So the weekly recommendation returns after a two week festive break- and is back with a bang, as I look at possibly the greatest comic book based around fairy tale and myth: Mike Mignola’s ‘Hellboy’
Many might not know that the character first appeared in ‘Next Men 21’ but made his first full appearance- with a story of his own in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 in 1993, and has been a cult phenomenon ever since. Mignola originally pitched the idea of the ‘Hellboy series to DC comics, who passed as they didn’t like the connotations of Hell and the book was quickly snapped up by Dark Horse publishing where it remains and impresses to this day.
Hellboy is a creature, summoned in the final months of World War II by Grigori Rasputin on Tarmagant Island, off the coast of Scotland, having been commissioned by the Nazis to change the tide of war (“Project Ragna Rok”). As a direct result of this ritual, he appears on Earth in a fireball in a ruined church in East Bromwich, England, on December 23, 1944. Proving not to be a devil, in the traditional sense, but a devil-like creature with red skin, horns, a tail, and a disproportionately large right hand made of red stone, he is dubbed “Hellboy” by Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm. Taken by the United States armed forces to an Air Force base in New Mexico, Hellboy is raised by the United States Army and by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), a private organization dedicated to combating occult threats. However, it is not until he eats his first human meal (a meal of pancakes) that he is forever bound to the mortal world.
At its heart ‘Hellboy’ is a tale of ones quest to belong and find happiness in the world- I know this may sound odd but Hellboy wants nothing more than to outrun his destiny (destroying the world) and to do so because he has grown to love the earth and all who inhabit it. Its this moral backbone of the main character that makes the book such a great read- as the moment he discovers his true identity and purpose he does everything he can to prevent this from occurring, and watching the journey unfold has so far been amazing.
The true strength of this series has been in the story telling- while all the characters are great from Abe Sapien to Rasputin, its the mythology of the stories and Hellboy’s reaction and response to each of these that has me hooked. From the very first tale (Seeds of destruction) Hellboys world begins to turn upside down, and watching him deal with the changes is a true pleasure. At times he responds with sheer brute strength- like dealing with the plague of frogs, while at other times he responds in a much more passive way merely shrugging off the ‘supposed destiny’ many speak off for him and try to lead him towards. Add to this the fact that no tale or element of any tale is left open and unexplained- were still going back to the plague of frogs now all this time later- and you have a truly great story that is being woven towards its end. The stories become elaborate and fantastical as the journey continues too- take the Wild Hunt for example which was a great tale of Hellboy in England and how he cant outrun his destiny even if he tries- and the emotion packed into this is immense as you by this point you are truly attached to Hellboy and his quest to do right.
However no comic book is complete without mentioning the artwork- and this is where ‘Hellboy is distinctive as most of the issues in the entire series have been pencilled by Mike Mignola himself, and he truly has brought the dark and brooding world in which Hellboy lives to life. Every character looks amazing, every location looks foreboding and full of turmoil and each story looks and feels like a dark fairy tale designed for adults. Despite other artists guesting on certain story arcs, and doing a great job, Hellboy just feels more at home with Mignola handling the work, just as it started.
This is a book I recommend you at least read the first first story arc for- and trust me after that you’ll be hooked. And with the end of the series in sight (Hellboy in Hell is currently printing) now would be a great time to familiarise yourself with this modern classic.