Withing Comic books these days there are hundreds of ‘Universes’ that contain interlocking characters and stories and major cross over events, some of these have decades of backstory to bolster them and others are relatively new. Lets look at Marvel and DC- they keep refreshing/rebooting theirs to serve the next purpose or keep things fresh but one universe that hasn’t been altered since its inception is the ‘Mignola-Verse’ and it may also be the best Universe in comic books.
The ‘Mignola-Verse’ wasn’t even created as a universe, but simply came to be from the mind and writing of Mike Mignola over the course of the last 22years. Mignola started with a simple title- Hellboy and since then has grown the universe slowly and exceptionally to contain new characters, stories and mythology that make this unlike any other universe in published comics.
The premise was simple but amazing- start with a central character in this case Hellboy and build the story around him and whether fate can be avoided and humanity earned through your deeds. Hellboy is a well-meaning demon whose true name is Anung Un Rama (“and upon his brow is set a crown of flame”), Hellboy was summoned from Hell to Earth as an infant demon on December 23, 1944 by Nazi occultists (spawning his hatred for them). He was discovered by the Allied Forces; amongst them, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, who formed the United States Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). In time Hellboy grew to be a large, red-skinned man with a tail, horns (which he files off, leaving behind the signature circular stumps on his forehead), cloven hooves for feet, and an oversized right hand made of stone that is said to be the key to bring about the apocalypse.
Hellboy stories began life as huge mythological tale featuring gothic story telling, great action and a host of mythology and history all mixed together to give us something truly unique to read- and all followed the tales of everyone favourite demon doing good as he tried to prevent the world from being over run by the final remnants of Nazi followers and there occult dealings. However as the stories began to grow, so did the list of characters within the universe that people began to feel a connection towards such as Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien. These members of the team became as much a part of the story as Hell-boy was and also played a vital role in the always alluded to future.
Yet at this point the stories were still limited to a chronological order single release book, but the universe seemed to be growing and building its own mythology and fan base so it came as no surprise in 2002 when Hellboy left the BPRD, that this was the first of the related titles to get a release in the form of BPRD: Hollow Earth. This allowed us to follow the adventures of Hellboy in his own book, but also stay attached and in love with the BPRD and there adventures through a series of mini-series events that always tied back into the main books events and kept building the mythology that Mignola was intent on keeping- and that was very much the signs of the coming apocalypse at the hand of Hellboy.
I know many people including myself were more than happy with the the level of books we were getting based around Hellboy, but really we wanted as much as we could possibly have and in 2007 we were obliged when Lobster Johnson got his own spin off book from the pages of the BPRD and we got to see more adventures of the vigilante from 1930’s New York and despite his demise his quest was too powerful for his soul to rest so he continues his quest to prevent the Nazi’s and their occult following from taking the world.
Now at this point Mignola was deep into his Hellboy mythology and was providing us with chronological tales and single issue stories that were giving more and more information on how Hellboy fitted into the modern world and how the world was changing as a result of his presence. This universe was now growing more and more, and seeing more of an influence from the deep mythological and fairy tales we all know so well- and this gave the Mignolaverse a very unique feel as every story felt based on history that we know to be true with a hint of the occult added in. On top of this the stories kept true to the characters and their motivations, at no point does Hellboy decide he’s had enough of his fight and will give in or does Abe Sapien decide to leave his team mates (who he considers Family) everything in this universe makes sense and isn’t flipped for sales.
Mignola’s has always been about establishing characters and the world within which they live and will continue to live and fight for- and this is a huge reason that this universe is the best within comic books as everything has meaning. The world itself is as much a part of the story as the characters and their personal quests and trials, as its this very universe that is at stake and at times has its own role to play in the success or failure of goals. A perfect example of this is the huge number of ghosts that exist or come into existence during the stories, and their reason for being/summoning is sometimes simply due to the actions of Hellboy or the BPRD and as a result have been sent forth to challenge them. Then lets look at the Ogdru Jahad, they are the Dragon of Revelation, and are destined to bring about the end of the world. Though the Ogdru Jahad are the ultimate antagonists in the series, they are not themselves active, their release from imprisonment instead being the object of many other villains’ plans. However all this changes when one of them lands on the earth and Hellboy has to battle the Demon for the fate of the Earth- and its this kind of 20year long story build that makes major universe shifting events feel important and shattering to the status quo not just this years next big ‘Event.’
Mignola has continued to evolve his universe and its mythology throughout recent years, mainly by building upon the mythology he has already set out with titles such as ‘Edward Grey: Witchfinder’ and ‘Frankenstein Underground’ that feature characters we have either seen before or heard tales of during the main series. This has been a great way for the universe to continue to deliver new and exciting tales outside of the regular stories- yet despite this they all fall into the universe and the timeline of events established. More recently we’ve had tales of the early days of Hellboy as we awaited his current fate in Hell, and even these tales have been an utter joy to read and experiance- however I will be honest here that that final issue of ‘Hellboy In Hell’ had me shed a tear or two but surely thats what character changing events and moments are meant to do?!
There is no other universe so totally engrossing, well written or all encompassing as this one and given the quality of the characters and the world itself this is easily the best universe in all of comic books.