Hell Notes: The Races of Man

By | August 9th, 2013
Posted in Annotations | 6 Comments
Logo by Tim Daniel

With Abe Sapien: The New Race of Man now on shelves, it seems as good time as any for Hell Notes to delve into the history of the three races of man.

Please note, this column contains spoilers for those that have not yet read up to and including Abe Sapien: The New Race of Man.

The First Race of Man:
The Hyperboreans

I’ve spoken before about the long war between the Watchers (angels, “the Greater Spirits”) and the Ogdru Hem at the beginning of the world in Hell Notes: What the Hell is Vril. When the war ended, the Lesser Spirits were allowed to assume shapes, and thus became the first race of man, the Golden People of Hyperborea. They went on to rule the planet for the next one hundred thousand years.

In their capital city, Gorinium, the Hyperboreans kept their most sacred object: The right hand of the Watcher, Anum (He’s the one that created the Ogdru Jahad). The hand was preserved in amber and kept in a golden bowl. In the last ten thousand years of the empire, Thoth became king. Thoth is considered to be Hyperborea’s greatest ruler, credited with inventing the written word, and the era of his reign is called the Golden Age of the Hyperboreans. Thoth had a statue made, and put Anum’s hand within it, where it remained for the duration of his rulership.

Thoth also had a secret garden in which there were three watchers, from whom he learned all the workings of the universe, and all the words, signs, and devices of power. He recorded this knowledge into forty-two books, but only two of these were shared with his people. The rest he kept for himself.

Then Hecate came to Gorinium and seduced Thoth. She stole the key to his secret garden, killed the three Watchers and drank their blood. She went into Thoth’s temple and vomited the blood up, and with it she wrote all secrets Thoth had kept for himself on the walls. She called to his people, telling them that they could learn these secrets in the temple.

When Thoth awoke, he learned of Hecate’s deception. He cursed her and drove her from the city, but the damage had already been done. The men that had come to learn in Thoth’s temple would eventually become the kings and priests of the later Hyperborean empire after the fall. They burned children alive inside idols to Neb-ogeroth, the Black Goddess. They poisoned the land and the air, and brought earthquakes, famine, and plague.

The statue that contained Anum’s hand saw all of this. It wept to see what had happened to Thoth’s people, and was filled with a terrible rage. It came down from its pedestal and released its wrath on the inhabitants of Gorinium until it was utterly soaked in their blood. When all were dead, it threw itself from the walls of the city and was dashed on the rocks below. Only one piece remained, its right hand (Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom… hence that lovely shade of red it has).

Afterwards Hyperborea froze over, but for a while seven Hyperborean outposts remained (including Thadrethes, Leto, Hypos, Urrasan, and most famously, Atlantis) in which the later Hyperborean empire lingered. By this point, the Hyperboreans had been split in two groups. There was the People of the Right Hand, who still worshipped Anum’s hand, and the People of the Left Hand, who worshipped the Black Goddess.

Hyperborean slaves
Previously the power of the Hyperborians had kept the world in order, but as their empire fractured and faded, so did their power. Ogdrum Hem spirits that had been torn from their bodies during the war with the Watchers, began break through into the world again. Hyperborean priests, knowing that their people would soon be gone from the world altogether, attempted to teach a select few of the early humans how to use Vril. Without this power, the humans would have no way to defend themselves against the Ogdru Spirits.

Continued below

Eventually the People of the Right Hand used their powers to leave the world, but the People of the Left Hand descended into the inner world. There they built war machines so that one day they could return to the surface and reclaim the world they lost. They created a race of slave creatures to build their machines, but the slaves rebelled against their masters and slaughtered them all.

And so ended the first race of man.

The Second Race of Man:
The Humans

Ape Monsters?
The early humans evolved alongside the fading Hyperboreans, though where these earliest humans came from and what qualified them to become the second race of man is unknown. They began as primitive apes, but slowly they started to make tools, form tribes, and build a civilization. Their’s was a dangerous world though, where Ogdru Spirits could possess people and transform them into monsters. Shamans, trained by Hyperborean priests, would combat these creatures.

We’ve seen these shamans in the comics a few times now, especially Shonchin. He has appeared in the past, the present, and even the future. On his forehead he bares the mark of a red left hand, which suggests he was taught by a priest of the People of the Left Hand, yet he has shown no sign of worshiping the Black Goddess. He has spoken to Liz Sherman, and saved Abe, Devon, and several other B.P.R.D. agents from the inferno that scorched the inner world, but is he still alive? Could it be that he is reaching forward from the past, or is it something more than that?

It wasn’t just Ogdru Spirits the early humans had to contend with. They also fought “the Cold People,” which may have been early vampires (see Hell Notes: Vampires for more information). This era has really only begun to be explored this year in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Abyss of Time, but Mignola himself has said he could do a hundred issues set in the prehistoric Hellboy universe, and has promised more to come. That’s certainly something to look forward to.

Humans have proved to be a resilient race. They have been the prey of vampires, monsters, and fey creatures throughout the centuries, but over time, they have turned the tables. Vampires were hunted to near extinction, monsters forced into hiding, and the fey have faded from the world altogether. This dominance has exposed a weakness though. The human race has a short memory. As creatures vanish, they pass into myth, and we forget they were ever real in the first place. It was this flaw that caused humans to forget about the old gods, the Ogdru Hem, and fail to recognise the signs of their return until it was far too late.

In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth events have progressed so far, it seems humanity’s ultimate doom is certain. All that remains to be seen is how we shall face it. Many have died in Ogrdu Hem attacks, or by the monsters or natural disasters that follow in their wake. Others have turned on each other, creating cults offering human sacrifices to their gods. The end has brought out the worst in people, becoming suspicious and violent.

Gene carving up his dead friend, Barry in Abe Sapien: The New Race of Man (Part 2)

But it has also brought out the best. This is perhaps why I’ve enjoyed the shift of focus from the enhanced talents agents to the regular human agents. It’s a chance to see up close how humankind steps up to the plate in the face of disaster. Honestly, at this point I think this series is not so much about whether humanity lives or dies, but rather how we choose to face our end.

This outcome will not be insignificant. Hellboy’s battle with Nimue in The Fury changed things. His blood has “baptised” England, and shall transform it into a garden, the last garden on Earth. People will have dreams of this garden, and will travel to England to find it. And in this garden will grow lilies just like those that once grew around the statue that contained Anum’s hand. Hellboy’s sacrifice has given humanity time, not to save itself, but rather to see that the spirit of humanity survives into the new world.

Continued below

What this means is anyone’s guess. One thing has been repeatedly made clear throughout Mignola’s works: Ragna Rok is coming, and it shall end the world, and from the ashes a new world shall be born.

The Final Race of Man:
The Frogs

The frog monsters first appeared in Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. Although they are the third and final race of man, they are not immaculate creations. The first frog monsters were humans that had been transformed by Sadu-Hem. When Sadu-Hem was destroyed, it was thought that the frog monsters died with it. (see Hellboy: Seed of Destruction)

However, in Hellboy: Conqueror Worm more frog monsters appeared, a different variety from the first, this time created by an Ogdru Spirit that had taken the body of a dead Nazi scientist. The Conqueror Worm consumed its own frog-monster creations as it grew, however, thanks to Roger the homunculus, it was destroyed. Only one frog monster survived, and not for very long either. The ghost of Lobster Johnson soon dealt with her.

The frog monsters of Sadu-Hem would re-emerge many years later in B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs, and just as the title would suggest, this time it resulted in the beginning of a plague of them. These frog monsters, though primitive in appearance, were surprisingly developed. They remembered the old gods, and made sacrifices to them. They could communicate with each other, not just through spoken word, but also through the written word, which seemed to be a part of them on a genetic level. Even a frog raised in isolation could write. The first generation frogs, which were created from humans transformed, were capable of changing themselves back to their former human selves as a disguise, adopting the behaviour of humans to the point that they were unrecognisible from the real thing. The human element may be more than just a disguise though.

In B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs Roger was sent back to Cavendish Hall site to see if he could find any sign of the two Cavendish brothers that had been turned into frogs back in May 1994. They were supposed to have been killed when the building was destroyed, but it had never been confirmed. Roger’s investigation uncovered a cavern at the bottom of a lake decorated with pictures and furniture recovered from the ruined Hall. In the centre of it all, sitting on a couch, was the corpse of the Cavendish brothers’ mother. When the Cavenish frog monsters showed up, Roger was forced to fight, and in the chaos the mother’s corpse lost its head. The two frog monsters immediately stopped fighting and seemed to be in some sort of distress. Whatever they had become, it was clear there was still a spark of them that cared for their deceased mother. Could this flicker of humanity be a glimpse of the spirit of man that will carry on beyond Ragna Rok?

Johann hanging out with frog ghosts
Johann Kraus had his own disturbing encounter with the frogs when he came across frog ghosts. These ghosts were of humans that had only recently been changed to frogs, and they were cut of from both the human and frog afterlife. Johann eventually guided the lost souls into the frog afterlife, and was nearly pulled into it himself in the process. To a human soul, it appeared to be a nightmarish place, but the frogs proclaimed it to be paradise.

Early in the frog war Zinco Industries managed to get their hands on some tadpoles, and from them raised frog monsters that were pacified, trained, and had been taught to use a muzzle-like device that allowed them to speak English. These frogs were clever, frequently smuggling sharp objects into their cells despite various precautions taken. The Zinco CEO, Mr Pope, thought he was using these frogs, but it turned out they were using him, and were far smarter than they had let on. With Mr Pope functioning as a host, they created black flame, which they used as a beacon to summon Katha-Hem.

Katha-Hem, like Sadu-Hem and the Conqueror Worm, changed humans into monsters, but not frog monsters this time. They were something else. It seems that only a select few Ogdru Hem are capable of creating frog monsters.

Continued below

After the destruction of Katha-Hem, the frogs fled underground where they encountered the subterranean slave race created by the Hyperboreans. The two races formed an alliance, with the frogs becoming the cores for the ancient Hyperborean war machines. These frogs would act as a conduit for Ogdru Spirits to possess the machines and transform them.

In B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess the subterranean race and the frogs monsters attack the city of Thadrethes in the Stanovov Range. Using Vril energy, Memnan Saa was able to change some of the frogs into dragons during this battle and turn them on their own kind. This battle severely depleted the frogs’ numbers.

The remaining frogs returned underground, most turning themselves into incubators for a new generation of frogs, which would number “a billion times a billion” (a quintillion, which is quite a considerable number, so this is likely an exaggeration). They looked posed to take over the planet until Liz torched the inner world at the end of B.P.R.D.: King of Fear. All the frogs and their allies were roasted.

Or were they? In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Devil’s Engine it was revealed that Zinco Industries still had a frog… although that frog was later killed by the Black Flame when it returned in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Return of the Master. Was this Zinco’s only frog though?

And then there’s the matter of Abe Sapien, called by the King of Fear a “child of Dagon.” According to the Black Flame, Abe Sapien is what the frog monsters will evolve into in a few thousand years. The similarity between Abe and the frog monsters is something that has haunted Abe ever since he first encountered them at Cavendish Hall, though he was unwilling to believe this. However, the Black Flame was insistent that Abe will be the centre of power throughout Ragna Rok and into the New World.

When Abe met the sixteen-year-old psychic, Fenix, she at least was convinced enough of Abe’s danger to the world that she attempted to kill him. Instead of killing him though, his injury became the catalyst of change for Abe. When he awoke four months later (though for readers it was a long two years), his new body was faster, stronger and far more resilient than it ever was before.

In the new ongoing Abe Sapien series, Abe is on a search for answers, trying to find out what he really is. Whether he really is the new race of man remains to be seen. It is worth noting, I think, that though Abe is not outwardly human, he has always exemplified the human condition. Perhaps he is the key to the spirit of humanity surviving beyond Ragna Rok.

Extra Credit:

These guys were introduced on a single page all the way back in Hellboy’s debut miniseries Seed of Destruction, and readers have never really forgotten them. In their first appearance, the aliens were rather concerned with Rasputin shaking the Ogdru Jahad in its prison, and seemed to know all about the threat the Ogdru Jahad poses and exactly what Hellboy’s hand is. Most interestingly, they refer to Earth as “the core-world.”

In 2001’s Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, a man was found in manacles in the ruins of Hunte Castle. Dr. Herman von Klempt and his daughter, having no use or interest in the man, executed him, yet somehow Hellboy found him later, still alive. Hellboy recognised his voice, and the man confessed that he was there the night Hellboy was summoned into the world. Disguised as a World War II soldier, he was an assassin sent to kill “Anung Un Rama, the Destroyer.” However, he saw in Hellboy free will, and so he let him live. In 1954 he witnessed Hellboy kill a dargon in Saint Leonard’s Wood, and from Hellboy’s spilled blood, lilies grew. The man warned Hellboy of the coming Ogdru Spirit and gave him a device, a trap, to combat it. And then he died, and was revealed not to be human at all, but an alien.

Continued below

Aside from a brief cameo in 2011’s Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish, this was the last time the aliens appeared, although this wasn’t always supposed to be the case. At one point Mignola was developing a story about one of the aliens, but it was abandoned with the end result that sci-fi wasn’t really his thing.

Lester shares his astounding knowledge
So who are these guys? How do they fit into the big picture? Well, there’s a fan theory that they may actually be Hyperboreans. After all, it was said that the People of the Right Hand used their powers to leave the world. One of Lobster Johnson’s crew members even mentions Atlanteans using Vril to power their spaceships… although the truth of such claims is unlikely, given that his source is “Astounding Stories of Super Science.” Still, sometimes even the craziest of theories can turn out to be right.

What do you think?

//TAGS | 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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