Saturday, December 17, 2011

There Was a Crooked Man

While digging around on the net for information on Manly Wade Wellman, I came across a mention of a Hellboy comic book story that was apparently done in homage to Wellman's John the Balladeer, called The Crooked Man. Since one of my best friends owns a comic book store it wasn't too difficult for me to get a copy of the trade paperback reprinting the three issue mini series. I picked it up Wednesday and read the story last night. Great story. Not an adaptation of a Wellman yarn, but something done in the spirit of Wellman's stories. In fact The Crooked Man almost feels as if Wellman came back from the great beyond to lend writer Mike Mignola a hand with the script.
The story takes place in 1958, and finds Hellboy in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia where a woman has apparently been put into a coma by a witch. She's been struck by a 'witchball'. What's a witchball? Read the story and find out.
As Hellboy begins to investigate, a man named Tom Ferell appears. Seems Tom used to live in the area twenty years earlier but disappeared after some mysterious occurences and the deaths of his parents. Now Tom's back from his wandering to set things aright, but that will bring he and Hellboy into conflict with the titular Crooked man, a lesser aspect of Satan, but nothing to be trifled with.
In some ways Tom stands in for John the Balladeer as he and Hellboy hike up into the mountains to face witches, zombies, demon familiars, and all kinds of dark creatures. The story is filled with mountain folklore just as Manly Wade Wellman's tales were and Mignola manages to catch the dialog of the back woods folks just as Wellman did. It is indeed a fine, creepy homage. The story is illustrated by Richard Corben who does a great job of drawing deep woods, hound dogs, and creatures from hell.
Fans of Manly Wade Wellman will want to pick up this collection, not only because of the story itself, but because of two nice essay's on Wellman. Mignola talks about what a big influence John the Balladeer was in his creation of Hellboy, and then there's a wonderful four page appreciation in the back of the book by writer/editor John Pelan, a man who knows his Wellman. I learned from this essay that Wellman actually created DC Comics' supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger. You think I'd have known that, but I didn't.
Anyway, The Crooked Man is a great comic, and a nice tribute to Manly Wade Wellman. The other stories in the collection are darn good too. (Can you say Headless Ghost Pirate?) In fact I need to start picking up more of the Hellboy collections. I've been missing out on some good stuff.

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