Mike Mignola's Hellboy is the first serialized comic I followed as it was released. It was, and is, a wonderful journey full of poetic plot twists proving Mignola is willing to shatter his own status quo time and time again in the slow, inevitable journey towards the end times. But as great as the ongoing story has been, I find myself increasingly missing the discrete short stories that make up a good chunk of Hellboy. These charming musings on folklore, recreations of old myths, and magical, pulpy detective stories explored the wider world of Hellboy outside the confines of working towards the overall plot thrust. As such, for a Hellboy fan there is an inherent comfort, perhaps even nostalgia, in a book like the Hellboy Winter Special which provides four short stories set in the world of Hellboy. The first is 'Broken Vessels' written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie with art by Tim Sale. This story is the only one in which Hellboy does not personally appear (which is a little odd for a story in a Hellboy special). It's a slight, tragic tale about an ancient hunter who encounters a man intent on bringing back the power of Hyperborea (an integral piece of the Hellboy mythos). There's not much story here, but it's a nice demonstration of the standby Hellboy theme of evil forces destroying even their most fervent of servants. 'Broken Vessels' is also by far the prettiest story in the book as Tim Sale creates a stylized campfire setting of shadows, silhouettes, and stylization which never borders on cartoonishness.
The second and longest story is 'Wandering Souls' written by Mike Mignola and Chris Robertson with art by Michael Walsh. This is the sort of story that Mike Mignola has been writing for over twenty years and exactly what one would want out of a Hellboy special. Set in the 1950s, Hellboy and a young BPRD agent embark to a Wyoming mining town to investigate a series of ghost sightings. The ghosts' motivations and interactions with the young agent Xiang provide an emotional center which nicely compliments the traditional 'Hellboy vs. Monsters' side of the story. Michael Walsh's art is not particularly exciting, but gets across the action and horror aspects of the story nicely. I got the impression that some elements of this story may tie into the recent 'Hellboy and the BPRD' series which I have not read, but even so, it's a quality standalone mystery.
The third story 'Mood Swings', written by Chelsea Cain illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming, is something completely different: A Hellboy Christmas comedy! Professor Broom, Hellboy, and an adolescent Liz Sherman gather to exchange gifts (Broom gets a pet rock and Hellboy gets novelty antlers, neither are happy) but also to talk about Liz's teenage moodiness. And later there are some haunted snowmen, but that's hardly important. It's a purposefully silly story that gets a number of big laughs out of the exaggeratedly moody teenage Liz ('I knew it; you took me out in the woods to kill me. It's so unfair!'). Oeming, whose art I normally don't like, proves a perfect fit for Cain's lighthearted script, making it clear that none of the characters are supposed to be anything but goofy and loveable.
The final entry, 'King Pau Lobster' written and illustrated by Dean Rankine, is less a story than a two-page joke with resident grim vigilante Lobster Johnson as the punchline. How much you like it will likely come down to how big a fan you are of Rankine's grotesque, cartoonish sense of humor. For me, it didn't quite land, but as short as it is, it hardly matters.
As a whole, the special is a very good, if never quite vital, addition to the Hellboy library. It offers a fun piece of world building, a classic Hellboy detective story, a delightful comedic story, and, well, something with Lobster Johnson. For the dedicated fan waiting anxiously for another issue of Hellboy in Hell (I feel your pain), this is a good interim fix of Hellboy-goodness.
Hellboy Winter Special Writers: Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, Chris Robertson, Chelsea Cain, Dean Rankine Artists: Tim Sale, Michael Walsh, Michael Avon Oeming, Dean Rankine Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/27/16 Format: One-Shot; Print/Digital