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Hell Notes: Hellboy – Past, Present, and Future 1

By | March 3rd, 2014
Posted in Annotations | 6 Comments
Logo by Tim Daniel and Mark Tweedale

Wow. As of this month I have been doing Hell Notes for a year. Oh, and just another thing, Mike Mignola has been doing Hellboy for twenty years. It was on the first day of this month twenty years ago that the first issue of the first Hellboy miniseries, Seed of Destruction, came out. So obviously, I had to kick off something big to celebrate. And what could be bigger than an article about the big red guy himself? So here it is, Hellboy: Past, Present, and Future, covering the beloved half-human, half-demon’s entire career to date. Needless to say, this will be a very long article, so it’s going to be split into smaller, more manageable sections.

Please note, this column contains spoilers for everything up to and including Hellboy Gets Married.

CONCEPTION AND BIRTH

There once was a sixteen year old girl called Sarah Hughes. She was a witch, descended from a long line of witches. On the Witches’ Sabbath she would ride on the back of the demon, Azzael, while he was in the shape of a goat. Azzael was a Prince in Hell with a seat in the Citadel of the Fly. In England he was the Lord over the witches of Lancashire, Abbotsbury, East Bromwich, Faversham, and Berkswell. On April 30, 1574, Sarah married Azzael and with him conceived a child, but the child would gestate for a long time.

Sarah had two other children, a boy and a girl, and they broke the tradition of witchcraft in the family by becoming a monk and a nun. As Sarah grew old, she feared for her immortal soul, and on her deathbed she recanted her former beliefs and begged for the forgiveness of God. Her children were given the task of protecting her from Azzael, chaining her body in its coffin. If they could keep her from him for three nights, his claim to her would have been broken.

On the night of October 5, 1617, in a church in East Bromwich, Azzael came for her. The monk and the nun thought they could keep him at bay with a cross and by invoking the name of God, but the demon killed them easily. He broke the chains and shattered the coffin that held Sarah Hughes. With promises of youth and beauty, she soon forgot about her murdered children, and Azzael threaded her onto one of the hooks that hung from his steed and dragged her down into Hell.

In the bowels of his castle, Sarah Hughes was hung over a burning pit until her body was consumed by flame, and from it came forth an infant child, half human, half demon. The baby boy was presented to his father who raised his sword and struck off the child’s right hand. In its place a new hand was set, a hand made of stone stained red with blood. Soon other princes in Hell discovered that Azzael had the Right Hand of Doom, of Hellboy’s birth, and what Azzael intended to create. They evoked angels of destruction to put an end to it all, but it was too late. As the walls fell down around him, Azzael sent his favourite son away.

December 23, 1944, the monk Rasputin, working with the Nazis on Project Ragna Rok, activated his Ragna Rok engine. Though nothing appeared to have happened, the monk proclaimed he had set in motion events that could not now be undone; events which would bring about the end of the world. At the same time, in the ruins of a church in East Bromwich, a group consisting of several members of the British Paranormal Society and U.S. troops led by Sergeant Whitman, witnessed a brilliant eruption of flame. Inside the heart of the flame was a small demon child with a stone right hand. Professor Malcolm Frost was terrified of the creature and insisted that they kill it, but the twenty-six year old prodigy, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (pronounced Broom), saw only a child and would not let any harm come to him. Indeed it was he that inadvertently named him when he exclaimed upon the child’s appearance, “Hell-boy.”

Continued below

The Hellboy Incident – December 23, 1944.

HELLBOY’S YOUTH

Hellboy’s earliest days on Earth were spent in laboratories on an air force base in New Mexico, which went on to become the base of operations for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in early 1945. Hellboy’s stone hand was of particular interest to the B.P.R.D., though scientists learned very little about it. It was stone, but how was it fused to the boy’s arm? How was he able to make it move?

Professor Malcolm Frost.
The stone hand was particularly concerning to Professor Malcolm Frost. He spent most of 1945 travelling around the world, doing research he would eventually present to the U.S. government in an attempt to convince them Hellboy was too dangerous to be allowed to live. He claimed the hand was the “Right Hand of Doom,” the key to the Abyss that would unleash the end of the world.

While studying Hellboy, Professor Bruttenholm was unable to keep a professional distance. He grew to care about the child, and eventually adopted him as his own child in March 1946. But he was afraid of how much he did not know about his newly adopted son, so in May 1946, he went to seek answers in Berlin. His search led him to the demon, Varvara, head of the Russian Special Sciences Service. Varvara took a special interest in Bruttenholm. He was what she called “a seeker,” and he had a habit of stirring up the kind of trouble she enjoyed. This affection for him led to her passing over everything the S.S.S. had found in regard to Project Ragna Rok.

These papers should have confirmed the Professor’s worst fears, but instead he focused on the spark he had seen in Hellboy while studying him in the Bureau labs. A spark of good, that in the Professor’s eyes made him at his core just like any other child.

Trips like the one to Berlin were unavoidable as the Director of the B.P.R.D., and Professor Bruttenholm was often away, or very busy with office work. Hellboy was the only child on the air force base, spending much of his time playing with his dog, Mac, reading The Lobster comics, or bothering Bruttenholm’s secretary, Margaret. In truth, Margaret really had two jobs, her second being babysitting Hellboy (whom she called “Peanut” due to the way he smelled of dry-roasted peanuts). It was Margaret that first succeeded in getting Hellboy to read anything other than comics when she introduced him to Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchino.

How do you forget a thing like that?
Bruttenholm made time for Hellboy when he could, and they even went on a trip to Africa together, the perfect place for Hellboy to have one of his first supernatural adventures. He wandered off on his own and was lost for a week on the Serengeti where the Spirit of Africa spoke to him, calling him Anung Un Rama. When Hellboy was found, he was unharmed, but he had no memory of the week he had been missing (though as an adult he would remember a flash of it in over forty years later).

In 1947, Hellboy tasted his first pancakes. They immediately became his favourite food, and shortly after he met Archie, a soldier that claimed to be an expert at making pancakes, a recipe that led to the pair fast becoming the best of friends. But Hellboy was growing up quickly. By 1948, pancakes were “kid’s stuff,” and he had begun stealing cigarettes, and escaping from the Bureau’s new headquarters in Connecticut.


On one such escape, he discovered A.T. Roth’s Midnight Circus, and unknowingly met his sister, Gamori, and uncle, Astaroth, for the first time. Both preyed on the young Hellboy, trying to use his own desires to manipulate him for their own ends. Gamori preyed on his desire to be treated as an adult, while Astaroth preyed on his desire to be a real boy, just like the wooden puppet, Pinocchio.

Continued below

Astaroth presented Hellboy with a vision of Professor Bruttenholm in the belly of a whale, old and freezing cold, lost after searching for Hellboy for such a long time. Hellboy tried to warm him, but he had no matches. Then Astaroth told him he could call up a fire with but a word, and for a moment Hellboy saw the world engulfed in flame. Hellboy ran away in fear from the vision, past funhouse mirrors, in which he saw his adult self holding his father’s sword and wearing the crown of the apocalypse.

When Astaroth’s ploy to awaken Hellboy to his destiny failed, Gamori attempted to kill her half brother, but Astaroth intervened, warning her that so long as he lived, she should never plot against him.

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus demonstrated the alienation Hellboy felt. As much as Hellboy wanted to be like Archie or the Professor, he knew he wasn’t, and he was frequently confronted with reminders of the fact. He overheard men like Ota Benga or Professor Frost talking about how dangerous he was, but he didn’t accept it. Instead he locked himself in a bathroom and sawed off his own horns in an attempt to be more human.

The lack of horns is one of Hellboy’s most defining characteristics. It says so much about who he chooses to be versus who he was born to be. At such a young age, he was afraid he might be like Frankenstein’s monster, so he pushed himself to be like his adoptive father, Professor Bruttenholm, hunting monsters around the globe. He was already fantasising about being “The Lobster Jr,” fighting Nazis and monsters. Already he was challenging what he was born to be.

In 1952 Hellboy was awarded honorary human status by the United Nations. It was a terrible moment for Professor Malcolm Frost. He destroyed most of his research on Hellboy and his right hand, and two months later he died a broken man.

As for Hellboy, he joined the B.P.R.D. as a field agent and began fighting monsters.

B.P.R.D. AGENT

At first being a B.P.R.D. agent was wish fulfilment for Hellboy. He was doing what he dreamt of doing as a child, and working side by side with his adoptive father. In 1953 he spent several months in England, Scotland, and Wales with Professor Bruttenholm and an old friend of his from the Professor’s school days, Harry Middleton. Hellboy would later think back to these days as the happiest of his life.

In 1954, the Professor sent Hellboy to an organisation that called themselves the Osiris Club, which the Professor himself may or may not have been a member of. The Osiris Club had set up a test for Hellboy, to slay a dragon in Saint Leonard’s Wood. Armed with the spear of the Earl of Warwick, Hellboy went into the woods to find the Saint Leonard Worm, but the creature was too fast for him. In fact it nearly killed him. Miss Hatton, the Osiris Club’s clairvoyant, even foresaw his death in the coils of the serpent, but fate intervened. A broken chunk of a statue of Saint Leonard came loose and plunged through the skull of the worm.

The test was considered a failure by the Osiris Club, but they did not witness Hellboy’s blood falling upon the earth and the lily’s that grew from it, just as they had from Saint Leonard’s blood centuries beforehand. This association with lilies is an important part of Hellboy’s mythology and remains so even to this day. In Gorinium, the capital of the Hyperborean empire, there stood a statue in the garden of King Thoth surrounded by the very lilies that grew from Hellboy’s blood. Inside this statue was the most sacred object of the Hyperborean people, the hand of the watcher that had created the Ogdru Jahad. It was that statue’s right hand that was fused to Hellboy by his father in Hell. The lilies reveal Hellboy’s connection to Heaven.

In 1956, the Professor sent Hellboy to help a colleague of his, Professor Edmund Aickman. Aickman was exceptionally knowledgeable, but he was also greedy, and used Hellboy to gain gold from the spirit of King Vold. He had Hellboy hold one of King Vold’s wolves, a creature that turned out to be a Viking berserker and proceeded to beat Hellboy to a bloody pulp. Aickman reaped an appropriate reward, gold that burned its way through his hand, and left him a beggar afterwards. Hellboy healed up well enough, but I’ve often felt Professor Bruttenholm was never as concerned for Hellboy’s well being as he should have been.

Continued below

What a dick.

A DRUNKEN BLUR

1956 was a bad year all round. In May Hellboy was sent to Mexico with new agents Hendricks and Murphy to deal with hordes of witches and vampires that were destroying entire towns. The vampires were American vampires, not the European kind. They were primitive, bestial creatures. The horrors Hellboy witnessed in Mexico were the worst Hellboy had yet seen. Hendricks and Murphy quit after only a few days. But Hellboy wasn’t left to fight alone.

He banded together with three brothers, former wrestlers that had had a vision telling them to fight against the monsters terrorising their homeland. They were damn good at it too, and for about a month Hellboy and the three brothers fought hard all day and partied all night. But the drinking made them sloppy, and one night the vampires took Esteban, the youngest of the brothers and Hellboy’s closest friend. Hellboy and the two remaining brothers tracked vampires and tortured them, trying to get information about Esteban, until one day they found a message.

Hellboy was to go alone to an ancient temple to fight “Camazotz,” a vampire that bore the same tattoo that Esteban had had on his chest. In order to save his friend, Hellboy had to kill him. He and the brothers buried Esteban, and they never saw each other again after that. Hellboy went back to drinking, and had no memory of the rest of his time in Mexico until he was found by B.P.R.D. agents in October.

We readers have been shown a little of went on in the forgotten months. For a while Hellboy had been a luchador, wrestling and drinking, until he propositioned by a Dr Kogan, who wanted him to fight his creation. Dr Kogan had been promised great rewards from the princes and ministers of Hell if his creature could defeat Hellboy. However, Hellboy had no interest in the fight, so Kogan had kidnapped a girl whom he would kill if he refused.

The fight was a disaster, waking further monsters as it went. Worst of all, Hellboy was unable to save the girl he’d been fighting for. And even the monster he’d been forced to fight was just as much a victim as any. When the battle was done and everyone was dead, Hellboy returned to drinking, haunted by the ghosts of those he had failed. For a moment, Astaroth appeared, warning him not to live a man’s life, for though he could suffer like a man, he would never know the peace of the grave for he was bound for Hell in the end.


In 1989 Agent Pauline Raskin was interviewing the Blue Fury who claimed to have spoken to Hellboy before he became too drunk to remember his adventures in Mexico. He spoke of Hellboy going after the mummy of an Aztec priest in whose skull lived the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca in the body of a snake. This claim was considered extremely fanciful, but Professor O’Donnell of the B.P.R.D. thought the story was likely true. He insisted that the entire pantheon of Mesoamerican god-monsters were Ogdru Hem, briefly given form by the blood rituals of the Toltecs. He claimed a full record of these events were written on three gold tablets, which were melted down into gold bars when Cortés invaded the Aztec capital.

Hellboy’s drunken bender even saw him share a drink with Lobster Johnson. Not the Lobster, the mysterious crime fighter from the 1930s, but rather the actor who played Lobster Johnson in the Mexican films in the 1950s. And Hellboy married a woman he’d only just met, binding himself to her in this life and the next for all time. When he woke up the next morning, he discovered he’d married monster and at the mention of divorce, things got ugly. He was forced to kill her, but the ring he had worn, a serpent that had escaped in the battle, still lived (and don’t tell me that’s not going to come back to bite him… so to speak).

Continued below

And there are still a few more tales in Mexico yet to come, including one in this month’s Hellboy sampler, available on Hellboy Day, March 22. The story, The Coffin Man, from Mike Mignola and artist Fábio Moon, will pick up after Hellboy Gets Married which ran in Dark Horse Presents #31-32.

A preview of The Coffin Man. Art by Fábio Moon.

So ends part one. The next part will be along soon enough, and in the meantime there will daily artworks going up as a part of 31 Days of Hellboy. There’s some truly fantastic pieces. You’re going to love it, trust me.


//TAGS | 20 Years of Hellboy | Hell Notes | Mignolaversity

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.

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