Masks and Monsters consists of two team-up stories. In the first, written by James Robinson and drawn by Mignola, Hellboy meets Batman, but actually teams up with the modern Starman, in a tale which involves modern day Nazis and a plan for world conquest set in the rainforest jungles of the Amazon. The original Starman has been kidnapped, because his research is crucial to the Nazi plan, and it is a tale of rescue, both of a father and the planet. It also reminds us who our real monsters are.
The second story, written and laid-out by Mignola, but drawn by Scott Benefiel and inked by Jasen Rodriguez, teams Hellboy up with Ghost, a spirit avenger armed with two non-spectral .45s, to fight another plan for world domination. This one comes from a resurrected spirit of an ancient Babylonian god, but derives from some brutal murders back in 1939. Since Hellboy is the world's greatest paranormal investigator, this is paranormal worthy of his talents.
Both stories are entertaining, showing different sides of the Hellboy character, which is a facinating one: The Thing combined with a hard-boiled detective perhaps. But I couldn't escape the idea that they would have been better had the drawing assignments been switched. Benefiel's art works best with highlighting the combination of spectral qualities and pin-up looks of Ghost, but might have been even better suited to the rumble in the jungle, although I accept the early part of the story set in Gotham City is perfect for Mignola's own art. Mignola's darkness, the hard-angles shadows and hard-edged almost abstract figures, is in a line that goes from Kirby through Steranko, and Chaykin, and I couldn't help but feel it might have adapted itself to the almost Dr Strange quality of the Ghost tale.
But the other thought which I couldn't escape was that the better team-up of these characters might have been Batman and Ghost. They are both driven by the urge for venegeance, to an almost sociopathic level (of course Ghost is a ghost). The Ghost's costume aims more at the flesh than the ectoplasm,
but you see the point. It's a natural team-up, and a woman already dead
is perfect for The Batman, if not Bruce Wayne. But when I looked at her twin .45s I could not help but thinking of The Shadow, the most obvious stylistic precursor of The Batman. And I discovered quickly that Dark Horse had indeed done a team-up with them: that's something I now will have to check out.
Hellboy: Masks and Monsters by Mike Mignola et al
Dark Horse Books 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978595825674