Hellboy: Oddest Jobs
featuring Joe R. Lansdale, Mark Chadbourn, John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow, Ken Bruen, Garth Nix, Brian Keene, Tad Williams, Amber Benson, Barbara Hambly, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rhys Hughes, Stephen Volk, Don Winslow and China Mieville
A collection of short stories featuring the titular supernatural hero written by a mixture of fantasy, horror and mystery authors (not to mention Edited by Christopher Golden and Illustrated by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola). It's worth noting that these are prose stories, not the comic book stories of Hellboy's origins.
This book does a great job of capturing the gothic horror-meets-pulp fantasy feel of Mignola's original comic books but each writer manages nicely to bring something of their own to the table. As with (almost) any anthology, it's not all gold and there are a few stories here which just didn't capture my imagination. Some, like Braunbeck's 'In Cupboards and Bookshelves' or Hughes' 'Feet of Sciron' were just a bit too out-there to be credible and instead come across as confusing and unsatisfying. Others, including the contributions of Brian Keene and Amber Benson (Tara from Buffy, if the name sounds familiar) just, sadly, aren't that interesting.
However, there are a few real gems here which mostly make up for those shortcomings. Lansdale's novelette is a dark and twisted tale that leans heavily into the horror aspect of the franchise, whilst Nix's contribution captures that wonderful magical feeling of mysterious goings-on just out of sight in the rarely-visited corners of the world. We also have Stephen Volk's 'Monster Boy', which is a loving and touching tribute to the writer's grandfather far more than it is a Hellboy story. My personal favourite was Hambly's contribution, which shows that there are truly awe-inspiring dark powers at large in Hellboy's world and that sometimes even he can only just barely prevent catastrophe.
4 out of 5
House Of M: Fantastic Four/Iron Man
featuring John Layman and Greg Pak
(Art by Scot Eaton, Don Hillsman II, Rick Magyar, Pat Lee and Dream Engine)
Two stories linking into Brian Michael Bendis' 'House Of M' in which the powers of the Scarlet Witch turn the world on its head.
The Fantastic Four story is a bit of a surprise in that Ben Grimm is the only one of the FF featured. We're presented with an alternate world where Reed Richards and Sue Storm died during their space flight and only Ben survived, becoming the It. Inspired by this, Doctor Doom uses cosmic rays and sorcery to grant superpowers (which are similar to those of the FF) to himself, his wife and his son. Enslaved by Doom, the It rounds out the Fearsome Four. The story revolves around Doom's obsession with power and his attempt to wrest control of the planet out of the hands of Magneto and his children. Sadly, this story was a bit too much 'mirror-universe' for me rather than tackling the more interesting possibilites of the House of M reality.
The second story features Tony Stark, the most successful human in a world ruled by mutants. However, when his position is threatened by anti-mutant extremists he unveils his secret weapon; a suit of remarkable armour. Iron Man soon becomes a symbol of hope to the human resistance but ultimately has to fight for both humans and mutants against the machinations of his own father. This is a much better story and I really loved the look of the armour shown here. Plus, how often do you get to see Iron Man fight Sentinels, eh?
3 out of 5
House Of M: World Of M Featuring Wolverine
featuring Daniel Way, Reginald Hudlin, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker
(Art by Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Trevor Hairsine, John Dell, Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Lee Weeks, Jesse Delperdang and Mike Perkins)
Four stories which link into Bendis' 'House Of M', in which the Scarlet Witch alters the world, creating an alternate reality in which mutants oppress the human minority and Magneto rules the planet.
In 'Chasing Ghosts' we learn of Wolverine's alternate life as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is a great story in which Logan is shown to be a drug-abusing alcoholic obessessed with the war against the humans and one man in particular, Nick Fury. Most interesting is the details of the romance between Logan and Mystique, something only touched upon in 'House Of M', but revealed here in all it's 'what if?' glory.
The second story, 'Soul Power in the House of M', is about the few independent rulers of the world, Black Panther, Storm, Sunfire, Prince Namor, and their attempts to resist the imperial depredations of Magneto and his ally Apocalypse. What I enjoyed most about this story was the fight between Black Panther and Sabretooth.
In 'The Pulse' a human reporter, frustrated at mutant prejudice, encounters a man claiming to have been to have been brought back to life after dying in an alternate reality. This is, of course, Hawkeye and his confusion and pain at the insanity of his predicament is very well written, culminating in the destruction of a House of M monument. This story finally makes clear the details of Hawkeye's disappearance halfway through 'House of M' and reappearance at the end.
Finally, we are offered an alternative history of Captain America. After helping to win WWII, Cap is ostracised for his tolerance towards mutants in a poignant echo of America's anti-Communist witch hunts in the 50s. Forced to retire Captain America, Steve Rogers becomes the first man to walk on the moon. As the mutant population increases, Rogers finds himself caught between his image among humans as a mutant-lover and his outspoken views against the totalitarian regime being built by Magneto. Slowly his world, his life, withers away until all that's left is a lonely old man.
All told this little anthology is a great collection of linked 'what ifs?' which enhance the main 'House Of M' story no end. However, if you haven't read 'House Of M', you'll be completely bewildered as to what's going on here, so read that first.
4 out of 5