By Devin T. Quin
Maybe you’ve noticed the lavishly designed films by Guillermo del Toro or you’ve glimpsed the iconic red character design by creator Mike Mignola, either way you can’t be a comic book fan without having seen Hellboy.
Here’s a handy “What-What” guide to comicdom’s most celebrated devil.
WHAT IS HE?
Hellboy is an honest to god devil born of a high-ranking Lord in hell and a witch mother from England. He was summoned back to our plane of existence by Rasputin as part of a Nazi occult ritual in the 1940’s to raise the apocalypse beast. Due to poor calculations on the Mad Monk’s part, they DID raise the beast, just in a nearby field occupied by a special paranormal team of allies lead by Trevor Bruttenholm. The hell beast is only a year old. He’s large and red with horns and a tail, as well as a gigantic stone right hand.
A soldier attached to the division nicknames him “Hellboy,” and the name sticks.
Trevor then founds the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, or the B.P.R.D., a government subsidized occult focus group and begins to raise Hellboy as his own son. Through Trevor, Hellboy meets with the greatest minds of the Twentieth Century while being raised on American values (and pancakes). He becomes the greatest monster smasher of them all and soon looks to his teammates at the B.P.R.D. as family. Got that? He’s a devil turned good guy who punches monsters for Uncle Sam!
ARE THOSE GOGGLES?
Sigh. NO, they’re not goggles. Hellboy shaves down his horns so he can blend in better with humanity… well, maybe not “blend in” per se. The guy is almost eight feet tall and has a tail. Let’s say he shaves them down so he can go in and out of doors easier.
SO HE’S GONNA’ END THE WORLD?
To Hellboy’s chagrin, it looks like he just might. See, that weird stone hand is an important magical item, the key to the gates of hell and a powerful totem to unite and lead the armies of the damned. Hellboy’s dad as well as Rasputin, the Goddess Hecate and many others try to convince Hellboy to come back to the dark side and pick up his “Right Hand of Doom” to begin the end, but Hellboy is just an apple-pie loving “all American” who tries desperately to put the kibosh on Revelations once and for all.
One of Hellboy’s pals in the B.P.R.D. is Liz Sherman, a young lady pyrotechnic who discovers that her magical abilities to control fire are the result of her being a powerful fire elemental. Another is Abe Sapien, a mysterious Fish-Man who’s bizarre past makes Liz Sherman look like a reject on “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!”
In the AMAZING graphic novel Hellboy: Wake the Devil the team discovers a new friend, that of Roger the man-made Homunculus. As a living creature that doesn’t quite fit the human bill, Hellboy and Roger instantly bond. Controversies over Roger’s rights as a person force Hellboy to quit the B.P.R.D. before another colorful member, the shambling ectoplasmic man Johann Kraus, joins the team.
When Hellboy leaves the comic book world of Hellboy splits. Hellboy continues to have his own adventures in his eponymous comics while the rest of the team fights for the survival of humanity in a book called B.P.R.D.
SO THERE’S TWO HELLBOY COMICS?
Well, technically there are three, sometimes more. The Hellboy universe is a thriving world, and more books get published to satisfy reader demand. Books such as B.P.R.D. 1945 and B.P.R.D. 1946 follow a young Trevor Bruttenholm as he travels the world fighting post-war nasties, all the while raising the fledgling Hellboy. Spin-off books for supporting characters like Abe Sapien and 30’s crime fighter turned ghost Lobster Johnson abound.
Currently there are the two core books: Hellboy, which publishes sporadically, and the ongoing B.P.R.D. Trade paperbacks of each title are plentiful and easy to catch up with.
SO WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Every once and a while a comic book comes along that changes EVERYTHING in comic book publishing. Hellboy’s art look under Mike Mignola’s pen became the indy flavor du jour, and its blending of humor, supernatural horror and action had far reaching effects. EVERYBODY wanted to be publishing Hellboy, and comics changed as a result.
Subtle changes such as strengthening team dynamics and bigger changes to themes and pacing were felt throughout the entire industry. Why? Because Hellboy is a masterful comic book! It’s fun, it’s funny and it was like NOTHING that had come before it.
EVERY comic book fan should read the core Hellboy titles. Like Jack Kirby or Carl Barks, Mignola proved he was a true master of the medium and showed an entire generation where comics could go. You owe it to yourself to read Hellboy. The characters, settings and style are as original as comics get! Drop on by the Forbidden Planet and get your toes wet in the horror universe that NEVER fails to deliver the goods! Make mine Hellboy!