Sunday, 13 October 2013
The first thing I'd like to say about the Hellboy comics is that I like the way they're published. Rather than keeping the title going as a monthly series with no end in sight, an approach that would inevitably bring about dips in quality, creator and lead writer Mike Mignola has instead taken the decision to publish each Hellboy arc as a series in its own right. While that can mean waiting a long time for a new issue to come out it generally ensures a pretty high level of quality.
Another chief reason for the approach is that Mignola started out to writing and drawing each issue himself. This is not a preference that lends itself to fast production, as Mignola would have to write five or six scripts before embarking on the artwork. Over time other artists and writers have contributed to the series, but Mignola has remained heavily involved.
Which is fine, because he's a very good artist with a very clear idea for how he wants to present his characters and world. By his own admission he has limitations (modern technology and cars for example) but what he does produce always has personality. Mignola is one of the best in the world when it comes to bringing a shadowy cavern or a mysterious forest or a dilapidated castle to life.
In the world that Hellboy inhabits these things are important. Hellboy (real name Anung un Rama, it’s decided early within the series that Hellboy is a more convenient name) is a demon summoned by Nazi occultists in 1944 is a part of a ritual designed to help turn the tide of the war. Everything goes a bit wrong (as such things tend to) and the Germans end up defeated.
Hellboy is taken in by the US military and Professor Bruttenholm. Quickly maturing to an adult size he's trained to be an agent for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development. The first few series focus on Hellboy's work for the BPRD with Mignola hunting out obscure old folk tales to rework into plots. There’s also a pretty Lovecraftian theme to much of his work with the character, not least his origin.
It's Mignola's talent at crafting a modern tale from something old that makes Hellboy books as enjoyable as they are. His love of the supernatural, occult and strange is clear in all of his scripts and artwork. He loves his source material and wants to do it proud in his adaptions. It helps that fairy tales, myths, legends, and fables are particularly well-suited to the visual short form of comics.
Eventually Hellboy leaves the BPRD and sets out on his own adventures. The title keeps the same themes and inspirations (in fact it becomes decidedly odder for a while) but loses its supporting cast. This is because the BPRD was deemed an interesting enough idea to support its own series (an idea that appears to have been correct considering the fact that the BPRD books are still on shelves). The in-universe reason is that Hellboy no longer wishes to work for the bureau. It’s basic but it suffices.
The Hellboy character is a likeable one. He's written to be kind and caring with a playfully gruff exterior. It's a cliche now but it probably wasn't so bad when the character first appeared in the mid-90s. He's basically very similar to Wolverine only more immediately likeable. And with a giant fist.