, its story can coalesce into a satisfying and consistent whole.