Devil’s Food: Getting Into Hellboy

 

Last week we talked about continuity, the constant struggle to sustain a cohesive universe, an infrastructure to house increasingly disparate stories. For my money, the most compelling case for a smaller, rigidly controlled universe is brewing over at Dark Horse. I speak, of course, of the Mignolaverse, comprised of two core titles, Hellboy and B.P.R.D.


With the second Hellboy film adaptation hitting the silver screen this week amidst a flurry of new Mignolaverse minis and one shots I thought it only appropriate to talk about the accessibility of this world for anyone interested in further reading. It should be noted that while Guillermo del Toro’s film series expertly captures the tone of the books — with Ron Perlman providing a pitch perfect Hellboy — it does differ from the source. Relationships are tweaked a bit to create a dynamic more appropriate to a summer blockbuster. So don’t expect to see Hellboy and Liz engage in spontaneously combusting tonsil hockey on the page. And as a diehard Hellboy fan, I’m telling you, that’s okay

We’ll have to talk about adaptation and creative license one of these weeks. Just as a preview: it doesn’t bother me. Pristine, one to one adaptation is impossible for one. And even if it were, it’d sort of be like cloning. And as we know, that leads to the uprising.  Which in turn, leads to fires in trashcans and a lot of trench coats.       

So, stepping out of The Golden Army and thirsty for some more chiseled horn action (horny for more chiseled action?) where should you start? First things being first, make room on your Netflix queue for the two animated films Sword of Storms and Blood & Iron. The latter in particular is a great showcase of the universe as a whole and really does feel like a Hellboy romp you’d find in the trades. I give it my highest recommendation. Which should mean a lot to you because I have a weekly column.

As for the paper-cut inducers, much has been said of the accessibility of Hellboy proper. You can start at the beginning with the gorgeous Library Edition or go ahead and grab any Hellboy collection and settle in for the ride. A new arc called “The Crooked Man” started last week, and in addition to being an exceptional read, it feels like a perfectly friendly jumping on point for new readers (I literally just lent it out at my office today). If you’ve seen the movie or even heard the pitch for the character, you’re prepped and ready.

There are really two reasons why this all works so well as a self-contained universe. The character himself ages in a very peculiar way. He matures quickly but then plains off so that from the 50s on up to today, he’s the adult, action-ready Hellboy. That’s a wide playing field with room for half a century of paranormal exploits. His adventures are not published chronologically. It’s a sprawling puzzle. The Crooked Man, for example, takes place in the 1950s while the “Conqueror Worm” story is set in 2001. The trick here is that you can start the puzzle from any angle, and each tale is generally independent from those that came before. Enjoy them on their own (I’ve seen old women with puzzle-piece brooches) or assemble them to develop a bigger picture. (I didn’t mean “seen” in that sense. Cool it, Mrs. Robinson.)

The other reason for this success is that the conceit of the character is so simple. In the best of ways. Hellboy really needs no introduction. Just set him in a bizarre circumstance and he will bust his way out of it. Mignola’s contributions appeal to the minimalist. His work features strong, visual storytelling. These are fairy tales, by and large, and given that Hellboy himself is so readily established, his role is almost a cameo, a guest spot. At center stage is the weirdness, the intrusion of horrifying elements into the natural world. Hellboy is the witness, the exterminator. There is character development over the course of this series, but the masthead of the whole thing is the simple pleasure of seeing a red demon with a huge stone fist pounding tentacles and Nazi gorillas into a fine pulp.

 


And what of the sister series B.P.R.D.? Here’s where it gets a little tricky. While Hellboy takes place over more than half a century with self-contained episodes scattered throughout, B.P.R.D. is a little tighter, with most of the events taking place in this decade. The story arcs are chronological, so I can’t make the same recommendation of jumping in on any given story. The first two trades serve to establish the Bureau as a whole, focusing mainly on the more recognizable Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman. These are anthologies, collections of work by different creative teams. It feels like an ongoing experiment. Fast forward to the third trade, Plague of Frogs, which is the actual start point for the book as we know it today. The team is set in place with Roger the Homunculus (which is something that happens when… I think possibly… there might be one growing in a jar in my basement. I could never throw out those science experiments) and Johann Kraus (otherwise known as The Ectoplasmic Man) filling out the ensemble. This is also where John Arcudi and Guy Davis establish themselves as the official creative team with Mignola co-writing. Although it features the same Weird Tale level of demonic intrusion, B.P.R.D. is a much more complex series. The emphasis here is on the interaction between characters. There are a great deal of secrets. as well as yearnings for truth. These are damaged people (most of them have previously been deceased). But it’s never a drag. 

Don’t ask me which I prefer. That’s terrible. I love them as if they were children. The fruit of my loins. One an apple, the other an orange. But they’re adopted fruit because I didn’t write them personally.

If you’re in a hurry to catch up on B.P.R.D. (new arc this week!), I’d suggest that third trade. As for the one-shots, the aforementioned “Ectoplasmic Man” is a brilliant little ghost story. It’s Johann Kraus’s origin tale, a terrific example of what can be done in a single issue. And I’m currently in a hypothetical bidding war with iFanboy listener KahunaBlair for that last page.

If you still find yourself stumped or even if you just want to learn more about certain characters or events, I suggest The Hellboy Companion. It’s a digest sized reference book filled with character bios, timelines, as well as illustrations from Mignola and other collaborators from years past. It’s recently been updated with references from the B.P.R.D.: 1946 mini that wrapped up not too long ago (another safe bet for beginners). The item that really sold me on the Companion book was the inclusion of Mignola’s “further reading” suggestions. The man loves his research, and fills these stories with elements from forgotten lore and folk tales from every corner of the earth. I’m sure he’s gotten tired of fans asking where he gets all his wild ideas, so here’s a sampling in list form. My Amazon cart overfloweth.

While the pile of reading may look daunting, this is not an “Aw, Crap…” moment.  Dive in and watch as those Nazi gorillas get flattened to ‘Pancakes’.

Which, as you may have heard, is another good story (It’s in this one!)

Next Week?  The Ongoing Trials of Superman!

 


Paul Montgomery wishes that people would stop out-bidding him in auctions for Hellboy mini busts on eBay. He wants to mount one on the handlebars of his bike. He can be reached at paul@ifanboy.com

 

 

Comments

  1. I say thee ‘nice’ young man.

  2. Yet another book that iFanboy is making me pick up. My wallet curses you!

    Seriously, good article. I read the Ectoplasmic Man one-shot after listening to this last week’s podcast. Now, after reading this article, I am going to have to read more!

  3. You liked this, you’re gonna love the weekly show tomorrow.

    It’s all about TIMING!

  4. It’s funny. Some of the arcs so weird and sureal, that I tend to not follow what exactly is going on. But I don’t care! I love the art and characters so much I just let myself get lost in the pages.

    By the way, the most recent trade did a good job in touching on a bunch of Old Arcs. I finally understand what happended to Ilsa and Hecate.

     

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @josh – I was only going to write a B.P.R.D. article, but then I realized I have no idea how to describe that book.  Except to say that it is goooood.  

  6. I’m just trying to reread Hellboy. For me it’s one of those comics where everyone says it’s the best thing since sliced bread and I’m luke-warm on it at best. BPRD is next, maybe it wiill be a little more my taste.

  7. First off, great write-up! This is the series I’ve tried to turn so many people on. You like X-Files? Hellboy! You like noir? Hellboy! You like tuna fish? Hellboy!

    Secondly, Paul starts writing for iFanboy in June. Blair stops pulling books in June. Coincidence? I think not!

    Thirdly, I just bought the Companion. Thanks for pointing that out, sir.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @KahunaBlair – The Companion is such a cool piece.  Not just a shallow summary of events to feed off the current popularity of the franchise.  This is a thoughtful reference.  I love it!

  9. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    See.  Told ya, guys.  

  10. I some times have to put Hellboy down, because I know, if its not blowing my mind, it’s just me. It’s the type of book I like to devote a little time to, and if there is any book that deserves a little qt, it’s the one. The art is fantastic, the story telling is great, and you’re right, you can start at any arc and follow.

     @Tork – Two fantastic pages. I remember reading this and just saying, "wow! that’s perfect", because pancakes are that powerful, and I never realized it before. Whoever invented them is genius.

  11. Paul-

     Perfect timing. Hellboy was just one of those titles that I could never figure out how to get into.  I tried–I bought a BPRD series a few years ago–but I just couldn’t figure out the actual Hellboy comic. (I did get Crooked Man, though–Corben doing Hellboy? awesome).

     Thanks for the tips, man. I will do my best to read up before I see the movie. 

     great and timely article!

     

    -mike

  12. Good article! Looks Hellboy is something i’ve been wanting to get in trade for a while now. When i was younger i was trun off by Hellboy i thought it was to dark.Now it looks realy fun. But is’t Lodster Jonhson part of The Hellboy U some how?   

  13. Thanks for the kind words about the animated movies.   My first words to Guillermo when I saw him last week were, "Get the animated rights back so we can make the third movie!"

    Meanwhile, I’m not sure that the iFanbase is aware the Mike Mignola is currently drawing the INTERIOR ART for a new Hellboy arc and more importantly, having a blast doing it so it may mean more to come.  It’s called In the Chapel of Moloch and I can’t wait because although his covers are great, it’s his graphic storytelling that is so unique in the comic world.

  14. Yeah, Lobster Johnson premiered in the "Conqueror Worm" mini, a Hellboy/Roger team up story, as a "guide" of sorts to Roger after the big guy dropped off a mountain.

  15. @Tad – I just gasped out loud at that Mignola news!

  16. @Tad Everytime you say something  like "last time I saw Guillermo" (first name basis? really?) I shake my fist angrily at the air. Then you tell me something so awesome (ie: Mike Mignola drawing Hellboy interiors) and I just can’t stay mad at you.

  17. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Tad – Hey, thanks for making them! I only wish that every animated project from the comic world got that kind of treatment.  Really thoughtful scripts.  Keep hounding him about getting the rights back!  I’d love to see more of these!

  18. Nice write up Paul.  Hellboy is one of those comics that I didn’t really get into until after the movie, but I love and cherish his character.  The Library Edition that was just released is probably one of my favorite collections on my shelf.  I’ve been wanting to get into B.R.P.D., so I’m glad to know a good starting point.  I may pick that up this week.

    On a side note, I’m so pumped for this movie.  I can’t wait.

  19. Tad thanks for that great bit of news to look forward too. Hellboy is friggin fantastic and I think it doesn’t get enough credit for being as "New Reader Friendly" as it is. It’s an example of how continuity CAN be done cleanly and without too much burden on the reader

  20. Thanks for the info!  I understand the connection between the two series better now — and thanks to Tork, I now finally understand the oft-seen ‘pamcakes’ reference (sort of??)

    Those animated movies are going right in my queue.  Oddly enough, when I saw ‘Hellboy’ however many years ago it came out, I wasn’t much of a comics reader — I’d read some Sandman and some Alan Moore, that was it — but (to relate to Josh’s topic this week) I was much much closer to picking up a Hellboy comic than I ever had been to X-men or Spider-Man, though I also loved those movies. I didn’t actually do it, because I think I assumed the continuity was more convoluted than it actually is. A primer like this one defintely would have come in handy back then.

      

  21. CBR has their DH October Previews up. The Mignola issue looks sweet! Goya is one of my favorite artists ever. Nice cover.

  22. A Question for those who watched the animated movies.

    How was "Blood & Iron" compared to "Sword of Storms"?

    I’ve been thinking of picking it up. I liked the story in "Sword of Storms", but I thought some of the execution was too cute for my taste. The Dancing inanimate objects really put me off.

    (No offense to Tad. Just a difference in preference)

  23. I’d venture to say that people who don’t like Hellboy might like B.P.R.D. Definitely for fans of team books. Such rich characters and Guy Davis is an insanely talented and consistent artist.

  24. @DoctorColossus~ I actually liked Blood and Iron better than Sword of Storms.  It had a much darker and more sinister feel to it as it focuses on vampires and a haunted house.  It’s a really great animated movie, and if you like the first one, you’ll love this one.  If you dig around on the website, Conor actually did a post on the two movies some time ago.

  25. I really enjoyed Blood and Iron a lot more because its gothic horror atmosphere. For me, its just the perfect environment for a Hellboy story to thrive. This is coming from a fan who thinks Wake the Devil is the best Hellboy story to date.

  26. @DoctorColossus – My reviews of SWORD OF STORMS and BLOOD AND IRON

  27. @ Everyone who Responded

    Thanks for the replies! I think I’ll pick up Blood & Iron and do a marathon to prep for the movie.

    I’ll Watch the first movie, all the Animated movies, and The Amazing Screw On Head.

     

  28. Haha – I’m an idiot.  Josh reviewed BLOOD & IRON, not me.

    Carry on.