Hellboy: Masks and Monsters: written by Mike Mignola and James Robinson; illustrated by Mike Mignola, Scott Benefiel, and Jasen Rodriguez (Collected 2009): Short volume collects two Hellboy miniseries team-ups with three other characters — DC’s Batman and Starman in one adventure and Dark Horse’s own Ghost in the other.
A good time is pretty much had by all. Though I’m not familiar with Ghost — a two-gunned female ghost fighting crime — Hellboy’s adventure with her makes a certain amount of sense given their supernatural backgrounds. Mignola’s script presents an interesting mix of mythology and the mundane as organized crime gets mixed up with ancient gods who want Hellboy’s giant hand for something nefarious. The art by Scott Benefiel, from Mignola’s layouts, is fairly smooth, though perhaps a bit too representational for Mignola’s blocky, occasionally impressionistic Hellboy.
The Starman/Batman team-up, plotted by Mignola and scripted by Starman’s James Robinson, is really serious fun, with Mignola handling the art. Batman and Hellboy team up to fight magical Aryan Nation types in Gotham. With Batman temporaily sidelined by a re-appearance of the Joker, it’s then up to Hellboy and second-generation Starman Jack Knight to rescue the Golden-Age Starman (who’s also Jack’s father Ted Knight) from a Nazi base in South America. There, the Nazis have supernaturally coerced Ted into helping them bring a very large, evil God back to Earth.
Oh, Nazis! Mignola’s Batman is shadowy and bulky, while his Starman is quite a change from the more representational art generally seen in Jack Knight’s own title. The whole volume goes down nicely, and is also an enjoyable break from the increasingly labyrinthine continuity of Hellboy’s own adventures. Recommended.
The Sandman Volume 5: A Game of You: written by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, George Pratt, Stan Woch, Dick Giordano, and Bryan Talbot (1991-92): The fifth volume of Gaiman’s now twenty-year-old+ Sandman adventures presents a mostly self-contained tale concerned with gender, identity, race, and childhood dreams. Minor characters from previous story arcs do reappear here, along with the Lord of Dreams and his attendant (wise)-talking raven Matthew.
The six issues focus on one minor character from an earlier story arc, Barbie, whose previous encounter with the world of the Dreaming destabilized her marriage to Ken (!), along with her own carefully constructed self-image, and sent her to New York to figure out who she is. That previous interaction with the world of Dreams also had an unintended consequence. She’s stopped dreaming.
However, somewhere in dreams, a ragtag group of talking and sometimes imaginary animals continue to search for the vanished Princess Barbara, who is the only person who can defeat the all-devouring Cuckoo and its conquering hordes. But she’s going to need the help of her neighbours — the lesbian couple Hazel and Foxglove, the transvestite Wanda, and the mysterious Thessaly — to negotiate an increasingly unstable fantasy world.
The real world and the dream world are, of course, connected, in both obvious and less-than-obvious ways. Things do not necessarily go well for everyone involved in this adventure, with its echoes of Narnia and Tolkien and The Wizard of Oz‘s game-changing tornado. We also learn an awful lot about the life-cycle of the cuckoo bird. Why did someone put these awful things in clocks to begin with? Recommended.