Spoiler warning: If you haven’t yet read “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #5, then major spoilers lie ahead. Actually, after a certain article ran on Entertainment Weekly last week, it’s going to be hard to dodge spoilers until the release of the “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know—Messiah” trade paperback in April, so be careful out there. And whatever you do, don’t look at Dark Horse’s solicitations for May or June. Good luck.
Right, let’s get back to the article at hand…
As you know, “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #5 ended with the apparent resurrection of Hellboy. Unlike our usual reviews, we didn’t have an advanced preview of #5, so the review was written on the fly right after the Dark Horse Digital issue went live, which meant we couldn’t do our usual conversation-style review. That doesn’t mean we didn’t talk about it though. In a flurry of emails we discussed that last page quite a bit, and it turned out we all felt very differently about it. Now that Mike Mignola has discussed his thoughts on the matter, we thought perhaps we should revisit this reveal, so for this Hell Notes the Mignolaversity team will discuss the death and resurrection of Hellboy.
Mark Tweedale: Back when I wrote the review for “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #5, I had literally just finished reading the issue and started writing immediately. No digestion time on that one. It was as unstudied as possible and so it was pretty much a gut reaction. One major thing I completely overlooked was that maybe some people never expected Hellboy to come back, that they read the end of “Hellboy in Hell” as Hellboy’s ultimate end, and that this resurrection could be seen as diminishing that ending. This was something that never even occurred to me, but it did occur to some of you guys. So tell me, what was your reaction to that final page?
Brian Salvatore: I’ll say this: I loved the simplicity, ambiguity, and peace of the “Hellboy in Hell” finale. It felt like an appropriate end to the character, if not permanently, then at least for the foreseeable future. My initial gut reaction to reading “The Devil You Know” #5 was a bit of a letdown, because I appreciated the implications of the “Hellboy in Hell” ending. It meant that prophesies aren’t set in stone and that destinies can change.
I’ve slightly mellowed on that disappointment, but I can’t say I’m excited about where this is going.
Christopher Lewis: My thoughts are closely aligned with Mark’s initial reaction from his review of issue #5, that this was very awesome. I still feel that way about Hellboy’s resurrection. Additionally, the end of “Hellboy in Hell” was perfect, but it never crossed my mind that it was the definitive end of Hellboy’s journey. I always thought that he would return at some point to sit with Hecate at the end of the world. I just didn’t see him coming back so soon.
Mark: Yeah, I expected to see him very late in “The Devil You Know” cycle, perhaps not even until the final issue.
Chris: Me too actually. On another note, I am overjoyed that Roger wasn’t in that coffin. I gave Roger’s return a slim chance of happening, and if it did I would have been highly disappointed as it would have been disrespectful to Roger’s final wish to to be left at peace. This is different than Hellboy, who’s burden I never considered being over.
Brian: I agree with the sentiment about Roger. I guess this just feels rushed to me in a way that Mignola comics shouldn’t be, and typically aren’t. For instance, Grant Morrison wanted to keep Bruce Wayne “dead” for five years, but DC made him bring Bruce back in one. That’s the type of thing you expect from a publisher-controlled series.
For Mignola’s stuff, there is nothing but time to breathe and grow and sit and ferment. I feel like Hellboy’s return, at this point, feels premature more than anything.Continued below
Mike Romeo: I really did expect Roger to be dug up, and I’m in agreement with you all that it’s a good thing he wasn’t. My fear was that they wouldn’t have brought him back as a character, though. I really figured that they’d use his remains as some horrible tool, something that’d be a means to an end.
So that’s a plus.
But then there’s Hellboy, cross-armed in a casket. When I saw this I gotta admit that I felt a great disappointment. The end of “Hellboy in Hell” felt so complete, so definitive, that I can’t help but feel as if this takes some of the punch out of it. For the entirety of “B.P.R.D.,” death meant death. I know that Hellboy is something more than all the agents we’ve seen pass, but I’m disappointed that he was the exception to the rule.
Mark: So what do you think of Mignola’s comments that this was a long time coming, something he’d been working on at least as far back as 2010 (“B.P.R.D.: King of Fear” #4)?
Chris: I find it amazing that Mignola came up with this setup via Liz’s vision years ago, threw off readers to the vision’s legitimacy during the course of the story, and then finally had a payoff with Hellboy’s return. It’s a grand feat. What I find problematic is that Mignola’s statements give credence that the entire vision is accurate and going to happen, including the recently deceased Kate and Panya doing things that haven’t happened yet. This scares me as it would mean Kate and Panya have to come back, which would affect the credibility of the series for me since Hellboy just returned.
Brian: I agree, Chris. If everyone is suddenly resurrected, that’s going to feel very, very cheap.
Mike: Yeah, I’d be mortified if Kate returned.
I found “Hellboy in Hell” to have a bunch of take aways, but the biggest one for me was about destiny. That series felt like Mignola brought Hellboy to the very brink of what so many thought to be an inevitability, only to break from the preordained. Hellboy changed his destiny, found a way to live and die on his own terms. So when it came to Liz’s vision, and the whole “King of Fear” prophecy, I felt as if I had realized that we were only shown a possible future. Just as Hellboy never lead that army, the B.P.R.D. wouldn’t experience what Liz saw.
Mark: I’m not a big fan of possible futures myself. I find it’s almost always a lazy storytelling device to create false sense of drama or urgency. I’m not interested in stories about characters escaping their destiny either, not because they’re necessarily bad stories, but because there’s too many of them. I think there’s value in stories where we can’t escape our destiny, and the story becomes about how we face the inevitable. Someday we’re all going to die, and I’m interested in the different ways we choose to meet that shared destiny.
But I think the biggest knee-jerk reaction we have to prophecy/destiny stories is that somehow it takes away the character’s choice. Macbeth was doomed the moment he heard what the Weird Sisters had to say. We look at the prophecies as laying down a railroad he can’t get off of. We forfeit Macbeth’s agency to the prophecies.
Whereas I look at prophecies as descriptive. The prophecies don’t come true because Macbeth’s stuck on a railroad, the prophecies come true because it is a description of who Macbeth is on a fundamental level. He was doomed by his ambition; his choices drove what came. The only thing the prophecy gave him was the certainty he was going to succeed, and then later, the certainty of his demise. But how he succeeded and how he met his demise, that’s on Macbeth.
And I guess this is where our disagreement stems from. If Roger or Kate had come back, I would’ve been pissed. There’s a finality to death in the Hellboy Universe that I love. But I remember “Hellboy in Hell” #4, Sir Edward points out Hellboy still has his stone hand, and in a weird way that moment was what told me he wasn’t dead. If he’d lost the stone hand, then I’d have believed he was permanently dead. Maybe if I’d ever thought Hellboy was definitely dead, I would’ve been pissed about this too.Continued below
The other part of the reason I still thought the prophecies were valid is because Hellboy has only ever passively resisted them. Sure, when Hecate is spouting nonsense, he’s quick to say, “NO!” and break off his horns, but when Hecate’s not around, it’s not like he’s actively searching for a way to break the prophecy. If he is to rewrite his destiny, he’s got to actually do some rewriting. This is why to me “Hellboy in Hell’s” ending felt like Mignola’s end, not Hellboy’s.
Mike: I’m gonna push back ever so slightly on the lazy storytelling thing. Really, any narrative decisions a writer makes can end up lazy, be it breaking from prophecy or not. I also wouldn’t declare a single camp for myself when it comes to stories about free will or fixed destinies. While I’m wary (or maybe full on critical) of the decision to have “B.P.R.D” be a story with inevitabilities, its not always something I shy away from. An example that comes to mind is Jaime Hernandez’s “The Death of Speedy Ortiz,” which was a long form story from his half of “Love and Rockets.” The title of the story told the reader on page one that Speedy wasn’t long for this world, making the story more about the series of events as opposed to its conclusion.
On the other side of the coin, I found “Hellboy in Hell” to be about breaking from destiny, which informs my ideas and expectations headed into “The Devil You Know.” We can go back and forth on this all day, the ending is vague enough for five people to have six opinions on the subject.
Brian: I love stories of prophecy, too, but I don’t love them at the expense of good storytelling. I’m totally fine with a story that feels inevitable, but what bothers me about this is that, instead of taking the lazy way out with a possible future, it took a shortcut by playing the opposite for dramatic effect.
I know I wasn’t the only one who, with the deaths of Kate and Panya, felt like this fundamentally changed the prophecy because, as Mark alluded to, Hellboy’s death felt less finite. To make the prophecy more important than the journey that leads to it is frustrating.
Chris: I personally have never had a problem with the destiny/prophecy concept here, or thought they could affect the main destination of the story. In my eyes, Hellboy’s return is the culmination of multiple events that we have seen transpire over the last few years and perpetuates the story that the world is broken and will continue to break until it is gone. As for prophecies and destinies, I have always been of the mind that Hellboy had multiple destinies associated to him (one was breaking down the walls between Heaven, Hell, and Earth; and one with the Ogdru Jahad/Hecate). He rewrote his destiny related to Hell, but to me this this was a different destiny than the one with the Ogdru Jahad. I saw both of these destinies being separate, and at the same time crossing over into each other.
Mark: I think Mignola’s been careful enough with his prophecies in that they are vague and by the time we get them, they’ve already been interpreted by a messenger that’s made their own assumptions. He’s using the ol’ Kenobi “What I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”
Mike: Ain’t that the truth!
Mark: Let’s talk about that final scene in “Hellboy in Hell” #10, as it seems to inform a lot of our opinions regarding Hellboy’s return. “Hellboy in Hell” #10’s ending is very ambiguous, very open to interpretation, and at the time that it came out, I didn’t want to talk about my interpretation in any real detail, because I didn’t want to rob anyone of their interpretation. Certainly the house Hellboy finds was one of the big questions. I saw a few people online speculating that it was Harry Middleton’s house (though it does not match the house Duncan Fegredo drew in “Hellboy: Darkness Calls”). Personally, I didn’t recognise the house, but I did recognise the living room—it’s Mike Mignola’s. In an interview with him a whole back they had pictures of him talking in his living room and it’s the same room. My ultimate take away from that ending was that this wasn’t Hellboy’s end, but an end to Mignola drawing “Hellboy” stories.Continued below
Then, of course, there’s those shapes, which I always interpreted as finality or even inescapable fate. But in an interview with Le Commis des Comics, Mignola revealed his meaning.
“The Magician had made these shapes disappear and everyone said, ‘You’re a great magician.’ It’s like people saying to me, ‘You’re a great artist.’ Well, I don’t feel that I am a great artist. I feel like I get credit for being better than I am. So that’s the feeling that went into that. And the shapes coming back, it was sort of like somebody saying, ‘Y’know, you’re really not that good.’ Again, it’s a very complicated emotional thing, which is why those shapes are very important, because to me they’re something very personal about my own creative… thing.”
“I just thought, if I’ve done “Hellboy” for twenty years, it’s mine, it’s important to me, it can’t just be another superhero comic book. So if I can find a way to have Hellboy disappear into the most personal story I ever did… It was kind of like saying, if I’m going to put Hellboy away, where am I going to put him? I’ll put him with those shapes … It’s like I swallowed the character. I put him back where he came from. I put him back inside of me where nobody can get at him… An answer I would only give in France or Monaco.”
So what was your take on that ending?
Chris: If somebody were to ask me why I love the Hellboy Universe, I would say one of the main reasons is because the writers retain the mystery by leaving things open to interpretation by the reader.
The the ending of “Hellboy In Hell” #10 is so abstract, unique, and open to interpretation that I personally decided after I read it to not try to decipher its meaning. Leaving that unanswered gave the ending more impact for me.
Brian: I felt the ending was incredibly personal to Mignola, and really seemed, to me, to be his perfect ending for the character. This actually helps me explain my problem with Hellboy returning pretty clearly: I care less about the story than I do about the process and the emotions behind the process. And that ending felt perfect for who Mignola is, creatively.
And so, even if “Hellboy in Hell” left the “B.P.R.D.” story different or incomplete, it felt like it was the end of Mignola’s personal journey with the character. To me, no matter how good the in-story ending can be, it can’t top how that felt.
Mark: I’m inclined to agree in that regard. I don’t see an ending in any Hellboy Universe story that could top the ending of “Hellboy in Hell” #10.
Mike: In a world where characters can slide between Hell and Earth, where Pandamonium is an actual place, it felt as if Hellboy was never very far away. Sure, he died, but when the series first started it felt as if he was just out on an adventure and could be called back whenever he was needed. And if that’s what the series was from start to finish, I’d probably feel excited to see him come back. But the way the story ended, how Hellboy slipped away from us, to a place we couldn’t follow, it really got me. I read that ending as a true death, like we experience it in the real world. He passed on to a place beyond us, beyond our comprehension, to somewhere that we can never really be sure of. And he did it alone. He’s not on to the next adventure, he’s not haunted by old foes and being treated to fun cameos. He was just… gone.
And it happened peacefully. Quietly. The way we’d want someone we love to go.
And as an aside, I find his comments to Le Commis Des Comics to stand in contradiction with what he said in that Entertainment Weekly interview. I don’t see how you can say you want to put the character someplace where no one can get him, but then also say that you always knew he’d be back in “B.P.R.D.” at some point. It makes the whole return feel even more like something I’d never expect from this series.Continued below
Mark: I can certainly see that, but if Mignola’s never drawing a Hellboy story again, I feel like the heart of Hellboy is still with the shapes. Hellboy appearing in “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” doesn’t take away from that, and for me, neither does Hellboy appearing in “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know.” I think Mignola had a story he wanted to tell and he didn’t want to leave it incomplete, especially after people had invested more than twenty years into it. But Mignola hit “Hellboy in Hell” #8 and found that he couldn’t go any further. This was a way to say goodbye and get to the ending he’d planned out a long time ago without forcing himself to stick around until he hated Hellboy.
Mike: I don’t think “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” takes away from “Hellboy in Hell,” or any of Mignola’s intentions for the character. As I see it, those stories happened in the past, and we’re just getting to see the cracks filled in. It’s seeing Hellboy in stories after the wrap up to “Hellboy in Hell” that ruffles my feathers.
Mark: Let’s talk a little about why Mignola brought Hellboy back. In the Entertainment Weekly interview Mignola references that list of things Hellboy still had yet to do from “Hellboy in Hell” #4.
“He does some of them by the end of “Hellboy in Hell,” but if you do the math there’s one or two things that he still didn’t do. I always knew, ‘Well shit, the poor bastard has a few things he can’t get out of doing.’”
One of these tasks was shouldered by Sir Edward in Hellboy’s place. Any thoughts on what these tasks could be?
Chris: I think that a few of Hellboy’s tasks are destroy the power hierarchy of Hell (which he did) and be part of the end of the world. Not sure about the rest.
The burden Edward Grey took on is a little more complicated. First, I think there was something Hellboy was supposed to do in the Abyss, and because Grey saved Hellboy twice from journeying into that part Hell (once in “Hellboy in Hell” #1 and the other in #4) Grey hindered Hellboy from what he needed to do there and took on that part of his burden.
I also think the burden was for Hellboy to take on and defeat Pluto, the first lord of the underworld. Pluto was first credibly mentioned in “Hellboy in Hell” #10 before Hellboy destroyed the remaining princes of power. Seems odd Mignola would bring up Pluto’s name, describe his power, and then leave him to his own fate while everybody else was being destroyed. Additionally, in issue #10 it says that Pluto is in “the pit.” I am not sure where that is, but the Baba Yaga mentioned that if Grey pulled Hellboy out of the pit he would take on his burden. I initially thought the pit was a loose term for Hell, but now I think could be synonymous with the Abyss.
Mark: Mignola’s comment that Hellboy still had at least two tasks to do surprised me, because I’d figured wiping out Hell in “Hellboy in Hellboy” #10 had probably been one of those tasks (although I saw that moment as the spirit of Anum wreaking vengeance on those that had torn him to shreds so long ago. Hellboy was just a vessel).
Brian: If one of those tasks is to fulfil his destiny, as seen in Liz’s vision, then we have to ask ourselves if that is going to be as was presented then—as Chris mentioned earlier, with Panya and Kate in tow—or has that destiny changed? To me, that’s the big question of the next few issues/arcs.
Mark: The Panya and Liz element certainly indicates that perhaps the vision Liz saw can change, if not completely, then somewhat.
Mike: I think his final task was to drum up sales on “B.P.R.D.”
Mark: You’re not alone in thinking that. I’ve certainly seen a few comments online expressing similar thoughts, or that this was a calculated move to drum up interest in the Hellboy movie. I don’t share these thoughts myself. Sure, if this was Marvel or DC, I’d be pretty cynical about it, but Mignola’s got a twenty-year history of avoiding comic stunts. When Hellboy died back in “Hellboy: The Fury” #3, we found out on the page. Marketing didn’t herald his death saying, “Don’t miss Hellboy’s death in “The Fury” #3!”Continued below
And they didn’t herald his resurrection either. Mignola’s always been respectful of his readers, and I don’t see anything to indicate that his attitude would have so radically changed recently.
As for the idea that Mignola is resurrecting Hellboy to promote the film, well, that’d be very out of character. Mignola likes to put the films and comics in different corners, which is why he resisted any attempts to expand the del Toro films in comic form. Plus comics and films work at different speeds. Yeah, Marvel and DC—who are all too happy to derail a current arc so that everything lines up to the latest event—can pull this sort of shit off, but Hellboy’s a much smaller operation. I can’t see them scrambling plots around to line up to a film’s release schedule. As Mignola has said before, if this was about making money, he wouldn’t have named the comic “Hellboy.” It’s really hard to convince companies to make lunchboxes for kids with “Hell” stamped on ’em.
It’s easy to feel cynical when a storyline doesn’t sit with you, I’ve certainly been there in the past, but I find it difficult to believe the guy who made “Hellboy in Hell,” a book that defies marketing in a lot of ways, is fueling “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” with cynicism.
Brian: I want to believe that, Mark. I’m usually a “what matters is what is on the page” guy, but this whole operation is so clouded by what Mignola has said in the past. I agree that resurrecting Hellboy for a film seems very out of character, but so do the Entertainment Weekly quotes when taken alongside all the stuff he said about “Hellboy in Hell” ending.
Chris: I don’t think this is a sales ploy. Also, while I am happy with Hellboy’s return, my biggest concern is keeping quality of the stories. There has been a significant amount of change over the last year (ending cycles, changing writers, etc.). Also, “Hellboy in Hell” and “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth” ended on such amazing high notes, that the drop off into the new stories has been pretty steep. All of these things mixed with Mignola’s interesting statements leave ambiguity about the future of the books. That being said I am cautiously optimistic about the future.
Mark: This is where I rein in my optimism too, because while overall I enjoyed “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible,” the first half was pretty rough, and while the second half was substantially better, the final issue didn’t pull together. Even on an arc by arc basis, a frequent criticism I had was that the endings were rushed or haphazard (especially ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ and ‘The Healer’). Given that this cycle is not just an end but THE END, that’s a little worrying. My hope is that as we approach the end, Mignola takes the wheel a little more.
Mike: I agree with all of that a hundred percent, Mark.
Just to add to the sales comment I made, even though the reveal was meant to be kept under wraps, there was a certain amount of “don’t tell anyone, no spoilers” going around. It’s like what Hitchcock did with Psycho, the campaign for the movie was all about not telling your friends what happened, which drove people to the theaters to see what all the hubbub was about. However, I’m not so cynical to think that this is a ploy to get people hyped for the new movie. It’s never been a thing Mignola seemed interested in doing, so I don’t see how he’d want to now.
Mark: Hopefully “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” will lay these concerns to rest when the second arc kicks off in May. Honesty, I can’t wait. I’m still riding the high from issue #5.
“B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #6
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Sebastián Fiumara
Color by Dave Stewart
On sale May 9
Hellboy is back on Earth, and the B.P.R.D. struggles to understand his unwillingness to hunt the demon threatening to turn the earth into a literal Hell.