The Book Report: What I've Learned from Re-Reading Hellboy
Hell-O! My name is John Salinas and I host the Hellboy Book Club podcast, where we are going through the entire Hellboy chronology, picking out all the details and connecting branches of the different stories. I’ve been a fan of the Hellboy comics for almost 20 years, but I’ve never gone through the stories in the order that were going through on the podcast and never in this much detail. One of my favorite things about the podcast is researching and picking out all the components embedded into the stories. Doing so has taught me a few things about big red. DISCLAIMER: This article only covers Hellboy stories prior to “Darkness Calls,” and does not include the “Hellboy In Mexico,” tales. This week, we released our 12th episode and now we will be switching gears away from Hellboy and focusing on the B.P.R.D. for the next few weeks. As we get ready to break from Hellboy I thought it would be interesting to share
“WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM RE-READING HELLBOY or HOW HELLBOY OVERCOMES HIS FEAR OF DESTINY SOMETHING LIKE THAT, A BETTER TITLE IF I CAN THINK OF ONE BECAUSE THIS IS PROBABLY TOO LONG FOR A TITLE.”
Let’s go back to 1947, Hellboy’s hesitation to accept truths can be traced all the way back to age 2 and being asked to eat pancakes. Young Hellboy is afraid to accept the truth that pancakes taste amazing. But really, ignoring my bad attempt at humor, you can definitely draw some parallels with Hellboy down the line, once he eats the pancake (and accepts the truth), he loves it. I’ll have to save that juicy idea for a future article…
We learn in the short story “Makoma” that, later in 1947, young Hellboy met the spirit of Africa as a boy, something that he can’t believe he’s forgotten. Perhaps, Hellboy forgot it or blocked it out of his memory for some reason. Studies in psychiatric science tell us that the brain can essentially block a traumatic memory in a process called dissociation—or detachment from reality where the brain will attempt to protect itself.
A year later in 1948 young Hellboy has a supernatural experience at the Midnight Circus, when young HB decides to venture out on his adventure, he passes by Bruttenholm (his surrogate father) talking with Malcolm Frost about his threatening destiny, young Hellboy frowns upon hearing this information. We know Hellboy ages differently than humans so he is very aware here that his future is feared by others. After, he encounters Astaroth, who attempts to groom Hellboy for his future, and also sees the Beast of the Apocalypse version of himself in a carnival mirror. When Hellboy is finally rescued by Professor Bruttenholm, he says “I guess it was maybe a dream,” regarding his escapade. Even at this age, Hellboy thinks it better to avoid talking about what he’s experienced and he pledges to Bruttenholm that he will never venture out again. Perhaps this is where his mind decided to shut out these instances, young Hellboy is relived to be rescued from the supernatural fairy dream world, which in reality, is his true home.
Ten years after, in 1958, Tom Ferrel tells Hellboy that he has his own burden to carry, Hellboy responds “I guess,” Tom asks “You don’t feel it yet?” “Guess not,” Hellboy responds. Later the Crooked man tells Hellboy that he can only step foot in churches because he’s” special” and “meant for earth shaking things,” Hellboy responds eloquently: “Shut up.”
Jumping ahead to 1991, in the short story, “Dr. Carp’s Experiment,” Hellboy is summoned through time for his blood and witnesses his blood turn a monkey into a demonic monster. This strange event happens within the span of a second and is not perceived by the B.P.R.D. agents assisting him. Afterwards Agent Raskin asks Hellboy if he tripped, since he is on the floor, “I guess so,” he says, saying nothing about the event or the syringe with his blood in it. The incident, seeing how his blood has its own power, would be unsettling to learn. What good would come from telling anyone about it? All the information would only serve to arise suspicion about Hellboy’s nature. Hellboy knows that it wouldn’t make him look good.
In 1993, at The Explorers Club, Hellboy has a vision of the life of Makoma, resembling his own life. Hellboy sees his future, or an allegory of what his life will become and how it will end. Like I referenced earlier, Hellboy also unlocks a hidden memory from his early childhood, when he met the spirit of Africa, creating more questions about his unique senses and power.
During 1994 in the Seed of Destruction storyline, Hellboy first meets Rasputin and Rasputin reveals that it was he that called Hellboy to Earth, to stand beside him at Ragnarok. Hellboy says “I think I’ll pass.” I imagine it would be disappointing to learn that your reason for existing on Earth is because of the actions of a mad monk with delusions of grandeur. When Hellboy confronts Rasputin at the end of the story line, he admits “Maybe you were telling the truth, maybe it was you who brought me to Earth, but I didn’t ask to come and I don’t owe you a favor.” Rasputin warns Hellboy “If you kill me, you will never know who you are, you will never understand the power inside of you!” “Yeah, you’re right, but I can live with it,” Hellboy responds in this memorable moment. But can Hellboy live with it? While a great comeback, well see that this excuse will not continue to hold water long. After the final battle, Abe Sapien asks Hellboy if Rasputin said anything to him in the end. Through Mignola’s art we see that Hellboy recalls the events, and what Rasputin says, but is unresponsive to Abe’s inquiry.
In 1995, The Chained Coffin story turns a corner in this theme. Here Hellboy purposely goes to the place of his birth on Earth after previously dismissing Cynthia Eden’s request for him to investigate the ghosts of a father and nun that she detected back then. This father and nun turn out to be Hellboy’s human step siblings. At East Bromwich, Hellboy witnesses a “ghost vision” of his father killing his step siblings and taking his mother into Hell. He tells Abe Sapien of the event in a letter, “Did I learn anything? I don’t know…maybe? Obviously Hellboy did learn things, but I don’t think he wants to think about it too much. It wasn’t very good information and Hellboy’s emotional reaction to seeing his Mother skewered on a hook tells us that it may have been traumatizing to witness. Hellboy asks Abe to keep the details a secret and quickly changes to subject to Mothman talk. Hellboy is reaching out here, the mysteries of his life are starting to get to him and he’s compelled to talk to a friend.
This theme continues in 1997’s “Wake The Devil” storyline, when the team is dispatched to Romania based on a trace of Project Ragnarok, Abe can tell Hellboy is anxious and asks him about it. Hellboy explicitly tells Abe that he “likes not knowing,” Hellboy says he “sleeps good not knowing.” Later when Hellboy meets Hecate, she makes it harder to ignore. Throughout the events of this story, Hellboy tells Hecate and The Pit, itself that they have “the wrong guy.” Here, Hellboy tells Hecate that he is going to purposefully try and escape his destiny and when The Pit commands Hellboy to accept his destiny (use his right hand to open the pit) or die, Hellboy makes a third choice, defying the forces of the universe itself. At the conclusion, Hellboy is relieved to have Hecate gone (temporarily) and he’s made a conscious decision to be defiant of his so-called destiny. Hellboy takes an active role in diverting from the road laid in front of him.
In the 1998 short story “The Right Hand of Doom,” Hellboy tells a priest that he contemplates cutting off his right hand. The priest tells Hellboy that this would be too dangerous and that the Right Hand of Doom is Hellboy’s burden. Hellboy accepts it somewhat, “Jeez, hand of doom, what a life,” he says to himself. Hellboy learns the danger of his right hand shortly after in Box Full of Evil, where he has to fight Ualac to prevent his crown and right hand from being used. Here, Hellboy fights, not to get the crown back, but simply to stop Ualac. Hellboy doesn’t’ even accept it afterwards, sending it back with Astaroth to Pandemonium in Hell. When Astaroth tries to broach the subject, Hellboy quickly shuts him down and lets Astaroth know that he’s not there to talk about that. Hellboy and Kate Corrigan have a good talk about what happened afterwards. Kate and Abe seem to be two of the few friends that Hellboy is actually comfortable addressing the subject of his destiny with so far. Hellboy tells Kate of his struggle to keep his head “buried in a hole.” Kate tells Hellboy that he should face his destiny, he’s surprised at her honesty, probably hoping she would encourage him to ignore it. This is evident as Hellboy lets the wind take the Right Hand of Doom parchment and as a bird quickly snatches up the parchment, the universe lets Hellboy know that avoiding his role is useless. Drama will come to him, it is waiting for him.
In 2000 during Conqueror Worm, after Hellboy has learned that an alien has been alive waiting for him for 61 years because of his destiny, Hellboy only focuses on defeating the worm and when Roger approaches, he only says “Look, a dead alien.” When Roger asks, “He knew you?” Hellboy responds “I don’t really want to talk about that right now.” At the end of this story Hellboy quits the B.P.R.D. and tells Kate that his decision is not just because of how Roger was treated, but because of his crown of apocalypse destiny, I’m sure the alien had something to do with that as well. When Kate asks Hellboy why he’s going to Africa, he says he was there once and he liked it. Seven years earlier at The Explorer’s Club, Hellboy remembered going to Africa and meeting the rhino spirit, his motivation to return may have been activated by this vision.
A year or so later in “The Third Wish,” when the Bog Roosh explains her plan to rid the world of Hellboy and his destiny, Hellboy responds with a “shut up,” but then taunts her to go ahead and “do it right now.” There is a moment while Hellboy is bound with the unbreakable bone chains and vulnerable that he seems to seriously think he may die. King Dagda also seems concerned about him, observing from the “elsewhere.” I wonder what Hellboy would have done had the third mermaid not intervened?
Two years later, around 2004 in “The Island,” when Hellboy is confronted by Hecate reminding him of how they will be together on the last day, he drinks rum and tells her to stay out of his way until then. Here Hellboy is realizing that she may be right, but he’s not going to deal with it until the time comes. Hellboy accepts that some of these prophesies may come to pass but doesn’t bother preparing for them, should he? This changes somewhat when Hellboy dies, he tells Mohlomi that he’s not ready for it to be over. Here Hellboy is truly starting to accept that he is part of something grander and has to continue. This sentiment is echoed in the epilogue and Mignola has stated in interviews that there are certain things that Hellboy has to do before he can end his journey, maybe Hellboy is subconsciously aware of these things as well, buried in his mind, like the encounter with the spirit of Africa. Hellboy resists the information regarding the origins of his right hand and its age and significance, it’s too much; that rabbit hole goes too deep. His right hand is an ancient relic from the beginning of the universe, probably the most important relic possible. Hellboy says “I don’t believe it,” but we and the old man in the story know that he is lying. Hellboy ends that interaction with another thought-provoking; “Shut up.” I mock the “shut ups” which Hellboy says often when it comes to his destiny. It may seem like a childish, knee-jerk response, but I think it has more meaning; “I’ll deal with this OK? I just don’t want to talk about it, just stop talking about it.”
On the podcast, we’ll have to wait a few weeks until we pick up his story again. What we do know is that Hellboy knows his origin, he’s seen what he should be, he knows that he is not a man and he is going home. Hellboy is investigating deeper into his purpose, he seems to have dug his heels in and I can’t wait to talk about what he will find out. Until then, follow us as we start reading B.P.R.D. next week on the Hellboy Book Club Podcast!