Hellboy: More Than Just a Pretty Face
In the world of super heroes you have your standards: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain Ameria. They fly around saving lives in spandex tights and posing in the most heroic stances imaginable. They are the good guys.
Now, let me introduce you to the best.
Hellboy, created by Mike Mignola, is a demon summoned from Hell by the Nazis during World War II as part of Hitler's obsession with the occult. He is Anung Un Rama, son of the Fallen One, destined to lead Hell's army in the final battle against God. Raised by a moral, allied scientist named Professor Trevor Bruttenholm. All grown up, Hellboy hunts down demons and other evil creatures in pursuit of good.
If you've only ever seen him in the movies, you are missing out on a lot. While the movies are fun and entertaining they fail to match the pure fantasy and heart that Mike Mignola and his team infuse in every page.
The art of Hellboy is deceptively simple. At times the characters are no more than roughly drawn silhouettes. Shapes and creatures seem haphazardly dropped on the page like amorphous blobs. One look at a page and you will say, "That looks easy, I could draw that." You would be wrong, trust me, I've tried. The art form hearkens back to ages long ago, where storytellers would draw on the imaginations of their audience, pulling out their darkest fears and greatest hopes with only their words. The art of Hellboy, its lack of definition, it's stark contrast of dark and light with little gradient in between speaks to that. And interpersed among the vibrant, dark tones, are little panels, seemingly random yet without them the story would be far less. As skull here. A flower there. Small yet vital.
Mike Mignola is a huge fan of Russian and Europena history in general. His depth of knowledge and insight into those old legends that sustained and frightened us long before the age of reason is remarkable. And yet he does not treat these beliefs with ridicule or contempt, rather he teaches them as if they are are real and vital. Parts of the world we have long forgotten or blocked from our memories.
Take the Baba Yaga and her chicken legged house. Were you to put that in a Superman or Batman comic it would be for comedic purpose, a novelty trap in some villain's nefarious scheme. But in this world it is a very real place; a home for death and a stop for those destined beyond.
Mignola's grasp of languages both historical and fictional bring the depth and emotion only one truly passionate about a subject can bring to it.
In the movies, Hellboy is portrayed as a brutish, immature, dullard concerned with his looks and swooning over his lost love. In the books he is so much more than that. He is a caring friend, a dedicated detective, a driven man with decades of experience in the occult, a demon fighting against his destiny. He is the Right Hand of Doom and the world's only hope. And he totally kicks ass when he has to.
Read beyond Seed of Destruction (the fist graphic novel) and you are treated an ever expanding world of folklore and history you would probably never have known existed before. Read even further still and you will come to appreciate this book for more than just a fun romp but a look into a world faded from memory yet very much still alive.