This collection contains three stories. The first, Conqueror Worm, is very in-line with the previous two longform Hellboy stories, but with the added element of being haunted by the ghost of classic pulp comics. It's a weird vibe! I don't have a lot to say about this one.
The other two stories are some of my all-time Hellboy favorites so far.
The opening of The Third Wish has a lot of the same energy as The Corpse, a colorful cascade of folklore, before Hellboy is sucked into the main plot in his confrontation with the sea-witch. A good and proper fairy tale plays out involving mermaids, wishes gone wrong, and a lovely parable about the proper way to honor the dead.
The Island is incredible. It really feels like Mignola was pushing himself in this one, and the result is a mixture of amazing abstract imagery, haunting ghostly vibes, and the biggest lore-dump about the Hellboy world we've seen yet.
After finishing these, I found myself reflecting on the role of Hellboy's backstory in the comics. Before doing these readings, my impression of Hellboy was really that we was more of the "man with no name" archetype, an element of chaos to be added into other stories in to drive the action, where his past is the least important element. In practice, all of the longform Hellboy stories have put a huge emphasis on Hellboy's origins and his destiny, and what is more surprising to me is how well it is pulled off.
The first few times, when we saw Hellboy breaking free from the destiny that others prescribed to him, I came away feeling like, "oh, yeah, I guess now we don't have to worry about that." But instead, it's only gotten more complex, as the story shifts from a simple "not fulfilling others' bad expectations" form to a more complex narrative about reconciling with and renegotiating your role in the world. We find that some villains want Hellboy to fulfill his destiny and bring about the end of the world, while others want to kill him and lock him away because they're afraid of what he might be, and yet others want to steal his destiny and take it as their own. In the end, it seems like Hellboy can never escape from birthright/curse, but he also consistently refuses to allow it to define and control him.
Wednesday commented that it seems like Hellboy is really at its best when all the Nazi stuff is out of the picture. She described it as a "crutch" and I have to agree. Basing his narratives in folklore seems to take a lot more work, but also ends up more meaningful and rewarding in the end.
Anyway: those ghosts tho. Nobody does ghosts better than Mignola. Oh to wander some ancient runes, fall into a deep dark crumbling hole into a room full of ominous statues, and to have ghosts whisper prophetic warnings to me.