The World’s Greatest Paranormal Anniversary: A Tribute to Hellboy
On this day in 1994, the World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator took the stage in his own solo series for the first time in the pages of the Hellboy: Seed of Destruction mini-series. Even though Hellboy had appeared in prototypical form on a couple of covers, and then in his more final form in some short stories, when Dark Horse celebrated Hellboy's 20th anniversary in 2014, it was on this date to commemorate the release of Seed of Destruction, so that's good enough for us.
When this story about a big red guy, a fish man, and a woman with a fire in her eyes investigating a spooky old house with a frog problem first launched, few readers could have guessed that it would lead to a host of titles, one of the most beautifully fleshed out universes in comics, and a story that spans the history of the world, from its creation to its destruction to its re-creation once again. a cycle of life and death.
But writer, artist, and creator Mike Mignola knew. Even looking back on this first issue over twenty years later, you can see that the pieces were there from day one.
The initial Hellboy mini-series was scripted by John Byrne, as Mignola was not yet comfortable as a solo writer. The subsequent stories, in which he worked alone as writer, would prove he need not have worried.
The basic formula of Hellboy is there in the dedication of the Seed of Destruction collected edition: “For Jack Kirby and HP Lovecraft.” At it's most stripped down form, this is the Hellboy high concept: Hellboy is a Jack Kirby monster — a gruff, blue-collar curmudgeon with an “aw jeez” soft center, not far removed from bashful Benjamin J Grimm — who fights HP Lovecraft monsters — eldritch tentacle beasts whose existence and casual disregard for human existence would drive less experienced minds mad.
But over time, the formula expanded, and soon on display were the influences of Bram Stoker, James Whale, Herman Melville, Jean Cocteau, Andrew Lang, Manly Wade Wellman, William Hope Hodgson, Joseph Jacobs, Terence Fisher, and many more. Despite the seemingly simple formula of “big guy with big hand punches bigger monsters until they explode,” Hellboy is no one-trick pony.
Indeed, the Hellboy narrative contains multitudes, such that it has required an expanded line of titles to help flesh it out, bringing in some of comics' best and brightest talents, including John Arcudi, Guy Davis, Tyler Crook, James Harren, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, and many more unbelievable artsts and storytellers than I have room to mention here.
Across such titles as BPRD, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, Sledgehammer '44, and others, Mignola and his collaborators have introduced a cosmology and history that is both increasingly intricate and increasingly expansive. A look at these annotations for an issue of the spin-off Abe Sapien series should help create a picture of the kind of thought and planning that goes into crafting a Hellboy-universe story.
While Hellboy has gone on to be adapted into film and animation with varying degrees of success, the real action has always been in the comics, which successfully blend horror, folklore, action, humor, pathos, and character drama to examine such themes as free will versus predestination, and appearance versus reality. All this in stories that are still, at their heart, about hitting monsters until they explode.
And to think, it all started with three colleagues on the hunt for some frogs. Happy birthday, Hellboy.