Itty Bitty Hellboy
By Art Baltazar and Franco
Dark Horse, 2014
Ages 8 and up
You have to give Art and Franco points for boldness: It’s one thing to do Tiny Titans comics about DC superheroes—most kids have heard of Superman. Hellboy, on the other hand, is not exactly a children’s property. Indeed, this book suffers a bit from the same problem as Tiny Titans, with lots of in-jokes, making it feel more like a book for adult fans of the franchise than for children. A simple solution would have been to add a page or two in the front introducing the characters and explaining their powers and characteristics.
That said, many of the gags do hold up. When Johann Kraus, who is basically ectoplasm in a containment suit, sneezes himself out of his suit and can’t catch a baseball, that’s actually pretty funny. Johann’s suit turns into one of the best running gags in the book, in fact. Art and Franco send Hellboy both to Hell (where he is surrounded by mini-Hellboys who want to destroy the earth) and to Heaven (where he has to change his name—duh!)and those sequences are delightful.
The jokes about Roger fall kind of flat, though, because it’s never clear who he is or why he likes to lurk naked in the bushes. Roger definitely needs context; as it is, he’s just icky (although that probably is a plus in the eyes of the eight-year-old readers).
The book, which compiles issues #1-5 of the original comic, is basically a series of short, two- and three-page gag comics, so if one doesn’t work, the reader can quickly move on to the next. In addition, it’s super cute, with the bright colors, rounded character designs, and overall sense of joy that characterize all of Art and Franco’s work—yes, even when they are taking Hellboy to Hell.