Edited by Kaitlin Campos
As Henry James said on his deathbed, “Here it is at last the distinguished thing,” by which I mean we’ve finally reached the end of the amazingly good series Itty Bitty Hellboy.
I don’t think I’ve properly conveyed in previous reviews just how great Itty Bitty Hellboy is, largely because my review of the 4th issue where I really got into the meat of why this is a great series never saw print, but as I’ve reached the degree of autonomy where I choose which of my reviews I publish, I’ve decided to rectify that fact. But very quickly here’s a few need-to-knows: Hellboy is a demon raised by humans who fights monsters; he’s probably the most successful indie superhero-type character of the 2000s, and, as such, has accumulated a large roster of supporting characters such as Liz Sherman, who can control fire with her mind, and Abe Sapien, a fish man, who are featured on the cover of Itty Bitty Hellboy #5.
Though normally written by Mike Mignola, the character and his roster of friends have been loaned out to writers Art Baltazar and Franco, with Baltazar on art duty for a more kid-friendly version of a character known mainly for smoking and swearing but also well-known for punching monsters with his giant stone hand, and the main series is super bleak right now, so it makes sense to have something lighter.
That last bit about the main Hellboy universe being a pit of angsty despondence is part of why I love Itty Bitty Hellboy as much as I do. These characters have reached a point where they’re normally choked with inaction, constant failures, crippling cynical pessimistic defeatism, and an internal mythology so dense that it warps space around it so reading something that has them recast as unequivocally upbeat, positive, optimistic, and just enjoying life and their own abilities is more than just a breath of fresh air— it’s downright inspiring. Don’t misconstrue that as me only liking the series for its contrast to the darker mainstream one. I would love Itty Bitty Hellboy regardless of whatever was engulfing the normal canon for the character because of its charming blend of cartoonish humor, easily digestible pacing, and masterful juggling of such an expansive roster of characters.
Each new issue of Itty Bitty Hellboy is closer to a loose confederation of skits all tied together through a central theme, usually the location or event of the day for the characters. This creates a great pacing for the book; you never feel bogged down with any one of the various skits, because they’re all kept light and breezy, with what is, in essence, a very simple comedic set-up. More than anything, this reminds me of a newspaper-style comic strip, which, as I mentioned, really works for this format. It keeps the story flowing steadily without making the episodic nature feel intrusive— in fact, you don’t even notice that’s what’s happening unless you look for the individual titles at the bottom right-hand corner of the page. At the same time, this format properly allows each of the ever-expanding roster of characters a proper amount of screen time, which is good because one of Baltazar and Franco’s greatest strengths is imbuing these characters with an infectious energy, as well as unique (but still fun) individual personalities.
This is part of why I feel Itty Bitty Hellboy is a great recommendation for younger readers— nearly every character in it has a unique personality and something worth imitating for younger kids. Hellboy himself is done as exuberant and enthusiastic, enjoying his life and his friends, as well as someone who isn’t afraid to try new things. Liz here provides a great contrast to Liz in my review of B.P.R.D. #114, in that she is upbeat and friendly, and most at all, proud of her natural fire controlling-abilities; she sees them as a great personal talent. Even Lobster Johnson, who plays the slightly older character who would normally be the Squidward or Benson type stick-in-the-mud, narrowly avoids such a role, often going along with the fun of everyone else and providing a reassuring presence more than anything else.
I really enjoy Baltzar’s style of artwork; he manages to adapt a lot of characters that you wouldn’t think could work in this more cartoony kids format, like Roger the Homonculus, Baba Yaga, Hecate, and Karl. On that particular note, if you are reading this in consideration for buying this comic for your child, there’s nothing to worry about— a lot of the more questionable elements like blatant Nazism have been smoothed out in the cartoonification of this adaptation.
Incidentally, even if you aren’t considering buying this comic for a younger comic fan, I would still highly recommend Itty Bitty Hellboy. This comic is a delight all around. It’s well-written, with fun and likable characters, witty jokes and a stellar pace that never drags, and it makes for a delightful read. It is overall just a breath of pleasant sunshine; its happiness and optimism is downright infectious. Highly recommended.