On March 22 Dark Horse Comics celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its most popular character, the tough and gruff Hellboy. The “Hellboy” series is known for its deep roots in multi-cultural folklore, pulpy spy adventures, and Lovecraftian horror. In celebration of the big guy’s 20th, let’s take a look at how the world’s greatest paranormal investigator won critical acclaim, numerous awards, and made his way onto the silver screen.
What initially defined the “Hellboy” series is the visually stunning masterwork, “Seed of Destruction.” The first book in Hellboy’s life starts out as a simple haunted house story that suddenly steers into an epic-sized tale of cosmic terror. Mike Mignola and John Byrne establish our horror superhero, a demonic creature with a giant red right hand, in a WWII adventure gone horribly wrong. Just an innocent child, Hellboy is brought into our world against his will. Orchestrated by the Nazis, Hellboy is supposed to bring about the end of the world, but the Americans luckily step in at the last minute.
Byrne’s writing is fully enriched by creator Mike Mignola’s incredibly stylish, unique artwork. Each panel dives deep in shadows, evoking a moody sense of German Expressionism. In Mignola’s illustrations, Hellboy is introduced wearing a long brown trench coat, with a huge gun in his holster. His head is oddly shaped with his devilish horns chopped off. Mignola captures the blue-collar look by showing Hellboy smoking a cigar. This is also reflected in Byrne’s script as the red demon delivers witty comeback lines throughout the book.
As the series progressed, with Mignola taking on writing and illustrating duties, Hellboy traveled the world, looking for monsters to fight and making friends with other outcasts. In my favorite short tale, “Heads,” Hellboy finds himself on a solo mission in Japan. Mignola makes you feel like you’re in another world with his detailed illustrations of Japanese settings and architecture. Mignola brings in his witty sense of humor in the one-shot special, “The Corpse.” The story is a hilarious take on the zombie genre and buddy-cop movies as Hellboy finds himself stuck with a reanimated corpse who just won’t shut up.
With the blockbuster success of Blade II, writer/director Guillermo del Toro had his eyes set on one particular project. Before the first movie got off the ground, the “Hellboy” film unfortunately found itself in developmental hell. If you remember back then, del Toro was holding out from making the movie because actor Ron Perlman was his first and only choice. Del Toro wouldn’t have made it without Perlman as the lead. Because The Fast And The Furious was a box-office hit, the studio originally wanted action star Vin Diesel as Hellboy. Honestly, the movie would have been a totally different and could have possibly bombed if del Toro had given in to studio pressure.
If you had previously seen the ’80s TV series, Beauty And The Beast, then you automatically knew Perlman was a perfect fit. Having done heavy makeup work before, Perlman knew how to emphasize the facial expressions through layers of prosthetics. Hellboy is not only sarcastic, but he is also an orphan, a victim of bad luck, tormented by his past. In the sequel, Perlman showcases his artistic range, even though you don’t see his actual face.
Over the past 20 years, Hellboy has become a phenomenon in the comic book and pop culture spheres. There are now several comic titles running in what is known as the Mignolaverse, including the “Abe Sapien” solo title and the “B.P.R.D.” series among countless other graphic novels and miniseries. There seems to be no end in sight for the loveable red demon. Even his untimely death didn’t put an end to his storyline as he continues to romp around in “Hellboy in Hell”, which has received critical acclaim across the board. It’s rare for a character to last 20 years, and it’s even rarer for the story quality to remain consistent.
Whether he’s clashing with a giant-sized dragon, taking down the conqueror worm, or fighting his way through Hell, Hellboy already knows his entire body is going to feel sore in the morning. Through his sharp writing, extensive knowledge of literature, and stunning artwork, creator Mike Mignola has given fans a unique comic book hero with a keen sense of wit, drama, and adventure. A major reason to celebrate, here’s to another 20 years of more fantastic stories (and hopefully another Hellboy movie).
Editorial by – Jorge Solis