Hell of a Hellboy...the comic

April 2, 2004, midnight | By Josh Gottlieb-Miller | 20 years, 1 month ago

Nazis. Demons. Nazi-demons. If you're going to go over-the-top, you might as well go all the way.

That's the strategy espoused by artist-creator Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and boy does it work. One of the most entertaining, adventurous comics on the market, Hellboy was recently, deservedly turned into a movie. For this Hellboy merits special attention, particularly regarding the first Hellboy story: Seed of Destruction, upon which the movie centers.

Hellboy is the story of a mysterious demon summoned from hell by the mad Russian monk Rasputin (for Nazis too boot!), but found by the Allies and raised to do good (the series takes place modern day, though). Hellboy is a compelling lead: a tough, regular guy who cracks wise at evil and happens to have a demon's body and strength. He also doesn't know anything about his past. While a better set of comic book clichés has not been invented, straightforward tongue-in-cheek direction makes for an entertaining read. Well, that and Mignola's work, which is simply fantastic.

Mignola is most capable of powerful images: While he's not the most detailed artist, he draws one, epic, pissed off demon of a hero. One scene featuring a flash-backed hero (the Torch of Liberty) sharing a cup of coffee with equally disheveled Allied troops also demonstrates how full of character Mignola's smart, evocative imagery is. Mignola's stand-alone shots of dark graveyards and statuesque settings are some of his best work, often ambiguously chilling and dangerous. Rightfully, the coloring is dark and magnificent, and the action flows sharp and smooth.

Here's the catch about Seed of Destruction, though: It's not actually that good. Make no mistake, it's a fine first entry in a storied comic book franchise, but it is not Mignola's best work (the series gets progressively better). Indeed, it's not even entirely his work, with writing by John Byrne. Though Byrne sometimes manages a compelling inner narrative, his writing is too often stunted and boring. "Go…to…hell," Hellboy tells one apocalyptic villain, only to be refuted. "No need, creature. Hell is coming here."

The plot is also sadly underdeveloped. Hellboy is an investigator for the small, dark Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), where he works with government types, but mostly fellow freaks like Liz Sherman (capable of creating flame) and Abe Sapien (a large fish). Early in Seed of Destruction his mentor Trevor Bruttenholm is killed. Hellboy destroys the assassin, but working off clues he received from Bruttenholm as to his last adventures, he, Liz and Abe go looking for the man behind the assassination. What follows is the quick unraveling of a mystery (unravel it does, and with it the story's quality) that involves Bruttenholm's compatriots, frogs, ancient evil and a surprise villain. Absent shock value, the story is nothing much.

Fortunately, Mignola's captivating art saves Seed of Destruction from mere mediocrity. Byrne also occasionally hits the mark with his verbose attempts at prose, most notably when Abe goes looking around a suspicious residence. "There is nothing at all alive down here. No animals. No fish. Not even algae. A place of death. Old death. And as I reach the surface, I begin to think…a place of new death, too…" Abe wonders.

Seed of Destruction is worth reading, if not alone for its introduction to the great series of Hellboy comics (later collections The Chained Coffin and Other Stories, The Right Hand of Doom and Conqueror Doom are much more highly recommended, as well as written by Mignola). Mignola's interest in classic mythology, old-time pulp underpinnings and his wicked protagonist (not to mention his fantastic artwork) make Hellboy one of the best comic books out there today, and hopefully make for a good movie, too.

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