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‘The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects: 20th Anniversary Edition’ (review)

Written and illustrated by Mike Mignola
Colors by Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse Comics

 

If you’re a comics fan going back at least 30 years, or enjoy the spooky things in life, you can’t help but marvel at the shadowy, evocative work of Mike Mignola.

I remember first seeing Mignola’s work in the covers for Batman: A Death in the Family, and then Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, and some X-Men stuff, when I was about age 10. He was bouncing around DC and Marvel at that time, and even if he wasn’t the best technical artist (his hands were godforsaken), you couldn’t help but say the man had style.

Of course, this was before Hellboy, the thing that truly defined Mignola and everything there is to know about his art and proclivities since 1993.

Mignola was steampunk before that had a name, wasn’t he?

All the monsters, Victorians, old mechanicals and occultism.

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects: 20th Anniversary Edition hardcover encapsulates just how much of this stuff rattles around in Mignola’s head that wasn’t exhausted by the Hellboy universe.

For better and for worse.

At its best, this hardcover showcases really fun premises that stand on their own yet fit right into the Hellboy stuff if he wanted. Especially Screw-On Head, a pulp hero-style comic in which our hero is a talking mechanical head, shaped like a lightbulb, that screws on to a fleet of robot bodies. He works for President Lincoln, of course, and fights the delightfully named Emperor Zombie – imagine Skeletor in Adventurers’ Club getup.

In just a few short pages, Mignola establishes a whole world of characters around Screw-On Head. Panel by panel, Mignola hits us with hooks that feel like they came from blind corners. How quickly we meet Screw-On Head’s helpers such as Mister Dog, a literal talking dog, and then zip off in a rocket. Soon we meet Emperor Zombie’s henchmen, including an unnamed vampire woman who is always ready to turn into a bat and fly away at the hint of trouble.

The personalities and characters leap off the page.

I also appreciate the rhymes between the different works in this hardcover. Characters repeat, or items reemerge under new circumstances. Screw-On Head introduces an ancient warlord who possessed a magical turnip, and then a later story tells an unfinished origin story for that warlord. Or the title characters in The Magician and the Snake (a story Mignola wrote with his then 7-year-old daughter) reappear in another story as the name and wooden sign for a pub.

The downside of these stories is that after a while, it’s clear we’re getting skits rather than full-on stories. In 20 years, could Mignola have fleshed out more of these and given us something truly new? In the case of Axorr, Slayer of Demons, Mignola prints pen-and-ink artwork for a story he never wrote dialog for and eventually we unfinished because he didn’t have enough story in it. It was a bit tough following what was happening in the artwork.

But all that said, I came for the slanted houses, haunted tabernacles, death’s heads and ghastly beings, and Mignola threw them at me while reading this hardcover.

I came away from reading this feeling that Mignola definitely just spouts all his black ink, dark shadows and steampunk spookiness. Because even after 29 years of Hellboy, he still had all this sitting in there.

If only we had gotten more work put into these characters, perhaps Mignola would be sitting on a few franchises of characters. And we’d have a better hardcover and even more of them to read!

Grade: B

 

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