Hell to Pay: A Look Back at Mike Mignola's Hellboy - Part 2

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After taking a look at the creation of Hellboy and some of the earliest stories, we now turn to the later volumes and take a look ahead at what the future holds.

Part One

The Right Hand of Doom

Following The Chained Coffin and Others, the next Hellboy volume proved to be another collection of short stories, this one given the ominous title of The Right Hand of Doom.  Eight stories comprise this edition although the last story, “Box Full of Evil” was actually released as a two-issue mini-series before it was collected. 

With Right Hand of Doom, although there are fewer “firsts”, each story remains a fun blend of horror and whimsy.  Take, for instance, the ultra-short story “Pancakes” which tells the tale of young Hellboy’s first encounter with that breakfast staple.  “Pancakes” is a simple two pages in length and yet a complete and wonderfully silly story.  “Nature of the Beast” again returns to Mignola’s theme of nature vs. nurture where Hellboy is concerned.  Although a well-scripted story, where it really shines is in Mignola’s artwork where he turns to depict the English countryside, a field full of lilies, and a very old-fashioned dragon. 

With “Heads”, “The Vẩrcolac”, and “King Vold” Mignola showcases his ability to adapt not so common myths and stories from other cultures.  Both “Heads” and “The Vẩrcolac” deal with some very unusual vampires and “Heads” stands out in particular thanks to Mignola’s ability to meld a Japanese style into his own art.  It is the last three stories, however, that add much to the ongoing mystery of Hellboy’s past. 

The titular “Right Hand of Doom” not only recaps Hellboy’s story and provides and excellent primer for new readers, it also adds more layers of menace to the character’s existence.  Likewise, “Box Full of Evil” deals with Hellboy’s demonic identity and his struggle to break free of it.

The Conqueror Worm

After Right Hand of Doom, Mignola’s third Hellboy mini-series was collected – The Conqueror Worm.  This story would see all of Mignola’s favorite plot elements brought together in one, large, sweeping arc.  There is the Nazi, head-in-a-jar Herman Von Klempt, up to his old tricks of trying to destroy the world, there is a Lovecraftian monster from outer space, an alien, and the ghost of Lobster Johnson – Mignola’s creation of a Golden Age style pulp hero.  The tale would also signal a turning point for the character of Hellboy and the re-introduction of a more recent supporting cast member – Roger the Homunculus. 

Roger was first seen in Wake the Devil and had his back-story told in “Almost Colossus”.  Like Hellboy, Roger is strong and nearly indestructible, but his violent origin gives him a little different, and unenviable, status among the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) than either Hellboy or Abe Sapien.  Despite some similarities to Hellboy, Roger stands in contrast as in Conqueror Worm readers see that he is slightly sweeter and has a more innocent and trusting nature than Hellboy.

Strange Places

The events of Conqueror Worm would lead directly to the next volume, Strange Places.  This trade would collect the two-issue mini-series The Third Wish as well as its two-issue companion The Island.  “The Third Wish” sees Hellboy drifting for perhaps the first time in his life.  Having cut himself loose from the BPRD he traveled to Africa and sought out a wise man.

True to form, Hellboy’s peace is short-lived as he finds himself swept into the sea, overpowered by a trio of mermaids, and delivered to an ancient, undersea witch called the Bog Roosh.  Surprisingly the tale centers mostly on the youngest of the three mermaids and it is a very affecting and melancholy story – evidence of Mignola’s changing and growing skills as a writer.

The Island picks up roughly where The Third Wish leaves off with a waterlogged Hellboy washing up on a deserted island.  The island is a graveyard of ships, complete with ghost crews – who prove quite jovial drinking buddies.  Even here, though, weirdness continues to follow Hellboy and in this case it involves a visit and offer from Hecate, a run-in with yet another Lovecraftian monster, a struggle with the reanimated spirit of a heretic priest, and the secret history of Hellboy’s stone right hand! 

There is no denying that, with Strange Places, Mignola begins to vary his Hellboy stories.  He is beginning to build more and more emotional content into the tales and focus as much on atmosphere as on the nature of the monsters he throws in.  There is also a greater feeling that, although all the Hellboy stories build upon one another, events are now moving rapidly and inexorably to a climax.  Just what that climax is, however, remains Mignola’s mystery alone.

Starting this week, however, Hellboy returns with an all-new six-issue mini-series written by Mike Mignola with art by Duncan Fegredo.  With Hellboy: Darkness Calls, the former “World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator” finds himself in the thick of both trouble and magic.  Hellboy does not have a good past with witches – he’s had ongoing grudges with Hecate and Babba Yaga and his run-in with the Bog Roosh did not end well either. 

So what happens when the witches of the world band together and turn their attention to him?  Well, that’s what fans will have to wait and see.  A few samples of art from the series have been published and, with what is seen so far, Fegredo is an excellent choice for collaborator.  His style contains much of the hard edges, sharp angles, and thick, dark lines that resemble Mignola’s trademark look. 

Whether you are a new Hellboy fan or an old one now is an excellent time just to be one.  Throughout six volumes of stories Mike Mignola has made readers gasp in shock and surprise and laugh out loud in between.  With more stories coming it does not look like he intends to stop anytime soon.   

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