Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy Birthday, HellBoy

It surprises me that Hellboy is only twenty years old; he seems older. Of course, he is – he’s twenty-one according to Wikipedia, who list his pre-series cameos in other works, but Seed of Destruction published in March 1993 is the first Hellboy comic proper, and that’s where I start counting.
I love Hellboy, and I think the series loves me back, because it really hasn’t let me down yet. Sure, there have been some diversions where I didn't quite pay enough attention (our hero’s sojourn to Africa), and I generally don’t rate too highly HB’s appearance in other strips, but for me the core of Hellboy, when he’s scripted and drawn by Mike Mignola in his inimitable style, is where I’m happiest.

Hellboy has a genuinely interesting story, albeit a simple one: created to destroy the world courtesy of the mystical stony Right Hand of Doom he drags around, he is otherwise a simple American Joe trying to upset the powers of nature and fate to prevent that from happening, all the while hounded by immortal enemies and too many Earthbound agencies who would use his powers to their own end. There – a hopelessly simplistic explanation, because Hellboy is so much more than that. He’s a pulp hero, a tragic figure, a cosmic clown, an Everyman pilgrim, a noble warrior king and the very punching bag of fate. And he’s resilient – boy, is he resilient. You have to be to be able to straddle all those podia, but what seems to hold Mignola’s antihero together is his absolute moral centredness: he is a stubborn, occasionally grouchy figure motivated by love for a bunch of increasingly fragile and mortal friends – his ‘father’ and mentor Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, would-be lover and troubled pyrokinetic Liz Sherman and current squeeze Alice. Not to mention his non-human buddies Abe Sapien, Roger the Homunculus and the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss – each similarly as doomed as Hellboy (though I suspect Johann might somehow make it, being technically already dead), but none meeting his absolute clarity of purpose. In short, you know that Hellboy will probably ultimately lose, if not pay the ultimate price for betraying his doom, but you can’t help but cheer him on. 

I also love that the multifaceted Hellboy has accumulated a folklore legacy from all over the world – well, mainly Europe. It’s the strip’s ability to move effortlessly from nasty occult thriller to Lovecraftian horror to Luchero madness, Manly Wade Wellman’s obscure and grotesque Americana, Celtic myth, Slavic fairy tales and classical myth that have created a vast and elaborate backdrop and supporting cast. Where else could you read a story so audacious as to pit its demonic hero against the combined forces of clockwork Nazis, the goddess Hecate, Baba Yaga, Rasputin and the Ogdru Hem – the series’ nod to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods. It’s a world that has indeed bcome to broad and so textured that the parent strip spawned an ongoing series for Hellboy’s aforementioned colleagues, and while the BPRD stories are in every way as thrilling and intricate in its character development and universal scope, it has a bleak fatalism about it that, set against Hellboy, seems to me less optimistic, and less heroic. BPRD is a harder read. And I like my heroes. I even like the stories of the young child Hellboy - all bewilderment and melancholic perfection.
I’ve mentioned my happiness when Mignola himself is providing the pictures, but the series also rehabilitated my admiration for Duncan Fegredo, who I first encountered in the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine to little enthusiasm, but who is easily my second-favourite Hellboy artist.The series introduced me properly to Poe, Wellman, and may yet get me back to Tennyson; and it got me to the movies where, with Jamas, I watched my last ever move at the diapidated and quite inadequate Manners St Hoyts. That first Hellboy movie was in fact my first brush with our hero, and it got me hooked.

So much more to say, but I've rambled on long enough.
Happy Birthday, Hellboy, and may destiny never find you!



  1. I love that artwork (and do I detect some 'Kirby dots' in that last image?). Hell Boy is the passion of a fairly senior technician at Weta. Unfortunately, on hearing this I thought he meant Hell Baby, which is far more Eastern, and disturbing...

  2. Those are probably Kirby dots, Al, and why the hell not, eh? And here was me thinking the three images I chose were pretty pedestrian and not indicative of ol' Red!