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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Word Balloon! : Hellboy

Hey all,

As promised I am back to make up my missing column from last month with a new installment of the Word Balloon, where I highlight great comic book graphic novels hat are being published today. With it being Halloween, I thought i would take a look at another horror/occult themed book like I did around this time last year and I chose Mike Mignola's Hellboy.

Originally published in 1993 under Dark Horse's Legend imprint, it was one of many independent books being published at the time. 1992 and '93 were a changing time in the comic book marketplace. Comic books were sweeping the nation in many ways. Marvel had hit the jackpot a few years earlier with high profile creators launching new Spider Man and X-Men comics with artists Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee selling millions of copies. In 1992 seven of the top artists from Marvel launched Image Comics, a publishing house where each creator set up their own universe of characters within a bigger universe and told the stories they wanted to tell, and reaped the sole rewards, not having to work on corporate characters anymore. Several other creators, industry veterans (unlike the young hotshot Image guys) wanted in on the act and formed Legend, under independent publishing house Dark Horse. Guys who had shaped books in the 80's now had a venue for their own creative projects, and writer artists like Frank Miller (of 300 and Sin City fame) and John Bryne (who had relaunched Superman in the 80's and helped usher the X-Men to a top selling title) created their own series. Artist Mike Mignola was also part of the group.

Mignola was mostly famous for his intermittent Batman work, though he had worked on many projects over the years and wasn't as high profile as his counter parts. What he was known for though was his dark and moody pencil and ink work, which he put to work in creating his first mini series, which he called Hellboy. Mignola had always been attracted to the occult and the strange, stories and fables about the things that go bump in the night. He also had a natural affinity for monsters, so in creating Hellboy, he wanted a medium where he could do whatever type of book he wanted. Hellboy was an occult investigator who worked for the US Government occult branch, the BPRD, or Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. The thing that set Hellboy apart, and the BPRD as a whole, was that not all of its members, including HB himself, were quite human.

Hellboy was a giant red horned demon, summoned from Hell by Nazi scientists during World War 2. These Nazi's, lead by a Russian mad wizard name Rasputin, conjure Hellboy as the marker of the Apocalypse, as the Beast. Fortunately though, Hellboy is first found by a group of paranormalists from the Allied forces, whose principal member is a young man named Trevor Bruttonholm. They take Hellboy and and Trevor, or Broom as he is called, raises Hellboy as a son, and eventually forms the BPRD under the US government to battle the growing occult threat. Hellboy, as a demon, ages slower than most, and as the series picks up, World War 2 has been over form more than 50 years, but Hellboy is still vital and has been working as a paranormal detective for forty of those years. He teams with the mismatched other "freaks" of the BPRD, Liz Sherman, human in appearance, but a pyrokenetic with a lot of baggage, and his best friend Abe Sapien, a fish man found underneath and old hospital in suspended animation marked on the date Abraham Lincoln died. Together they battle the threats that the underworld pose towards life on Earth.

Admittedly a thin premise to begin with, but the world that Mignola creates grows with each new series. The first miniseries, a good starting point, entitled Seed of Destruction, is co written by John Bryne, but the issues after that really start to hit their stride as Mignola delves into the world of the paranormal, from werewolves and zombies, to the accounting of creatures from forgotten lore, he pits his wise cracking, hard luck hero against the odds in a darker world.

What initially helped the book was Mignola's dark and inky illustrations, bold and shadowed, he creates a book in which his art style could flourish. What kept the book going though was the story and characterization. There is a reason that directors like Guillermo del Toro want to work on films like Hellboy, its because Mignola makes him such a great reluctant hero.

The Legend imprint folded after a few years, with really only Hellboy and Frank Miller's Sin City books creating any lasting staying power. Mignola went on to work his Hellboy character into one of Dark Horse Comics principal books, with several Hellboy mini series and spin of titles featuring the BPRD as well as other stories highlighting the other colorful characters of the Hellboy universe. Mignola has also licensed the character into several animated features, as well as into two successful films with del Toro directing and starring the indelible Ron Perlman as HB, though the films have a decidedly different flavor and storyline than the books, they none the less work together due to the basic characterizations at the core of each person.

October is the perfect month to start out on some Hellboy books, I'd say start off with Seed of Destruction to get the core components of Hellboy and the universe, but its the book The Right Hand of Doom where he really starts to hit his stride. Seed of Destruction details the origin I told above, but then delves into HB's run in with Rasputin years later as he attempts to unravel an attack by a mysetrious frog man> Rasputin has been reborn and wants to bring on the Apocalypse again after failing 50 years earlier. To do this he needs Hellboy to take on the true mantle of his heritage, though HB himself may have something to say about that.

I can also recommend any of the Hellboy paperback novels, specifically the ones written by Tom Golden like The bones of Giants, excellent prose novels with illustrations by Mignola. They also have regular paperback books by many science fiction authors that vary from good to great reads. Hellboy is a great mix of the occult and weird, dialed in with some healthy does of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe to set that perfect tone. Dial up some monster fun and check out Dark Horse Comics Hellboy, by Mike Mignola, the perfect book for this time of year.

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