Please note, this column contains spoilers for practically everything Hellboy related.
HELLBOY: THE WORLD’S GREATEST PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR
Hellboy’s time in Mexico (see the previous Hell Notes) had been brutal, and things were never quite the same afterwards. When he was little he’d dreamt of being a hero like the Lobster, fighting monsters and saving the day. Then the rose-coloured glasses came off. In reality, being a paranormal investigator was more like being a plumber than a hero. He was called in to deal with messes no one else wanted anything to do with. This is one of the things I love about the character, that most missions are just another day at the job. Everything is very understated. He doesn’t kick down the door and pose heroically, his coat flapping in the wind, with an aura of light around him; Hellboy trudges up to the door and knocks. He doesn’t whip out a vial sacred spring water blessed by a rare sect of monks with any kind of reverence; He fumbles around in his toolbelt for a bit, pulls out the vial and thinks, “Maybe this will work…” SPLASH! “Crap.”
It’s a good thing he can take so much punishment. If he were human, he would’ve died many times over before he got to Hellboy: The Fury. Either that or he would have been sent on much more mundane jobs. Hellboy was the guy the Bureau sent in to take care of mass killings, exorcisms, poltergeists, sacrifices, vampire cats, alien abductions, possessed madmen, Nazi war apes, werewolves, witches, ghouls, and cannibals. He even had a period of hunting vampires.
Virtually all the European vampires Hellboy encountered (except for Vladimir Giurescu, who I’ll talk about later) were during the years from 1966 to 1982. Before 1966 he’d met very few European vampires (which are very different creatures from the vampires of the Americas). Then in Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead he stumbled upon a vampire that had made an army of vampires, but left them all sleeping in their coffins. This was rather peculiar because in Hellboy’s world, vampires became something of a rarity from 1774 onwards. That was the year heads of the vampire families gathered and decided to go into hiding. Humans had gotten too acquainted with the ways of vampires, and this had fashioned them into powerful adversaries. It was agreed that vampires would be allowed to slip into myth, all the while secretly swelling their numbers, until humankind had forgotten them. And then they’d strike.Continued below
Speaking of 1982, Hellboy killed two major vampires that year; the infamous Vampire of Prague, and a few months later he tracked down Ilona Kákosy, who had escaped the Budapest incident seven years earlier, and killed her.
Hellboy would have known who Ilona Kákosy was too. That he killed one of the heads of the great vampire families is a big deal. I wonder if perhaps he had already hunted and killed all the other heads by this point in his career. Maybe he interrupted a gathering in Budapest and Kákosy was the only one to make it out alive.
And it’s a picture that’s still very much incomplete. There are some major moments of Hellboy’s life that have been mentioned, but never explored. For example, in 1979, Hellboy, Abe, and a few other agents went on a mission to China. The mission went bad, and some Bureau agents were killed. This wasn’t just a, “Well, that’s the job, sometimes you die,” kind of incident either. It was Hellboy’s fault. As readers we’ve never been told what happened, but it has been said more than once, with no hint of doubt from anyone, it was Hellboy’s fault. This was a major, character-defining moment, and it hasn’t even been told yet.
By 1981, Hellboy was back at the Bureau again. But, you know, the job wasn’t all bad. Hellboy had a genuine interest with the weird. It wasn’t all about going out there and beating the crap out of something. Sometimes it was going to Hurstmonceaux Castle to see the lady ghost that rode around in the halls on a donkey. Things weren’t perfect, but for the most part Hellboy seemed pretty happy back then.Continued below
Yet Hellboy wasn’t utterly blinded either. He was capable of recognising the monsters that were monsters in appearance only, the one’s that many of the human agents who have dissected. Hellboy wasn’t afraid of Liz after she killed thirty-two people, including her family. He offered a hand of friendship to Abe when first they met. He reached out to Daryl Tynon, a lonely soul trapped in a wendigo. These moments are Hellboy at his best.
THE END OF INNOCENCE
I know it seems strange to talk about Hellboy being innocent, especially after some of the messed up stuff he’s seen, but for the first fifty years of life he was allowed to live in a protective bubble of ignorance. He was allowed to simply be Hellboy. But it wasn’t to last.
Seed of Destruction
In the flooded caverns below, Hellboy was presented to Grigori Rasputin, a mysterious monk with a familiar voice, the very same monk that had summoned Hellboy all the way back in 1944. He claimed Hellboy was his servant, brought into the world to bring about Ragna Rok, and usher in a new race of man. He commanded Hellboy and expected to be obeyed. So obviously Hellboy shot him in the face.
This did not exactly please Rasputin. He had intended to use Hellboy to free the Ogdru Jahad, the seven dragons who are one, but this act of defiance led Rasputin to dismiss him and tap Liz’s power instead. He managed to shake the Ogdru Jahad in their prison, but before he could go any further, Abe threw a harpoon through his chest, Liz set him on fire, and Hellboy crushed his bones.
After the funeral of Professor Bruttenholm, Hellboy travelled to a place he had not been since his first day on Earth, the church ruins in East Bromwich. While there, he saw a vision of his mother on her deathbed, and of the evening his father came to claim her in her chained coffin. Of all the disturbing things that happened in this vision, the most worrying was when Azzael spoke to Sarah Hughes of the child gestating inside her, his favourite son. With those words, the vision of Azzael met Hellboy’s eyes. There was no mistaking who he was talking about.
Hellboy confided this story to Abe alone, then did his best to forget it.
Wake the Devil and Almost Colossus
Hellboy’s mission went wrong fast. His jetpack exploded, he got beaten up by a Nazi cyborg when he landed, attacked by the Witches of Thessaly when he found the secret temple of Hecate, the Queen of Vampires, and after all the he failed to prevent the resurrection of Giurescu. At that point he decided the best way to deal with things was to blow the whole castle up, which led to Hecate showing up. Don’t get me wrong, Hellboy’s a tough guy, but Hecate’s a major mythological figure (actually several… Lamia, Kali, Lilith are all other names Hecate has had throughout history), and it was only through luck that their fight forced them outside as Castle Giurescu blew up. Hecate had been cursed so that she could not bear the light of day, and so she was killed. (Yay, something kinda went right, I suppose…)Continued below
However, the blood of Hecate still lived in the veins of her son, Giurescu, and he sacrificed himself to revive her in a new body made from an iron maiden and the ruined flesh of the Nazi Ilsa Haupstein. The reborn Hecate attacked Hellboy, and attempted to wake the devil to his great purpose, to become his true self, Anung Un Rama, urging him to loose the Dragon and bring about the death of man. Hellboy was offered a choice, to become the agent of change in the world or to die. Hellboy chose option number three, to do with his life what he wished, breaking off the horns that had grown from the stumps on his forehead. This was one of Hellboy’s most defining moments, witnessed in the etherworld by the Baba Yaga, Dagda (King of the Irish Fairies), and the masked Sir Edward Grey. This was when Hellboy gave birth to himself and began walking his own path.
He was found by Kate Corrigan afterwards who informed him of the death of Agents Clark and Waller, of Abe being injured, and of Liz stuck in a hospital, inexplicably dying after apparently having her fire powers taken by what had formerly been a lifeless homunculus (Roger). With the clock ticking, Hellboy had no time to process what had happened to him, and he and Kate immediately set to the task of finding the run-away Roger.
Indeed, Hellboy was right. There was another homunculus, older and uglier, the product of the same alchemist that had created Roger. This older homunculus was building a new body from corpses, large and god-like, to rule over humanity. The older homunculus found Roger and tried to convince him to join him in the new god-body, but when he tried to use Kate Corrigan as raw material for the creation, Roger fought back and defended her. Ultimately Roger was forced to kill his own brother, leaving him all alone in the world. And that’s all Roger wanted, was to be left alone.
But Hellboy wouldn’t allow that. He saw the humanity in Roger and he demanded he acknowledge where he got the power that had given him life and at what cost it came at. He was able to convince Roger to return to Liz’s power and to pass back into sleeping death. The interesting thing is Hellboy knew Roger was essentially going to die. There was no point getting attached to him. Yet Hellboy gave him the dignity of his humanity, and on the way to the hospital where Liz lay dying, he named the homunculus Roger. He didn’t have to. It probably would have been easier for Hellboy to let this guy die again if he didn’t have a name, but he knew he deserved better.
Hellboy made a big impression on Roger, and formed a large part of his moral centre, and when he was revived, Hellboy helped him come to terms with the things he had done and made him feel like a human when Roger was so determined to feel like something less. Back in those days Roger was a bleak, brooding guy, and getting him to forgive himself was a major step towards becoming the Roger readers fell in love with.
Of course, Hellboy was left brooding on his own questions after everything that happened in Romania, and he wasn’t able to ignore it as much as he’d like to. He was contact by Adrian Frost, the son of Malcolm Frost who had tried to convince Professor Bruttenholm and the U.S. government to kill Hellboy during the first eight years of the young demon’s life.Continued below
Hellboy told Frost everything that had happened to him, and how he had broken the horns from his head and refused to destroy the world. “And now you think you’re off the hook,” Frost had said. “How can you be?” Frost pointed out that even if the hand were struck from Hellboy’s arm, there was no place he could ever hide it where it wouldn’t be found. It was Hellboy’s burden to bear so that it could never be used.
Meanwhile Hellboy heard voices from the etherworld, the voices of Dagda, Sir Edward Grey, and a mysterious pipe-smoking goblin whose voice Hellboy recognised, the same goblin that had returned baby Alice Monaghan to him back in 1959. These three questioned Hellboy, asking him what his name was. Hellboy answered that he was Anung Un Rama. But Anung Un Rama was the World Destroyer, the Great Beast…
With this realisation, Hellboy was free from Bromhead’s bindings. Hellboy beat the crap out of Ualac, and in desperation Ualac called on the help of Astaroth, Grand Duke of the Infernal Regions. Astaroth imprisoned Ualac and took the Crown of the Apocalypse from him, telling Hellboy that it would be waiting in Hell for him. Hellboy responded by telling him he could keep it. As for Bromhead, he escaped in all the commotion.
Afterwards Hellboy confided in Kate Corrigan, telling her that he was learning more about what he was and that he didn’t want to know. Kate told him that looking at the big picture would be scary at first, but in the long run it would be for the best. Still, Hellboy decided to bury his head in the sand one last time, and let go of the paper given to him by Adrian Frost, losing it to the wind.
This was Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D., this time dealing with the return of a Nazi capsule launched back in 1939 (which Hellboy pointed out was the fabled last mission of Lobster Johnson, a nice bit of thematic foreshadowing). Roger had graduated to the role of B.P.R.D. agent by this point, with a newly-installed generator in his chest, along with an incendiary bomb. Obviously this outraged Hellboy, and he sure as hell made sure the Bureau Director, Tom Manning, knew it. Even still, he was given the detonator and told on no uncertain terms that Roger was expendable. After all, he wasn’t human like Liz.Continued below
Roger and Hellboy were led up to Hunte Castle, the site of the Nazi launch ion 1939, by a guide who turned out to be a Nazi. Roger was thrown over the edge of a cliff in a hail of machine gun fire while Hellboy got the crap beaten out of him by Kriegaffe Number Ten, a cyborg gorilla built by Herman von Klempt. You may remember von Klempt. He was a Nazi head in a jar, only in this story he appeared more full-bodied.
Von Klempt left Hellboy to be repeatedly electrocuted by his Kriegaffe in the dungeons, however when Roger and Lobster Johnson (Yep, he shows up in this one) drained the Castle’s generator, Hellboy was able to break free and have his turn beating the crap out of the Kriegaffe for a change. This didn’t have a happy ending for the Kriegaffe.
Shortly after Hellboy was found by Roger (who had lost Lobster Johnson by this point), and the pair went to intercept the Nazi capsule as it arrived. They were ever so slightly late though, and the capsule opened, releasing a gas that turned the Nazis around into frog monsters. Once again Roger and Hellboy were separated as Roger tackled the frog monsters and Hellboy wrestled with the robot body of Herman von Klempt. When the Conqueror Worm began to emerge from the capsule, Hellboy released the alien trap, but von Klempt’s body got a hold of it and crushed it.
If the Conqueror Worm was not stopped, it would have brought about the end of the world, and Hellboy’s grenades weren’t making much impact on the creature.
It left he and Roger with only one course of action; Roger was to release the energy within him to force the spirit of the Conqueror Worm inside the homunculus. But Hellboy was afraid to commit to this plan, knowing what it could do to Roger. However, Roger could see this was the only plan they had, and insisted it was a good plan. As Roger leapt away, Hellboy said, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,” a reference to the poem Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling. In the poem Gunga Din, an Indian water-bearer sacrificed his life to save that of an English soldier’s who had though himself superior to him. In the final line of the poem, the English solider spoke the words quoted by Hellboy. It’s moments like these that make me think that while Hellboy never really hit the books as hard as Professor Bruttenholm would have liked, his love of books still made a big impression on Hellboy.
The aftermath of Roger’s choice to sacrifice himself is what I consider to be one of Hellboy’s strongest character moments. Roger, filled with the Conqueror Worm’s spirit, began to lose control and begged Hellboy to destroy him before the Worm took over completely. The rational thing to do was to blow up Roger, really it was the only choice, but Hellboy chose instead to make Roger fight. He chose to believe Roger was capable of something extraordinary, beyond what was considered possible. This is one of the reasons I like this story so much. It showcases Hellboy taking on the older brother role, and it’s made all the more powerful next to Roger’s trusting innocence.Continued below
Afterwards, when Tom Manning came to congratulate Hellboy on a job well done, Hellboy resigned from the Bureau. As he explained to Kate before he left, it wasn’t just that the B.P.R.D. planted a bomb on Roger, it was that he needed to deal with all his apocalypse baggage. He asked Kate to watch out for Roger when he was gone and to say goodbye to Abe (Liz had left the B.P.R.D. herself a year earlier).
These parting moments with Kate has been returned to numerous times throughout the series, each time gaining a new depth to its melancholy. It was the end of an era, and the beginning of journeys to strange places…
And this Saturday, March 22nd, is Hellboy Day. If you head down to your local comic book store, you’ll be able to pick up the Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler, which will republish the short stories Hellboy: The Ghoul (a personal favourite of mine written and drawn by Mike Mignola) and B.P.R.D.: Another Day at the Office (written by Mike Mignola with art by Cameron Stewart), along with a new Hellboy in Mexico story, Hellboy: The Coffin Man (art by Fábio Moon), and comic strips from R. Sikoryak.
Mike Mignola himself will be at Meltdown Comics & Collectibles in West Hollywood, California, from 2pm along with other special guests. If you are one of the lucky devils able to be there, don’t miss the opportunity.
And if you’re in Portland, swing by Things From Another World at 7pm for a Q&A with Scott Allie, writer of Abe Sapien and editor of the Mignolaverse books; Dave Stewart, the colourist behind virtually everything Hellboy related; and Tyler Crook, the artist of many B.P.R.D. arcs and the upcoming Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland.
Franco Aureliani, writer of Itty Bitty Hellboy, will be at Midtown Comics in Downtown New York City from 2pm to 4pm, and Art Baltazar (the other half of Itty Bitty Hellboy) will be at AW YEAH! Comics all day.
Further north, Tonci Zonjic will be at The Beguiling in Toronto, Canada between 2pm and 4pm. And in the south, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá will be at Quanta Academia de Artes in São Paulo, Brazil. And Max and Sebastián Fiumara will be at Moebius Liceo in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 5pm to 10pm.
Finally, if you live across the pond in London, head to Gosh! Comics between 2pm and 3pm where artists Laurence Campbell, Duncan Fegredo, and Mick McMahon will be in attendance for signings.
And these aren’t the only comic shops who’ll be participating in Hellboy Day. Many others around the world have signed up for promotional Hellboy Day packages. So swing by your local comic book store on Hellboy Day and join in on the fun! I’ll be heading to my own store, Comics Etc, in Brisbane, Australia. If you’re a local, maybe I’ll see you there.