Journey into Hell
Hellboy - David Mack August 2012
As the New Year begins, and Ragnarok approaches, I wanted to reminisce on my journey into the Mignolaverse. I did not find my way to Hellboy comics on day one, week one, even year one. I came to Hellboy comics long after the figure displayed in my local comic-book shop fascinated me.
With superhero comics being the hip-hop analogue of the middle class New York Jew, it is no wonder I was culturally predisposed to the medium. One of my earliest childhood memories was my father reading my brother and I a Star Trek comic, only he read it with his own dialogue. Years before Howard Stern made his version of the character, my father read us this intergalactic adventure of Fart-Man. I also remember, as a 5 year old, the first time i picked out my first comic books, Devil Dinosaur, and after that, Howard the Duck (I hadn’t seen the movie yet). These were the first steps on my journey to my favorite comic book universe.
I was a voracious Marvel comics reader in the eighties and into the early 90’s. As the final decade of the millenium had begun, my tastes in literature, music, and comic books began its slow turn to more sophisticated themes and darker tones. The McFarlane/Liefeld/Lee era of Marvel drew me in fast with the hard hitting, action driven images, and as a naive youngster, I bought into the early days of Image comics. I was pulled in by flashy visuals, but left starved of depth and story.
One day, I was pushed to read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. IT CHANGED MY WORLD. I had always been interested in non-Abrahamic “pagan” mythology and here is a book in which EVERYTHING WAS TRUE. Every pantheon, every god, faery, and minor mythological creature was real in this story about...stories. I dropped everything else I was reading and just DEVOURED every Neil Gaiman story I could. When Sandman ended, I stopped reading anything new. It was about 4 years before I picked up a comic book again, because I could not fathom anything else provoking me in the same way.
My cousin’s husband’s father… Uncle Barry, was a big time comic book collector. He was old school, raised in the golden and silver age of comics. Every major Jewish holiday and Thanksgiving, Uncle Barry and I would talk about classic characters (he was a DC guy and I love to ridicule Aquaman), newer stories, issues he was looking for, and upcoming movies. I credit him with getting me back into comics.
Uncle Barry got me back into Marvel in time for the Renaissance of the house of ideas, and back into DC imprints where I was able to read ALL of Preacher, Lucifer, Promethea, and so much more. After I was deeply rooted there, I started to branch out through Dark Horse books, starting with Lone Wolf & Cub, some Star Wars, Aliens, and eventually, Hellboy.
When I first read Seed of Destruction, it was around 2002, and I immediately noticed that the art was somehow familiar. I recognized the style and the name. It hit me that this was the artist that drew an issue of X-force (issue 8 in 1991) that ruined the series for me. I don’t say ruined because I hated the art, in fact, it was the exact opposite. After Mignola’s work on this issue, I realized how much I disliked Liefeld and McFarlane’s styles, and could no longer get myself to read them. After Mike, so many other artists came off as exaggerated and absurd.
Seed of Destruction was eye opening for me. The noir elements, the dark style, and the artwork was so different from anything else I was reading. For the first time in a long time, I had come in on the ground floor of a story. Byrne and Mignola wasted no time plunging you into this world. Unlike most comic book heroes, we didn’t go from origin, to self-discovery, to first mission, years and years until we reached this chapter. We went right from origin story, to the modern day without fluff. I was definitely a fan, but life kept getting in the way.
It was a little over a year before I came back to Hellboy. Again, I credit my Uncle Barry, because he gave me his Polystone Hellboy bobblehead. He knew I loved comics, and he knew I loved devil imagery (I often wore death metal shirts to family functions). He brought up the upcoming movie, and between that and other discussions about superhero fatigue, I was sold on coming back.
Upon my return, there was a decade of material to consume, a spin-off series, and a movie on deck. This is where Wake the Devil comes in to the picture, and the hardcore obsession begins. I wrote a whole article about why Wake the Devil is my favorite storyline that you can read HERE. The TL;DR version, is that we went from Lovecraftian Occult noir detective story with monster protagonists, to a universe spanning crossover book with everything I love about neil gaiman stories. Once again, I have a story where EVERYTHING IS TRUE. That was it for me, fully invested, credit card debt dedicated, bye bye money.
In 2004, well we know what happened. The trailer was perfect, everyone (aside from Liz) looked the part, and it was full of darkness, monsters, and Hellboy carrying a giant gun and wielding a giant sword. Of course I was there opening night, with excitement in my heart that I cannot quite articulate. Despite the heavy divergence of some of the characters, I absolutely LOVED this movie. I went for multiple viewings in the theaters, and have since watched countless times on cable TV, DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming, etc.
I will continue to love that movie, despite some of my large criticisms. Selma Blair did not really sell me on Liz’s character, and the love-triangle subplot was lackluster. Abe was great, despite the added psychic powers, and Ron Perlman, as it has been said over and over, was the perfect Hellboy. I did not like that they characterized him as a bit dimwitted, but otherwise, he nailed the personality. I did not love the B.P.R.D.being a secret agency, but I did like seeing everyone, especially Jeffrey Tambor’s Tom Manning, operate as a convincingly bumbling bureaucratic government organization.
If we fast forward a few years, we arrive at 2008, with the release of the Golden Army. The movie was absolutely fantastic. I loved the original story, and just like Mignola’s own work, this was full of fantastic creatures living side by side in our world. He plucked characters straight from actual mythology, tangential to Mignola’s versions (the Movie features Nuada, the books feature Dagda, relatives in Celtic mythology) and tweaked their stories a bit. If you weren’t familiar, you had a new rabbit hole to get lost in with mythological research. The animated opening was wonderful, the troll market was an amusing delight, with Mr. Wink we got to see a little Unmensch easter egg with his mechanical flying fist (squeee Wake the Devil). And one of my favorite exchanges about love and relationships, followed by the hilarious sing-along is in this story.
“You’re in love, have a beer.”
“Oh no, My body is a temple”
“Well now it’s an amusement park.”
I will likely get burned at the stake for what I am about to type. The Liz Sherman pregnancy RUINED so much for me. I already hated the Liz/Hellboy romance, and this took it to another level. The Angel of Death scene almost redeemed it, until i saw the baby Hellboy in the prophecy. The Angel tells Liz Sherman that she is trading the life of the entire world so that Hellboy can live, and she finds this to be an acceptable trade. At the very end, the reveal that that they are actually having twins, and the freeze frame of that goofy smile. Here it is...i am about to say it, get your torches and pitchforks...I am glad that there was never a Hellboy 3, because I secretly never wanted it to happen. Thankfully I still had the comics to look forward to.
Years of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. stories later, I only got more and more invested. Hell on Earth took everything to a new level, The Storm and The Fury was emotionally cataclysmic. I couldn’t believe how high the stakes had become, and I felt this path towards a final story arc was more real, and far more dramatic than some of my favorites. I have felt for quite some time that the best stories have endings, which is what broke my heart about DC/Vertigo restarting Sandman, Lucifer, and the Watchmen. They were some of my favorite tales of all time, and the emotional climax of each was so valuable to me, those tears I cried were so well earned. I don’t have faith in much, but I do have faith in Mike Mignola keeping his promise of a real and lasting end.
The finale that we are facing as Mignolaverse fans in the coming months is very different from those I have mentioned before, in that the others are only personal endings. We are facing a far more impactful conclusion. We are seeing individual threads resolving both individually and as a group. We see not only personal, but a universal ending approaching. And now I’ve ended up here, facing down the end of all things. I am not alone, I have my own B.P.R.D., made up of creators, fellow fans, and friends that I have gained through this epic story, started 25 years ago by some guy who just wanted to write about monsters.