Resurrection in the Mignolaverse
This is our first opinion piece on Mignolaverse.com, and we’d like your feedback on it. Hopefully it goes without saying, but this is the personal opinion of one of our writers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else associated with Mignolaverse.com. That said, I think it’s a very well-written and logical piece, and that Brian makes a good case for himself in doing this.
Because this is such a polarizing topic, we’re going to invite another staff writer to give an opposing opinion later this week. You are invited to consider them, and weigh in via a Facebook poll once they are both published. Links will be attached to both posts at that time, so please come back and make your voice heard.
This article is presented complete, in its original format.
All said. Enjoy the read.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
The Mignolaverse has some of the deadest characters in comics. It’s the rare ongoing series that attaches real consequences to big events while offering a type of closure that you don’t often see in mainstream comics. Lately though, we’ve had a string of high-profile returns of some of the Mignolaverse’s most-dead characters. Are the Hellboy books edging closer and closer to more conventional comics as they near the grand finale? I don’t exactly think so, but it’s complicated. Let’s dive into it.
Mike Mignola exemplified his ability to craft a rich narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end with the story of Rasputin, our very first antagonist. The first few issues of Hellboy saw him try to bring about the end of the world as a powerful Nazi affiliated sorcerer. He was defeated but returned as a ghost, whispering his influence in the ears of those who would listen. He was reduced then to nothing more than a piece of bone in an acorn, which was then discarded, with others like Memnan Saa and Asteroth taking his place as primary antagonists. This evolution (or devolution) went on for years, with Rasputin growing more interesting with each appearance in ways he couldn’t go back from until finally, he seemed to have died a real death and was written out of the story. It would have been fine to have never seen him again. When Rasputin’s soul was tossed into Hell, it felt like a fitting end for him. We got closure. His evil ambition brought him nothing but degradation in the end.
Similarly, Hellboy himself had what felt to me like a complete story. The last few issues of Hellboy in Hell have an incredibly strong sense of finality to them. Even though Hellboy has been promised over and over to need to do specific things by the end of his story and hadn’t done any of them yet by the end of Hellboy in Hell, the 10 issue series felt like a proper sendoff to the character. During this arc, we see him at what could be considered the end of his story not once, but twice. Mike Mignola has said that the last panel of Hellboy in Hell #8 feels to him like the end of the story. In the Library Edition, that panel even has a “The End” box on it. It could have ended right there. Hellboy could have just sat in that forest with his cigarette and that would have been it. It couldn’t have been, but it felt right. Two issues later after Hellboy has utterly destroyed the demon order of Hell, we’re treated to another end. Intercut with his arrival on Earth, Hellboy, seemingly free from his destiny, wanders through a peaceful Hell and finds a cottage by the sea. He walks in to find three glowing shapes, which readers of Mignola’s short story The Wizard and the Snake know to associate with acceptance of death and a life well lived. The house glows. We see the light overtake Hellboy. The end.
Despite these fitting, natural endings, Rasputin was resurrected in last week’s B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know #10 and B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know #5 ends with Hellboy back alive on Earth, ready to work for the B.P.R.D. again and fulfill his prophesied destiny.
This puts me in a complex spot. I’d like to see dead characters stay dead. Resurrections are a comic book trope that I’m tired of. Over at DC and Marvel, the deaths of big characters followed by their resurrections are such a tired trope that when news hits that a major character has been killed off, the talk around it mostly consists of cynical comments about how long the character’s going to stay dead for. I’m aware that these characters are iconic, and that multinational media corporations count on stories that feature them in order for people to buy their books, but I have trouble emotionally investing in a story when something as final as death both happens all the time and gets undone just as commonly. It’s very hard to care about a death you know will be reversed.
Maybe I think about this stuff too much, but characters like Captain America and Spider-Man will never get to rest or die. Every day of their infinitely long lives involves stopping some threat through violence. Thinking about this makes me sad. I want the possibility of peace in the stories I read. Watching fights is fun, but the kind of fights I’m interested in are the ones where an obstacle is in the way of happiness, peace and growth. I want to see characters go from point A to point B. That’s what’s exciting to me. It’s part of why I think the Mignolaverse is such a special piece of comic book storytelling. In its respect for the dead-ness of its dead characters, it signals that the conflict in the story won’t go on forever, that there’s a real possibility of an end.
The Mignolaverse has largely avoided these scenarios, and this is a major reason why I’m drawn to it. Despite sprawling over many series, the Mignolaverse is a finite story. It’s not designed to go on forever. It takes place on a timeline and has an end-game that it’s been setting up for 25 years.
This is all to say that Hellboy and Rasputin’s returns don’t exactly thrill me. I also don’t think that they’re bad things for the story to do. The story clearly needed both things to happen, otherwise they wouldn’t have happened. The Hellboy universe is too well-crafted for some “gotcha” twist to come out of thin air. I’m just not sure I needed these two twists to happen. I personally thought it would have thrown a very interesting wrench into the story to have the long foretold endgame play out without any of Hellboy’s involvement. I thought it would be cool to keep him dead for all of it and change the plans.
Perhaps my hangup with dead characters coming back is more due to its other comic series over-reliance on the trope, which means that by looking at the Hellboy books through this lens, I’m comparing it to other comics, which the Hellboy story isn’t doing. It’s very much an island unto itself in the comics landscape. It doesn’t comment on other books. It’s not riffing on things happening outside of what’s happening in its own story. It’s existing as its own creation and right now its creators seem to be taking steps that they haven’t had to take before in order to get their story to the place it needs to get to.
With The Devil You Know careening faster and faster to its apocalyptic conclusion, a type of payoff is required. We’ve been promised that some very specific things are going to happen at the end of the story, things that if they were never to come to pass, would have left a gaping hole in the series. “If Hellboy never ends up commanding the army of Hell and being with Hecate at the end of the world, then what was the point of all that build up,” a reader might ask. I’m of the opinion that none of what’s been promised needs to happen if something new and better springs up that the storytellers are more passionate about. That’s what Hellboy in Hell was. We got that unexpected path to a new ending no one was expecting, but the grand scheme of things requires the ending that’s been coming. Two different things are happening at the same time. But that’s how life works, isn’t it?
I thoroughly believe Scott Allie and Mike Mignola have brought back Rasputin and Hellboy because they genuinely felt like they needed to. It didn’t come out of nowhere. We don’t know the details of why Rasputin’s back yet and we don’t know the exact nature of Hellboy’s resurrection either so it’s not out of the question that some story element could be revealed in the coming issues that shuts the door on all this talk. It still stands though that Hellboy found peace after a long, difficult life which has now been robbed of him. At the end of the day, I just want the guy to get to rest.