There’s a tradition of holiday-themed Hellboy comics, and the 2017 addition of Hellboy Krampusnacht #1 is one of the series' best installments. Like most all short stories and one-shots within the Hellboy universe, it provides a brief reimagining of a figure or concept in international folklore. In this case it is the Krampus who Hellboy learns is very real when he meets him in the mountains of Austria in the 1970s. The results are the exact combination of horror, surprise, and action that Hellboy fans have come to expect.
Adam Hughes beautifully establishes the setting with wide panels of the Austrian mountains and forest in winter. His painterly aesthetic perfectly matches the tone of this bizarre Christmas ghost story. Snow rests on the branches of trees and the pale colors of the landscape help to highlight the few spots of warmth coming from Hellboy and a lone chalet in the distance. It’s not simply the snow, but the value of the colors that make every exterior scene of the comic feel as cold as it ought to. In turn, the interiors of Krampus’ home are shockingly cozy for a monstrous goat-man that does awful things to children. Firelight bounces off of wood and skin alike, a constant reminder of the sort of place so familiar to many great Christmas tales.
The familiarity of the setting as illustrated by Hughes contrast the absurdity of the villain in Krampusnacht as well. Hughes’ Krampus takes multiple forms, each of them with a unique charm. The inhuman incarnations of the beast remove all humor from the concept of Krampus, ditching the ancient illustrations and kindly old man for something that could easily haunt children on Christmas Eve night. Hughes’ design for Krampus is perfectly situated within the world of Hellboy, merging the bizarre and monstrous, and is one of the best designs of the old world character to date.
There’s more to Krampusnacht than great designs and visual storytelling, although that would certainly be enough to recommend the comic in this case. The ghost story at its heart is one of the best short tales crafted by Mike Mignola and ought to be fondly called upon like his other classic Christmas tale “A Christmas Underground”. The conflict and history behind Krampus is horrifying, and captures the awfulness of it for everyone involved in only a handful of panels. This is not simply the terrible tale of losing children, but an even stranger plea for empathy with the Krampus itself. The end result is beautifully bittersweet.
Even for comics fans who are not regular Hellboy readers, Krampusnacht #1 is a perfect buy on the new comic book day before Christmas. It summons a story that moves between daunting dread and bombastic action with ease, and is told wonderfully by Hughes who reminds readers what he can do with an action sequence. There’s a great deal captured within a single issue that requires no prior knowledge or sequel. It’s difficult to imagine a comic that is for everyone, but it’s almost as hard to visualize a reader who would not find some elements of this comic appealing. Hellboy Krampusncaht #1 is a real gift for comics fans this holiday season.
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Adam Hughes
Letters by Clem Robins