Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola (writer), Duncan Fegredo (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)
At under sixty pages, Hellboy: The Midnight Circus is a very short graphic novel, but it is worth seeking out. We get a rare story of Hellboy in his childhood years. At the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in 1948, a young Hellboy sneaks out of his room and overhears his father-figure being warned by another against the dangers Hellboy will bring them all. Upset by the news that others see him as a dangerous threat, he runs away from the B.P.R.D. facility. And of course, as the title suggests, Hellboy will discover the Midnight Circus. But first, as a nice touch of realistic teenager angst, Mignola shows Hellboy smoking what might be his first cigarette, which he stole earlier from one of the B.P.R.D. agents.
Hellboy sees a clown nail to a pole a poster for A. T. Roth’s Circus Spectacular, which is open “From the clock strikes midnight . . . to the fearful crack of dawn.” The poster promises the young boy “Thrills and Wonders.” The curious Hellboy, of course, cannot resist the call of the circus. He sneaks up to the big tent and peeks in to witness the circus clowns, elephants, and the other circus folks and spectacles. They seem to be calling on some dark force as they quote loosely from Lord Byron’s Manfred. But amid all the curiosities, what most catches the interest of the teenager-like Hellboy is a woman in a colorful, and revealing, costume.
Outside the main tent, Hellboy is tempted even more by the promise of women on display in a for-gentlemen only side tent. But when he runs into the circus manager, he reverts to his young self and wants to see the Pinocchio sideshow. The Pinocchio reference allows Mignola to make unstated comparisons between Hellboy and Pinocchio, both of whom want to be real boys. Things go horribly wrong from here, and it would give spoilers to say more than that.
The comic has some great scenes with the young Hellboy shown in flashback. One is when he took the cigarette. He steals it from one of two agents who are talking at a table where Hellboy is eating. At one point, one of the agents realizes the story he is telling is not appropriate for such a young boy. Hellboy is not happy being excluded. In another flashback, this time to 1947, Hellboy is excitedly talking about comics, particularly the ones about Lobster Johnson (a character in the Hellboy universe for which there are multiple books).
The future is also alluded to in this comic. Hellboy: The Midnight Circus gives us a glimpse of the prophecies associated with Hellboy, probably the first time that he has been given any idea of how he might fit into a dark future for humankind. We even get to meet Hellboy’s uncle and half-sister. I suggest reading Hellboy in Hell first before reading this comic book so that the importance of their appearance can be better understood by the reader.
Overall, this comic is one of my favorite short tales about Hellboy. And as I have explained, it is not just a standalone story. It is fully integrated into the larger plot of Hellboy. Hellboy: The Midnight Circus is a definite five-star comic book.