The Phenomenal Lovecraftian Prestige in Hellboy’s Abstraction

The Phenomenal Lovecraftian Prestige in Hellboy’s Abstraction
© Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Michael Joseph Mignola established himself as an artist at DC Comics and Marvel Comics, gaining a reputation for moody, dark illustrations with the Batman book ‘Gotham by Gaslight’ (1989). His creation of the character Hellboy was inspired by a variety of sources, including the works of horror fantasist Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Michael Joseph Mignola found humour in matching a large, all-red character fitting the conventional depiction of a devil with the concept of a rough-and-tumble paranormal investigator who approaches dilemmas with a gruff humour and steady resolve.

Hellboy debuted in a black-and-white short in a convention publication for the Comic-Con International: San Diego in August of 1993. A second untitled story (both were referred to as ‘World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator’) was released alongside with ‘Seed of Destruction’ in the Comic Buyer’s Guide. Michael Joseph Mignola had initially conceived Hellboy visually, and after plotting the early stories, he asked veteran comic writer John Byrne to help him script the two untitled shorts as well as the first series, ‘Seed of Destruction.’ After ‘Seed of Destruction,’ however, almost every Hellboy story has been written by Michael Joseph Mignola. ‘Seed of Destruction’ was published in March 1994.

Hellboy is not a series character in the conventional sense of appearing in monthly issues. Rather, Michael Joseph Mignola has largely told Hellboy’s stories in extended arcs as actual graphic novels that span four or more instalments as well as in short stories told in one or two issues. Additionally, a number of Hellboy works (such as ‘The Wolves of Saint August’) were initially serialized in Dark Horse Comics anthologies and specials such as ‘Dark Horse Presents.’ From the start, Dark Horse Comics intended to release trade paperback volumes of the longer stories as well as collations of shorter pieces. Many of the shorter pieces are not in the chronological order of the longer novels but instead take place at different times in Hellboy’s career, beginning in the late 1950’s.

The trade paperback collection of ‘Seed of Destruction’ is dedicated to pulp horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft and comic book artist Jack Kirby. Michael Joseph Mignola displays both these influences broadly in his work. ‘Seed of Destruction’ is set in 1944, when the occultist monk Grigori Rasputin assembles a coterie of like-minded Nazis (including Ilsa von Haupstein) on a small Scottish isle. Grigori Rasputin believes that circumstances are right for him to summon the Lovecraftian Ogdru Jahad (seven elder gods of great evil, imprisoned in another dimension, similar to the evil deities in Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories) and bring about Armageddon on earth.

At the same time, English paranormal investigator (later the founder of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) Trevor Bruttenholm has assembled a team in East Bromwich, in the United Kingdom, where the psychic Alice Cavendish has foretold that something momentous is about to occur. Grigori Rasputin’s Project Ragna Rok, his secret group of Nazi scientists, believes his ritual has not succeeded because of the result of his summoning — a toddler hybrid of demon and human — appears at East Bromwich instead of on their small island.

Hellboy is raised by Trevor Bruttenholm and becomes (as billed) the “World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator.” Fifty years later, Trevor Bruttenholm reappears at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense after a failed mission and is killed by strange frog monsters. Investigating Trevor Bruttenholm’s last case, Hellboy, Elizabeth Sherman, and Abe Sapien travels to Cavendish Hall, where they must contend with Rasputin, who reveals to Hellboy that his purpose is to bring about the end of the world. The three manage to kill Grigori Rasputin’s physical body, although his spirit returns to task the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense.

Hellboy’s origins are explained further in the story ‘The Chained Coffin.’ Returning to Bromwich, Hellboy is given a vision by spirits and learns how a woman named Sarah Hughes, a witch, had bargained with the demon Azzael, having sexual relations with him to gain power. In death, her soul is forfeited to him, and he comes to claim it. Hellboy is born in Hell from this union before Grigori Rasputin summons him to earth.

Hellboy’s stories fall roughly into two categories. Although many stories build upon each other, developing the story of his possible destiny, others are placed at different times in his long career. Those stories that occur out of chronological order are not necessarily stand-alone stories as such because, at times, characters will often appear in multiple tales, further developing the overarching long plot.

In ‘Box Full of Evil,’ Hellboy must contend with a powerful goblin, Grugach, whose enmity he earned in an early story, ‘The Corpse.’ Grugach allies with an occultist named Igor Bromhead. During his combat with the two, Hellboy is once more informed that he is to be the harbinger of the apocalypse. This foretelling of Hellboy as the eventual avatar of the doom of humankind and civilization is heightened further in ‘The Third Wish,’ when a powerful undersea witch, the Bog Roosh, warns him he must die to save the world.

Hellboy’s destiny makes a significant turn in ‘The Wild Hunt,’ which delves into Arthurian legend, introducing the sorceress Morgan le Fay. Even as Grugach tries to force Hellboy to assume the role of the destroyer, the hero instead takes up Arthur’s famous sword, Excalibur, proving yet again he is a hero, not a monster.

Although the graphic novel form precedes Hellboy, the conception of the ongoing story as a series of novels intermixed with shorter tales constituted a transformation in the way comic books worked. While Hellboy was clearly influenced by Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman’s work on ‘The Sandman,’ Michael Joseph Mignola does not work on a monthly deadline. Secondly, where as many paranormal comics strive for a forced bitterness and dark cynicism bordering on melancholy, Hellboy has clung happily to its pulp roots. As in most superhero stories, the tales come down to winning a fight. The series has shown that a variety of elements and sources can be combined in new ways to make for new reading experiences.

More than the building plot and gothic, Lovecraftian nature of his stories and mythos, however, Michael Joseph Mignola has established himself as one of the most important artists of his generation. As he has matured, he has transcended the influence of Jack Kirby and accomplished great shifts in tone and mood through shadow and minimalist designs. Contemporary artists look to him as one of their prime influences, just as Michael Joseph Mignola once looked to Jack Kirby.

Do you have a particular subject you are passionate about you would enjoy seeing covered by one of our staff writers? We would like to reach out to our readers and take your suggestions into account for future articles. We invite you to leave a message for us in the comment section below stating what subjects you would be thrilled to read in future articles. If you also have some constructive criticism about this article we would be happy to read your feedback in the comment section.
Tags



Responses

Click here to post a comment

Leave a Reply

Call for Papers

Black Metal and the Refusal of Aesthetic Modernity
© Photograph by Larissa Grace

Bulletin Insider

Subscribe to the mailing list and get interesting updates through the inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

Privacy Preference Center

Analytics

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They are usually only set in response to actions made by you which amount to a request for services, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the website will not then work. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information.

_ga, _gat, _gid, __qca
_ga, _gat, _gid
__qca

Advertising

These cookies may be set through our website by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other websites. They do not store directly personal information but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

_gat, __gads
_gat
__gads, gat
__capp

Performance

These cookies allow us to count visits and traffic sources so we can measure and improve the performance of our site. They help us to know which pages are the most and least popular and see how visitors move around the site. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. If you do not allow these cookies we will not know when you have visited our site, and will not be able to monitor its performance.

JSESSIONID
JSESSIONID

Notifications

These cookies enable the website to provide enhanced functionality and personalisation. They may be set by us or by third-party providers whose services we have added to our pages. If you do not allow these cookies then some or all of these services may not function properly.

___cfduid
___cfduid

Close your account?

Your account will be closed and all data will be permanently deleted and cannot be recovered. Are you sure?

Get the Bulletin Insider delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to our bulletin and get exceptional updates and brainstorm promotions

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.