Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The Midnight Circus is a 56-page hardcover featuring a standalone tale of Hellboy as a pre-teen boy – or the equivalent in demon years – taking place in 1953 at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development (B.P.R.D.) Headquarters in Connecticut. Not really a child, but not a man yet, he is bored and disenchanted with the way he is sidelined and ignored by the agents who have better things to do than babysit him. So, feeling rebellious, he sneaks out of his room at night to smoke a stolen cigarette and then runs away. Where does he go? To a nearby Circus. The colourful inhabitants of this magical place are exciting and confusing and strange, and young Hellboy soon finds himself very far out of his depth.
Mike Mignola dedicates this book to “Carlo Collodi, who taught me everything I know about what a puppet should be. And for Ray Bradbury, who confirmed my worst fears about the circus” and this story references the works of both authors. Hellboy is given Pinocchio to read by Professor Bruttenholm’s secretary. The parallels between his circumstances and those of the puppet who wants only to be a human boy are not lost on him. He re-enacts much of that tale in his journey through this book, some directly (“Pinocchio ran away to the circus, didn’t he?” the circus master asks Hellboy. “No, he turned into a donkey and got sold to the circus”, he replies) and some accidentally. The circus master is of course more than he initially appears, and so is everyone else in this hellish circus.
Duncan Fegredo’s wonderfully descriptive and dynamic art takes on a new dimension in this book, by rendering the two parts of the story in different ways. All the scenes involving the B.P.R.D. are drawn in his usual style, but for the circus sequences he adds textured pencil-like shading, giving the art a subtly modulated depth and solidity. When the flat colour is added on top of this, it takes on the feeling of fully painted art. The two worlds are brilliantly contrasted with this technique. This short story might feel a little slight to readers who don’t know anything about Hellboy, but fans will recognise all the hints about his Apocalyptic destiny. The Midnight Circus is reprinted in the Complete Short Stories Volume 1 omnibus.