Overview

Hell to Pay: A Look Back at Mike Mignola's Hellboy - Part 1

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With the new Hellboy mini-series, Darkness Calls, debuting this week, Broken Frontier felt it was the perfect time to take a look back on over a decade’s worth of Hellboy history.

In the afterward to Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, writer/artist/creator Mike Mignola claims it all began with an ironic name dropped onto a character sketch at a 1991 convention.  After a few years of gestation the big, red guy that fans know and love finally emerged and Mignola labeled Hellboy “The World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator” then set out to prove it.

A little bit of Indiana Jones, a lot of gothic horror, a blue collar attitude and the personal mystery of Hellboy’s origin and nature made the first mini-series stand out and forever changed how readers saw the paranormal.  Mignola’s stories were not about your garden-variety witches, ghosts and vampires; no, Hellboy was the thinking man’s supernatural with strange creatures, legends, and dark magics from times past and across the globe; all drenched in a shivery atmosphere.

Seed of Destruction

The first mini-series was collected in 1994 as Hellboy: Seed of Destruction and, as Mignola embarked with the character, he did so with a distinguished collaborator.  Having been primarily an artist for most of his career up to that point, Mignola tapped well-known comic book scribe John Byrne to script the story.  The duo’s style worked well as is evidenced by the fact that there is no real jarring change in between this story and later ones written by Mignola. 

The art, of course, was all Mignola’s.  One can see his distinctive style already coming to the fore in this first collection as he makes changes from the mainstream work he did for DC and Marvel Comics.  Surprisingly, though, readers can still see a lot of Jack Kirby influence in the work as well.  That “Kirby style”, though, would fade as time and Hellboy went on.

Seed of Destruction introduced readers to Hellboy and his weird origin – having been apparently summoned to Earth from Hell by a group of Nazis in an attempt to win WW II.  There would be a number of mysteries wrapped up in Hellboy’s debut and Mignola would spend the next decade slowly spinning these out to fans’ delight.  Seed of Destruction also would introduce several of Hellboy’s supporting cast, many of whom would go on to starring roles. 

Some of those introduced here were the amphibious Abe Sapien, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, and Hellboy’s nemesis the Russian mad monk Rasputin.  The story itself is a fascinating tale that mixes a few H.P. Lovecraft elements with older, dark, folktales and traditions and a healthy dose of humor.  It is one of the terrific dichotomies of the series that, no matter how strange the monsters become; Hellboy remains unsurprised by the events.

After finishing Seed of Destruction, Mike Mignola would take the step to handle both the writing and the art on future Hellboy stories.  Mignola honed his craft on a couple of short stories before tackling the next mini-series. 

Wake the Devil

Hellboy: Wake the Devil debuted in 1995 and beautifully displayed Mignola’s genius with taking things of the paranormal that readers think they know and giving them twists.  In this case, a group of formerly frozen Nazis are up to some very old tricks, trying to destroy the world by creating an army of vampires!  They intend to do this by bringing back to un-life an old, Eastern European Count named Vladmir Giurescu. 

Of course, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) are put on the trail of the Nazis and their vampiric would-be-ally.  In what would become a running theme, Hellboy takes a lot of lumps for the team.  He also starts a grudge match with both the vampire and Hecate, goddess of witches.  Along the way, Hellboy learns a few more uncomfortable facts about himself and the mission would also have long lasting effects for a number of secondary characters. 

Wake the Devil is not your typical vampire story.  There is no guy in an opera cape and with a widow’s peak seducing demure Victorian damsels.  This is a story completely wrapped in ancient folklore and then mixed with a concept straight out of a pulp novel of the 1930’s or 1940’s.  Mignola also begins exploring ideas of nature vs. nurture and free will vs. destiny as Hellboy begins the struggle to define himself rather than letting others define him.

Wake the Devil also showcases more of an evolution of Mignola’s style as he increasingly uses black, negative space in his panels.  There is also a notable amount of work and research done in the attention to the architecture, symbols, and art of other countries and other cultures throughout the story.  The results are distinct and wonderful.

The Chained Coffin and Others

As we bring the first part of this article to a close we turn to The Chained Coffin and Others.  Between the various Hellboy mini-series’ Mignola became known for doing short Hellboy stories for various publications.  The Chained Coffin contains seven stories and each is significant in its own way. 

“The Wolves of St. August” is the first story Mignola wrote and illustrated on his own and was also the first story to introduce the character of Kate Corrigan while “The Corpse” is perhaps the most famous of the Hellboy short stories and is beloved by many fans and “The Chained Coffin” gives readers a bit more insight into where Hellboy comes from. 

Although The Chained Coffin was collected and published after Wake the Devil, most of the stories in this volume were written before Wake the Devil.  The final story that appears in The Chained Coffin, “Almost Colossus”, however, occurs just after the events of the Wake the Devil and provides a nice postscript to the mini-series – as well as introducing yet another Hellboy supporting character. 

One of the biggest treats to this volume, however, are the story introductions by Mignola, giving readers a little insight into the way he thinks, works, and crafts the stories.

In tomorrow’s part two we look at The Right Hand of Doom, The Conqueror Worm, Strange Places, and what comes next for the big, red guy!

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