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One Hell of a Something

If comics publishers went to an iTunes-style distribution, Hellboy Junior would be my first nomination. See, I don’t want the full album. The Hellboy Junior trade has some tracks I really, really love and others that I basically don’t want in my house.

The Hellbaby part is irresistible, a little red fellow in a diaper. I’m sold! But the rest of it has a lot of problems (ok, and so does the Hellbaby stuff, but I’ll get to that) and I can’t resolve them. There’s a certain attitude of Hey, we’re all good-minded liberals, so we can laugh at racist/sexist/homophobic/generally offensive humor because we know better than to mean it, unlike those awful insensitive people! and it bothers me. And unfortunately this means that I’m not at all interested in stories about “Huge Retarded Duck” or “The Ginger Beef Boy,” and so the only non-Hellboy comic I enjoyed was “Squid of Man,” by Bill Wray and Mike Mignola, a dark, inconsequential little story about the ups and downs of love in the home of a mad scientist. Apparently most of these stories take old Harvey comics characters and add in morbid sex jokes, but I’m don’t think knowing the source material would have increased my appreciation. I just don’t think looking at pictures of My Little Ponies having sex is funny, subversive or worth my time. I’m sure in the right context it could be, but I didn’t find that in any of the stories here.

The problem is not necessarily that I prefer my humor to be tasteful. Almost all the comics about Hellboy Junior, whom I prefer to call Hellbaby because it’s as cute as he and doesn’t imply weird paternity issues with Hellboy Senior, prominently feature Adolf Hitler. Idi Amin makes a guest appearance too. Somehow an endless string of tasteless maggot-eating jokes seem palatable to me, and even the story that mocks a transvestite witch redeems itself, but “let’s play shove the retard!” just isn’t funny. I think this is partly because Hellbaby is a recurring character, so it’s funny and poignant to see him try and fail again and again, but also he is a character. He has wants and desires and dislikes (maggots!) and he trusts people when he shouldn’t and then suffers for it. He’s a likeable little guy, gruff and petulant and red and diapered, just what anyone would want in a little devil.

I grabbed Hellboy Junior off the shelf and bought it solely because I’ve been obsessed with Hellbaby for months, and it met my Hellbaby needs all right. I’m just not sure I can recommend it except to people who consider Maakies a bit mild or who have fantasized since childhood about the adventures of “Wheezy the Sick Little Witch.” It’s not really the offensiveness of Hellboy Junior that annoys (more than offends, really) me, but the juvenile pride it seems to take in that offensiveness. If you’re going to revel in your depravity, can’t you do a little better than making incest jokes about poultry? I know from the back of the book that these are supposed to be “some of the funniest and most original comics ever to haunt the shelves,” but I’m not impressed. And I know that they’re only being made so that people like me will say, “Oh, but you can’t joke about that,” which is not quite what I’m saying. You can joke about it all you want, but I’ll be unimpressed and not laugh, unless you somehow manage to be really funny.

But there’s plenty of cutely hideous art with spectacular facial expressions. The Hellbaby stories do manage to get in a Nuremberg joke, which is one of my specialties, as well as a horrible, horrible, excellent Bob Dylan joke I didn’t get until my second read. I think I may just not give the stories I disliked another read, but the ones surrounding them should still hold up fine.


  1. Shane says:

    “If comics publishers went to an iTunes-style distribution”

    I talked about this a little in a recent post a while back. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it. html

    — 21 May 2004 at 4:19 pm (Permalink)

  2. Rose says:

    Shane, I guess I did see that and had had it at the back of my mind when I made that comment, but I can never remember where things are when I want them. I’ll comment more on your blog, but I don’t think the system you propose would be financially feasible or in the interests of Marvel and DC at least, since I don’t see how it would do anything to enhance shareholder value, but it’s an interesting idea and I wouldn’t be surprised if parts of it show up in the future.

    — 25 May 2004 at 1:58 pm (Permalink)