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Roundtable Review: ‘Hellboy in Mexico’

ComicsAlliance writers Laura Hudson, Chris Sims, Caleb Goellner, Jason Michelitch, Chris Murphy, and David Uzumeri sit down for a roundtable discussion about the newly released “Hellboy in Mexico #1 by Mike Mignola, Richard Corben and Dave Stewart. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Chris Sims: Happy Cinco De Mayo!

Jason: Oh yeah, nice synchronicity. I didn’t even notice that was the release date. Well played, Dark Horse.

Jason:I haven’t read a “Hellboy” book since Mignola stopped drawing them, till now. But “Hellboy” almost never needs context, which is part of the beauty of “Hellboy.”

Chris Sims: I don’t think this has anything to do with any other “Hellboy” stuff, other than being a fun little diversion to bridge the time between us finding out that Hellboy’s the descendant of both King Arthur AND Satan, which is the most metal thing ever. I will say that I was expecting something a little more… I guess “zany” would be the word? More “hijinx” and less “total bummer?” But it’s still a pretty great issue.

Laura: Can anyone give some context on luchadore culture? All I really know is that they wrestle with masks on.

Chris Sims: Ohohohohoho. Okay, well, remember how we were talking about how most pro wrestling fans don’t actually think it’s real? Well, in Lucha Libre, it’s not that they “think it’s real,” but things are taken VERY seriously. The characters are generally bigger and more super-heroic/super-villainous (hence the masks), and the mask itself is a sign of honor. Luchadores are closer to super-hero culture than their American counterparts, in that they have actual “Secret Identities” that they don’t give up.David: Are the fights still largely rigged/plotted, or are the results up in the air?

Chris Sims: The matches are still scripted. In fact, as seriously as the matches are taken, Lucha-style wrestling uses more moves that require “assistance” from the opponent and are obviously “fake.” But for a masked luchador, the mask is a point of pride, and they never remove them in public. El Santo and Blue Demon were even buried wearing their masks. It’s considered extremely dishonorable to try to remove an opponent’s mask during a match, although people will occasionally wager them, just like championship titles. You can have Title vs. Mask, Mask vs. Mask, Mask vs. Hair.

Jason
: That’s interesting, because when the vampire wrestler is defeated at the end, he had taken his mask off to reveal his monster face, but then when he dies his original mask is in place again.

David: Jason, I think that has to do with the fact that Hellboy impaled him on his heart tattoo, thereby staking him and removing him of his powers.

Jason: Right, but: He had taken his mask off. So when he reverts to his real face, the comic is saying his real mask is his real face.

Chris Sims: Exactly, Jason: He’s revealing his dishonorable (or rudo) side by removing his mask, which can also be seen as a show of contempt for Lucha Libre and the audience. But in death, his honor is restored. As is LA MASCARA!

Laura: That’s kind of awesome.

Chris Sims: It totally is. See? I told you guys it was possible to do a wrestling comic and have it be really good.

Jason: Yeah, this is a nice counterpoint coming right after last week. The wrestling action itself is pretty great, and in a comic book action way. I love that jump in that last panel.

David: I know a lot of people like to dump on [artist] Richard Corben for reasons I’ll never understand, but he knocked this out of the park, although I think a lot of the aesthetic appeal in the Hellboyverse comes from Dave Stewart’s as always absolutely pitch perfect, intelligently rendered, unmistakable coloring.

Jason: I love Corben. I actually have some bits about his art vs. Mignola’s and such, but I can save that for when we’re a little further into the book.

Chris Sims: This isn’t the first time Mike Mignola’s delved into Lucha culture, either. The Lobster Johnson mini-series had little text pieces that charted Lobster Johnson’s popularity as a fictional character, and it detailed stuff like pulp novels and comics, but then got into when there were Lobster Johnson “Mexploitation” luchador films that were along the lines of “El Santo y Blue Demon vs. Los Monstruosos,” where Santo and the Blue Demon fight Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy and Frankenstein.

Laura: The coloring does a great job of making the book seem colorful and bleak at the same time.

Chris Sims: Yeah, I love that Hellboy’s such a bright red, and the luchadores are like… teal and gold. But everything around them’s all dark and horrible.

Jason: I’ve run out of positive things I can say about Dave Stewart. He’s one of the few people who can get me to give a book a shot just because he’s the colorist on it.

Caleb: The art really nails a balance between Mignola’s line art and a deep sense of texture. There’s a grit that’s almost alive when it needs to be.

David: What I love about Stewart — and this book totally takes advantage of it – is that he makes the negative space interesting. When you’ve got an expansive sky, or a big patch of field, or whatever other area that doesn’t have linework, he doesn’t just use the PS Gradient tool and call it a day, and that makes an absolute world of difference to me.

Laura: The red constrast is a really sharp one, and we see it only in blood, and in the eyes of monsters, and then in Hellboy.

Jason: Has Stewart always colored Hellboy? I don’t have any of my books around me

David: For a looooooong time. I always kind of resent Hellboy for it, because it’s always what makes Stewart leave other projects. Like, I almost cried inside when I got “Batman” #658 and saw “Colors by Guy Major.”

Laura: And there’s the red tattoo on Esteban’s chest, the heart with a cross surrounded by yellow, which turns green when he becomes a monster. And changes into a heart with a snake instead. That actually hisses.

Chris Sims: It’s a Sacred Heart.

David: I wonder if any of this stuff is in the script, or if it’s just Stewart on the fly. I mean, he must have a degree of shorthand with Mignola and the artists.

Laura: Actually, when Hellboy first starts fighting Esteban he’s a totally different red — a flat, faded red for the first time in the book. And he doesn’t turn true red unti
l he starts fighting and lands his first punch.

David: Wow, you’re right.

Chris Sims: I like that all the Spanish in this book is, like, day-one Spanish class stuff. “Donde esta Esteban?” “Esteban? No mas!” “Gracias, amigo!”

David: I liked that because it allowed me to actually understand it using what remnants of high school Spanish I still hold in my damaged brain.

Chris Sims: Perhaps you can check this comic out at your local biblioteca.

Chris M: What’s the translation of monster Esteban’s luchadore name? Camazotz?

Chris Sims: Camazotz was an evil Mayan god. He was a Death Bat.

Laura: Via Wikipedia: “In the Popol Vuh, Camazotz are the bat-like monsters encountered by the Maya Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque during their trials in the underworld of Xibalba. The twins had to spend the night in the House of Bats where they squeeze themselves into their own blowguns in order to defend themselves from the circling bats. Hunahpu stuck his head out of his blowgun to see if the sun had risen and Camazotz immediately snatched off his head and carried it to the ballcourt to be hung up as the ball to be used by the gods in their next ballgame.”

Laura: Interesting that it involves twins, because we have these two older brothers, and we never actually learn their names.

David: Also, that myth is TOTALLY AWESOME.

Chris Sims: Yeah, he picked a good one here. Not only is it a giant death bat vampire monster, but it’s actually associated with sports, too.

Jason: I want to see Corben illustrate that myth. Especially an 18-page long sequence of the ballgame at the end.

David: The part about bringing it up to the gods is what makes it, like little kids trying to have a baseball game and hitting the ball into the mean neighbor’s yard.

Laura: The main monsters — are they vampires? They look zombie-ish to me. All Dia Del Muerto-y.

Jason: Pretty sure vampires.

Laura: Also the moral of this story is basically that you shouldn’t party too hard.

Chris Sims: Andrew WK has been a vampire since 2003.

David: Yeah, they look like garden variety undead to me.

Chris Sims: Maybe they’re meant to look like Santo’s monsters.

David: Another amazing touch I just realized: The Virgin Mary statue’s eyes are closed in the 1982 timeline. Or, the paint wore off, and Corben is rendering the space where the eyes were as closed eyelids, which is amazing.

Chris Sims: I really like that this one sort of addresses a trick about Hellboy, which is that he goes up against all these monsters and myths and Baba Yagas and usually just ends up punching them into submission. He does it here, too, but there’s a while there where you get to see what happens when a guy who literally fistfights demons goes up against a demon that all it does is fight. You’ve got Hellboy throwing punches like he usually does, but then Camazotz just straight uses elbow smashes and a senton splash and the Poison Rana. It’s pretty great.

Laura: And then afterwards, he basically decides to be him for a while. Rather than become the guy who fights monsters again, he takes some time to just be a luchadore. Like his buddy, who became a monster.

Chris Sims: He sort of makes the same path in reverse. Esteban is a luchador who becomes a monster hunter who then becomes a monster. Hellboy’s a monster who becomes a monster hunter and then becomes a luchador.

Jason: That was something I was going to ask people – if they thought the implication at the end is that Hellboy embarked on a wrestling career, which then became immortalized by actors after the fact. Or if the character of Hellboy is just spread around the countryside, and turned into a luchadore character. I could see it either way.

David: Jason, I was wondering the same thing, but the dates line up – ’56. It looks like a dude in a Hellboy outfit, but could it be Hellboy wearing a mask? The body looks totally just like a regular dude, though.

Jason: No, there’s different coloring. That’s totally an actor at the end.

Chris Sims: Is it? I think it’s actually Hellboy. Because he’s actually got holes in his mask for his horns, which is awesome.

David: Well yeah, but there’s that missing few months, apparently.

Jason: But the coloring of the body clashes with the red of the hand and the face really, really strongly

Laura: But isn’t the contrast on the face coming from a mask, though?

Caleb: This is the problem with black and white film. Yeah, looking at it again, I think you’re right. Well, maybe. He’s got the hand. And a tail.

Jason: I think it’s just meant to show the impression Hellboy left on the country and the people.

Chris Sims: If we could see his feet, we could settle this.

Chris M: Also, in the close-up he’s shown to have no pupils.

Chris Sims: Yeah. I’m re-re-evaluating my previous stance! I VOTE YES FOR LUCHA HELLBOY. El Nino de Infierno.

Chris M: So, are we to assume he was so drunk during that time he forgot his lucha career entirely, or does he just not want to own up to it?

Laura: There is a strong anti-drinking message in here, which I think unfairly blames alcohol for the death of Esteban when they all could have just as easily been asleep regardless.

David: A strong what? Dude, I want to down a bottle of tequila right now.

Caleb: I think you guys should wrestle for it.

Jason: I think the message is not so much drinking, per se, but hard living that takes away your edge.

Chris Sims: Actually, if there’s a drinking message, it’s a weird one. Esteban gets killed because they’re drunk, but then after they solve the problem, Hellboy gets so drunk he forgets months of his life.

Jason: “You can’t go on like that forever.”

David: Months where he apparently inspires a nation.

Laura: Good point!

Chris Sims: “You can’t go on like that forever… Laura Hudson.”

Chris M: I think it’s a message on using the buddy system when you drink. Make sure no one drinks and wanders off alone.

Chris Sims: You need to have a Designated Driver. Or in this case a Designated Luchador Monster Lookout.

David: Honestly, the only message I got out of this was that luchadores driving around Mexico in a pick-up with a Virgin Mary bed ornament killing the undead are goddamn badass.

Caleb: Is there a brand listed on the pre- and post-Esteban death booze? Because there are good
and bad brands.

Chris M: Part of me really, really want it to have been Wild Turkey to tie in with the mysterious devil turkey

Laura: That turkey was f–king terrifying.

Chris M
: And it appeared, what, twice? And didn’t really do anything by itself, right?

Jason: That’s a classic Mignola trope. The turkey made me laugh, almost like it was a spoof of the standard Mignola animals-with-creepy-eyes-that-do-nothing-but-be-creepy panels

Laura: Also, the way the Virgin Mary statue looks like she’s staring into the next panel at the turkey.

Jason M: That strip, right there, actually, was where I got totally on board with this book. Before that I was unsure. After that I was sold.

Chris Sims: Yes.That is just a fantastic sequence. Creepy Animal. Virgin Mary. Luchadores in a pickup truck. Let’s do this.

Caleb: You guys think there’s any significance in the fact that there’s three brothers? The holy trilogy?

Chris M: Trinity. The holy trilogy is, depending on your faith of preference, “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings.”

Laura: I think the two older brothers are secretly the Maya Hero Twins.

Jason: I have this weird relationship to non-Mignola drawn Hellboy in that I always enjoy it when I read it, but I never have any interest in reading it before I do.

David: I really need to get back into it. I was loving the overall arc Mignola was building, and I should just suck it up and dive back in. I keep hearing “BPRD” is fantastic, as well, with way more of a soap opera element. Like, this was a big reminder to me: Hey, David, you’re a nerd who likes big serialized stories about the supernatural. Here is a gigantic interconnected universe of that shit that you have ignored for no reason that’s generally awesome, and you should be reading it.

Jason: “Hellboy” was always such an artistic experience, particular to Mignola’s shadows, angles, rhythms, that when I read stories drawn by others it’s like listening to your favorite band but with a new lead singer. That said, Corben is a perfect choice for a Luchadore story, because out of all the Hellboy-verse artists, his line is the roundest.

Chris Sims: I think most people would prefer Mignola to draw Hellboy, but it’s not like he’s picked out a bunch of slouches. It’s Richard Corben and Duncan Fegredo.

David: And throughout all of it is the work of the God of All Color.

Chris M: It kept having moments, like the panel sequence that was brought up, that made me go, “Oh my god, this is awesome,” and then it kept topping itself again and again after that

Chris Sims: It’s a great blend of the over-the-top good vs. evil nature of Lucha culture (and by extension, pro wrestling) with super-heroics and horror. See, Titan Publishing? It IS possible.

Jason M: Also, it has art with an identifiable personality. Which I think can’t be overstated. That was always Hellboy’s biggest strength, and Mignola has chosen the right people to keep that an important element of the overall success of his line.

Chris M: And it’s interesting that, at least partly, U.S. appreciation of lucha culture is sometimes done in a kind of ironic, tongue and cheek, look how silly it all is way. And yet this honors it and takes it seriously while still having fun with it.

Jason: I think that ability to balance seriousness while embracing the absurdity is an important point that all comics featuring people in spandex slapping each other could stand to learn from…or re-learn from, as they used to know it.

David: In the end, I think these kinds of stories are the things we can all look forward to in Mark Millar’s “CLiNT.”

Chris Sims
: How hard do you think Mark Millar stares at people with that grin on his face when he says “It’s named CLiNT!” Just waiting for them to go “OH THAT’S CLEVER!”

David: I could politely tell him to FLiCK off.

Chris M: I imagine he follows it up with, “wait, wait, let me write it down for you”

Jason: Being inordinately fond of that particular printing/reading error, I kind of like the name.

Chris M: So, Mark Millar’s basically turned into the nudge nudge wink wink guy from Python?

David: It’s funny, since now that “Let’s Be Friends Again” strip from a day or two ago seems insanely prescient.

David: Curt on the right is Mark Millar.

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