Mini-reviews: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, part 1

This is a compilation of my review for the first three Hellboy collections. Why only the first three? Because that’s all my library has. I’m going to have to explore other avenues to get my hands on Hellboy’s further adventures…..

VOLUME I: SEED OF DESTRUCTION (****)
Story and art by Mike Mignola, Written by John Byrne

I’m a huge fan of the Hellboy films—the character, the world it creates, all of it. I didn’t realize until after watching it that there was a comic it was based on, and for a while I had no good way to access those comics even after discovering their existence. I did eventually get my hands on a collection of shorts, including the source for that talking corpse from the movie, but never the original miniseries they mainly drew from for the main thrust of the film. That eluded me….until now. The problem is, that first miniseries was created a long time ago and the character and world have had a long time to mature and grow since then. As a result, this first effort didn’t compare well. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but not nearly as epic in scale as the film. A vast underground complex in Russia, accessible through Rasputin’s tomb? I’m sorry, but that trumps the comic’s crumbling lakeside manor. Though I suppose that manor is a bit more Lovecraftian, which was probably what Mignola was going for….Some other stuff kind of bugged me—such as the moment Hellboy and Abe identify someone from a photograph of a doomed expedition that has been talked about but never seen by the reader. It felt like we should have been able to make that leap too, and I spent five minutes hunting for where we had been shown that picture only to find it doesn’t exist. I’m told it all gets better as it goes, and there’s not a chance this disappointing start will get me to quit, but it saddened me nonetheless. On the other hand, there was some interesting material as well, such as the aliens monitoring the Ogdru Jahad’s prison. I’ll be interested to see if they appear again.

VOLUME II: WAKE THE DEVIL (*****)
Written and drawn by Mike Mignola

This is more like it! You may recall I was disappointed in the first Hellboy volume’s lack of scope. This volume, however, hits the mark without fail.

So you thought the death of Rasputin in volume I was the end of Project Ragna Rok? Think again! The rest of Rasputin’s cult is still at large and newly-awakened, and Rasputin himself is not so dead as Hellboy and company would like to think. In a Nazi castle above the arctic circle, plans are being set into motion to once more try and bring about the end of the world…..unless Hellboy and his friends can once more stave off the apocalypse!

We are introduced to more of the BPRD crew this time around, as well as getting more of an idea of Hellboy’s origins and destiny. On the whole, I love this series!

VOLUME III: THE CHAINED COFFIN AND OTHERS (*****)
Written and drawn by Mike Mignola

This is so far my favorite collection of Hellboy comics. Instead of a long, cosmically-significant storyarc, here we have a number of shorter works–vignettes, even. This collection is really an anthology, collecting various one-offs or short serials Mignola created as backups to other features. While I enjoy the longer storyarcs, I think for my money that Hellboy works best in this format. Introduce monster, give backstory for monster, have Hellboy fight monster, get his butt kicked, and finally win. Rinse and repeat. And yet it never gets boring or repetitive as Mignola uses each tale to build the occult-encrusted world Hellboy inhabits. This collection by rights ought to be read alongside the first two volumes, as some of the stories happen in the interim between Seed Of Destruction and Wake The Devil. The stories included are:

  • The Corpse (Ireland, 1959): Hellboy challenges the Little People for the return of a kidnapped child. Remember the bit in the first Hellboy film with the talking corpse Hellboy carries around for a while? That’s inspired by this story, I believe.
  • The Iron Shoes (Ireland, 1961): Hellboy takes on one of the Fae who does not share the usual faery aversion to iron.
  • The Baba Yaga (Russia, years before Wake The Devil): Mignola planned out this story as a backup feature in a canceled miniseries, so it never actually got published. The events therein, however, are referenced in Wake The Devil, so Mignola went ahead and wrote it specially for this collection.
  • A Christmas Underground (England, Christmas Eve 1989): Hellboy takes on an ancient evil and ends the curse haunting an English manor.
  • The Chained Coffin (England, immediately after Seed Of Destruction): Shaken by Rasputin’s allegations regarding his origin and fate in Seed Of Destruction, Hellboy travels to the ruined church where he entered this world in search of answers.
  • The Wolves Of Saint August (The Balkans, 1994): Father Kelly, an old friend and compatriot of Hellboy’s, is murdered along with an entire village. Hellboy wants to know why….and who he’s going to make pay!
  • Almost Colossus (Romania, immediately after Wake The Devil): This serves to tie up some loose ends from the Wake The Devil story–namely, the fates of Liz Sherman and the homunculous.

Content: Mild language. A fair amount of violence, some of it bloody, but given the stylized nature of Mignola’s art this is usually not too disturbing. Likewise the nudity that occasionally creeps in–female monsters are not going to wear clothes just because the Comic Code Authority thinks they should…..

Occult content: A fair amount. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Vampires show up, and the particular vampires in question are implied to be the unholy offspring of a man and the godess Hecate. In one story Hellboy has to find a burial place for a reanimated and talkative skeleton before dawn. The Russian…..godess? Superstition? How do you describe Baba Yaga?….anyway, Baba Yaga shows up. There is a werewolf tale that has its root in a curse leveled on the local nobility by a wandering priest outraged at their idolatry. The Colossus story in itself doesn’t have any real occult elements, but the characters do debate matters of theology and the role of creation.

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