After a couple of false starts, The Comic Vault returns to Cemetery Dance just in time to celebrate a milestone anniversary of one of the greatest horror comic characters of all time: Mike Mignola’s blue collar demon, Hellboy.
2019 marks 25 years of Hellboy — not bad for a character that began as a one-off sketch Mignola doodled during a convention. Over the last quarter century, Hellboy survived demons, ghosts, explosions, frogs, and drunken trips to Mexico before finally succumbing to an enchantress named Nimue (and to Mignola’s short-lived desire to give up comics t0 paint watercolors ). Even after the death of Hellboy the character, Hellboy the intellectual property lives and thrives through various prequel comics, spinoff series, a board game, a whiskey, and a new movie we’ll talk more about in a minute.
Hellboy’s longevity is particularly notable when you consider that, in most comics, he’d be the villain. He is, after all, a half-demon. His father was a duke of Hell; his mother, a witch. His true name is Anung Un Rama (loosely translated as “upon his brow is set a crown of flame”). He was brought to Earth by Nazis! If that’s not the pedigree of a classic comic book villain, then I’ve never read a comic book.
What makes Hellboy so compelling is that he knows he’s supposed to be the villain — in fact, he’s told over and over again that his purpose is to bring about the apocalypse — but he turns his back on that role. Everything he does, from punching out witches to grinding down his own horns, is a refutation of his so-called destiny.
Mignola’s stories are a rich mixture of elements ranging from classic mythology and folklore to two-fisted pulp adventures and Lovecraftian horror. It’s a singular, extraordinary vision, but one that Mignola has not realized alone. The color palette created and employed by Dave Stewart goes hand-in-hand with Mignola’s unique visual style to create visuals that are instantly recognizable. Artists like horror legend Richard Corben have made great contributions to the mythos; and, near the end of Hellboy’s solo run, artist Duncan Fegredo established himself as a vital part of the artistic team.
Speaking of team, the masthead may say “Hellboy,” but the character has also benefited from the presence of a strong ensemble cast, including conflicted fire-slinger Liz Sherman, Roger the Homunculus, and the mysterious and amphibious Abe Sapien, to name just a few.
Look, it’s impossible to encapsulate what makes Hellboy great in just a thousand words or so. Rather than continuing try to sum it up here, I’m going to direct you to the comics themselves. Dark Horse has kept the series available in multiple forms, from exquisite oversized hardcovers to affordable paperback omnibus editions. There are two highly enjoyable movies from Guillermo del Toro that do a great job of transferring the look and feel of the comics to the silver screen, and we’re just a couple of months away from an all-new cinematic interpretation of the character from director Neil Marshall and actor David Harbour.
Dark Horse is commemorating Hellboy’s anniversary with “Hellboy Day” in March; I’ll be commemorating it all year long with a re-read of the entire series, including all of the one-shots and spin-offs I can cram in.
There’s much to discover in these pages, so many little threads and details that add up to an extraordinary whole. How will you be celebrating Hellboy’s 25th? What’s your favorite character or storyline? Hit me up on Twitter or in the comments below if you want to geek out on Big Red’s adventures!
Blu Gilliand is the managing editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Online. Look him up on Twitter (@BluGilliand) to talk comics, books, music, football, and all things Cemetery Dance.