Hellboy: The Midnight Circus is an ephemeral and mysterious adventure from Hellboy’s childhood, written by his creator Mike Mignola and with art by frequent Mignola collaborator Duncan Fegredo. The entire creative team is stellar, with Dave Stewart on colors and Clem Robins handling lettering. Published by Dark Horse, the home of Hellboy since his start in the early nineties, The Midnight Circus deals with that place between being a kid and wanting to be an adult, which is even more confusing when you’re a demon kid surrounded by human adults. It also explores the space between the present and the past, the known and the unknown, and reality and the supernatural. This tale is about intangible in-betweens, and the emotions that manifest, flounder, and take over when these spaces are traversed and intersect with each other unexpectedly. The supernatural here, as experienced by Hellboy, is a kind of mystical dreamscape, where you don’t always know if what you’re seeing and experiencing is real or imagined. Magnolia deftly and darkly retells elements of the Pinocchio tale in this story, weaving Hellboy’s choices with those of Pinocchio, whose choices have strange and unfortunate consequences. And, relating to Hellboy in even a more personal sense, as he realizes that choices simply do have consequences, something he has not really thought about before. Though, what is frightening is that when dealing with the supernatural, which is the world that Hellboy exists in, outcomes cannot be anticipated, and choices can have much more serious and grave consequences.
Mignola’s dynamic art style, with its rich, atmospheric shadows and bold, unique character designs, has had an incredible influence on the world of comics. Fegredo captures that style wonderfully, without just copying it. He also does an excellent job portraying young Hellboy’s excitement, joy, frustration, and fear, and we are able to relate to him through these expressions. There are powerful emotions at work in this small, elegant story, and they come through in both the writing and art. My only qualm is that it is too short, and it ended rather abruptly for me, because I was so invested in the story and the swirling, dream-like state of the action that I thought there was still more to come. The secondary characters, the ringmaster and his niece, begin to develop a plot that left me hanging, as it was full of mystery and premonitions, but with no answers or resolution. I have not read much Hellboy, though he and his world are still in my cultural consciousness, so these characters may have appeared in the Hellboy universe before, and if not, I imagine Mignola will bring them back, because he sets up more about them than is revealed in this story. So, my qualm may be unfounded, or simply premature. One of the people Mignola dedicates Midnight Circus to is renowned author Ray Bradbury, who has written some of the best stories related to the shadowy malevolence and dark powers of the circus, and there are some wonderful echoes of Bradbury in this tale. If you enjoy the mysterious, the supernatural, the esoteric, and are a fan of Hellboy at any age, then a visit to The Midnight Circus might be right up your alley, though I wouldn’t recommend visiting it alone.