Friday Five: Hellboy

By Peter SM RSS Fri, March 21, 2014

This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Hellboy and has been designated Hellboy Day across libraries, comic book shops, and bookstores around the world.

Who or what is Hellboy, you ask? Only one of the most unique and interesting "superheroes" to splash onto a comics panel and the world of fiction in some time, as well as being a creator-owned, independent success story from the mind of one Mike Mignola. The universe that Mignola has created is a mashing up of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe horror fiction, forgotten folklore, and pulp magazine storytelling, with the reanimated corpse of Jack Kirby drawing all the action in a haunted mansion up the hill from a graveyard.

To be more specific though, Hellboy is a lovably gruff demon summoned from Hell to Earth by Nazi occultists during World War II, who is then adopted and raised by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm of the allied forces and grows up to be a large, red-skinned man-thing with a tail, horns (which he files off, leaving circular stumps on his forehead), cloven hooves for feet, and an oversized right hand made of stone that was forged in Hell (a.k.a. "The Right Hand of Doom"!). He also loves cats and has an insatiable appetite for pancakes.

Hellboy works for the United States Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D. for short, which also has its own ever-expanding line of books) with Abe Sapien (man who was transformed into an Icthyo sapien / merman during an occult ritual), Liz Sherman (a woman with pyrokinetic abilities, also the object of Hellboy's undying affection), Johann Kraus (a disembodied ectoplasmic spirit with psychic abilities), and Roger The Homunculus (a humanoid created with earth matter through alchemy), to name just a few of the bureau's agents, fighting against dark and paranormal forces around the globe (and sometimes other dimensions).

Following along so far?

I had pretty much stopped reading comics right around the time Hellboy was introduced to me by my younger brother in 1990-something; it didn't take long for me to get hooked back into that four-color world of wonder, anxiously awaiting that weekly trip to the comic book shop to pick up every new Hellboy adventure. I never would have guessed this weird and wonderful character would still be around 20 years later, spawning two cult movies (Hellboy and Hellboy: The Golden Army, both directed by superfan himself Guillermo del Toro), as well as a couple of animated features (Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron and Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms), video games, and firmly planting itself in the canons of pop culture.

The Hellboy Day celebration includes lots of cool goings-on:

  • If you can get out to a comic book shop this weekend (you can use to find the nearest shop near you), pick up a copy of the free Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler which includes artists like New Yorker cartoonist R. Sikoryak, and frequent Hellboy collaborators artists Fabio Moon and Dave Stewart.
  • For all things "Mignolaverse", read this great Mike Mignola interview on Den of Geek.
  • If you are an aspiring artist, you can take a crack at drawing the big red guy and enter this cool contest for a chance to win lots of hellish goodies!
  • Multiversity Comics has been curating a 31 Days of Hellboy collection for the month of March that showcases a different artist's take on the character.
  • Chocolates have even been made to sweetly commemorate the occasion!

But really, the best way to celebrate is to just read some Hellboy, so here's a "Friday Five" of Hellboy story arcs in our collections for fans and novices alike!

Hellboy Vol 1: Seed of Destruction

The collection that starts it all, laying the groundwork for the huge Hellboy universe. The perfect mix of the macabre and the madcap, the weird and the whimsical, Mike Mignola basically rewrites the book on "superheroes" with his demon-in-human-clothing protagonist and creates a new anti-champion for the 20th century. The story starts with Hellboy's unusual "birth" (being summoned from Hell by Nazi occultists during World War II), though his childhood with his adoptive father Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, to his first adventure with the B.P.R.D. The supplemental materials in these collections are always top notch, with tons of character sketches, behind the scenes storyboard layouts, and commentary from the writers and artists themselves!

Hellboy Vol 4: The Right Hand of Doom

Many of the stories in the Hellboy universe are one-off adventures, but years down the road a character or situation introduced in a seemingly inconsequential scene ties in to the much larger Mignolaverse. Nothing proves that statement more than the story "The Right Hand of Doom", introducing a pivotal part in the origin of just what Hellboy is and his possible destiny. Also included are "Box Full of Evil", explaining the "beast of the apocalypse" connotations in Hellboy's life, and "Heads", one of Mignola's self-admitted favorite Hellboy stories, where Hellboy takes shelter at a rural Japanese home and encounters some demonic floating heads called nuke-kubi. Mignola loves to take inspiration from obscure folklore and weave it into the universe he has created with his characters.

Hellboy Vol 5: Conqueror Worm

Inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name, Conqueror Worm has Hellboy and Roger the Homunculus set out to investigate the ruins of a Norwegian castle where paranormal experiments went awry many years ago. They soon encounter zombie Nazis, space aliens, and the costumed crime fighter Lobster Johnson (This is the 1st appearance of the pulp noir character, who would go on to star in many of his own books and adventures throughout the Mignolaverse). Meanwhile, a space capsule launched from the castle in 1939 is about to land, containing an evil spirit from beyond the stars. Mike Mignola both writes and draws this entire collection and it is one of the strongest in the series.

Hellboy Vol 12: The Storm and The Fury

Is Hellboy the savior or destroyer of the world? This collection sets up Hellboy for the ultimate showdown between Hell and Earth when he cuts a deal with the devious supernatural being Baba Yaga for the survival of mankind. He'll have to fight without his B.P.R.D. teammates, as they are scattered across the world fighting evil and their own demons. He does however have an army of the undead by his side! Hellboy will have to confront the Queen of Blood in battle, setting the stage for a new chapter in Hellboy's life (the currently running story arc, Hellboy In Hell). The Storm and The Fury is like a Who's Who of Hellboy's life, with obscure and prominent characters seemingly mingling about at a party for the end of the world, all drawn strikingly and eerily by artist Duncan Fegredo.

Hellboy House Of The Living Dead

This book is Mignola's love letter to the old Universal monster movies and Mexican wrestler vs. monster drive-in b-movies like Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, Hellboy runs afoul of vampires, werewolves, monsters, ghosts, and oh yeah, luchador wrestlers (!), as he tries to avenge a fallen friend. It's pretty much a battle royale of epic proportions that culminates in Hellboy vs. a Frankenstein-like monster. This is the first Hellboy original graphic novel, illustrated with distinctively intricate and grotesque artwork by veteran artist Richard Corben.

Check out our Graphic Novels Explore topic for great booklists full of character(s)both (super)human and demonand search our catalog for more great genre supplemental reading, from "horror" and "sci-fi" to "folklore" and "pulp fiction"!

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