Special: 20 Years of Hellboy
Hellboy Day – 20 Years of Hellboy
There is a world where the likes of Jack Kirby and H.P. Lovecraft intersect, and we lovingly refer to this world as the Mignolaverse; a world that’s both classically comic book and darkly occult. A true genius by any standard, Mike Mignola has been expanding this world for two full decades now. For those of you who have yet to dive into this amazing place (I weep for your dull reality), I don’t think the true brilliance and sheer depth of the Mignolaverse, especially the original Hellboy title, can be accurately conveyed in words. The wider-known films were fun endeavors, but the tone of the books is something totally different. Starting with Hellboy itself, my personal favorite comic book series, and eventually expanding into a plethora of spin-off titles with equal artistic quality, the Mignolaverse has consistently enthralled readers for 20 long years while remaining fresh and interesting every month along the way. This is certainly a rare feat but one apparently accomplished with relative ease. But of course, this deep catalogue of incredible stories begins back in Hellboy.
The book that started it all (ok, there were some minor appearances beforehand!), Hellboy: Seed of Destruction is a modern classic of the medium that will astonish both old and new readers even today. While the series certainly expanded and evolved a great deal over the following years, I am still amazed at what a powerful first story arc this is every time I go back for a re-read. Both the writing and artwork of Mike Mignola are unlike anybody else in comic books. He has a way of making visual simplicity gorgeous and captivating, and the depth of his storytelling is unparalleled. Mignola has shown time and time again that he is a master of both one-shot stories and slow-burning plots that last for years.
One of the features of a universe that expands over such a long period of time and with such apparent foresight and careful planning from the creators is the necessity to re-read. Personally, I’ve gone back to re-read all of my books from the Hellboy universe many times simply because they are just that good. However, you also discover new things every time you read a Mignola book, especially Hellboy. The depth of story, the hidden foreshadowing, the subtle tie-ins, and a host of other clever storytelling details require multiple readings in order to fully come to grips with such an expansive world. And therein lies part of the beauty of Mike Mignola and the world of Hellboy. After 20 years, we are still learning things about the characters and their world that we have followed for so long. The weaving of such an intricate web of fiction lends a sense of reality to this world; when a story published year’s previous ties into a current arc, the satisfactory sense of identification is always a wonderful payoff. The subtle depth throughout each and every issue will also allow wholly new discoveries when you go back to them, as this world is ever-expanding and providing readers with fuller explanations as time goes by. This is not casual storytelling, but it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences a comic book fan, or any fan of great writing, could undergo.
It also seems like Mike Mignola’s interest in his own characters is equal to the interest of readers! This would certainly help explain the incredible spin-offs that have contributed to the ongoing expansion of the Mignolaverse. Titles like Lobster Johnson explore characters from Hellboy’s world that we wouldn’t otherwise get much information on. Furthermore, each of these titles provides a slightly different overall sensibility and tone; want incredibly deep, bizarre stories? Read Hellboy! How about a team book with many different dynamics? B.P.R.D. is for you! Want more of a pulp-action vibe in your Mignolaverse reading? Check out Lobster Johnson! Mike Mignola has also shown he is more than willing to explore even the most seemingly far-flung corners of the Hellboy universe; Sir Edward Grey appears to play such a minor role in Hellboy, yet we’ve had multiple stories expand on the story of this Victorian agent of the supernatural in Witchfinder. Even the more recent Sledgehammer 44 stories have featured an aspect of the Mignolaverse that we had only previously caught a brief glimpse of in a Lobster Johnson story!
However, one of the main features of the Mignolaverse and Hellboy in particular which make this world so special to me is the mythology. Oh, the mythology! The world of Big Red is esoteric to say the least; Norse, Slavic, Celtic, Mayan, the occult, Arthurian legend, and so much more, this world is brimming with deeply interwoven mythologies and genres. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, it’s all good in Mignola’s books! Every character is interesting and unique, and the voice of each is pitch-perfect. Even among the lofty story-telling, mythology, and mystery, Hellboy himself just talks like an ‘average Joe’ with brief, simple dialogue. These characters all feel real and each has something that readers can identify with. There is so much going on here that it may sound slightly overwhelming, but the story is developed by slowly peeling back small layers with masterful precision. Again, even after all of these years, reading the recent first arc of Hellboy in Hell was just as powerful as the first time reading Seed of Destruction.
The power and beauty of this world is still there after all of this time. B.P.R.D. is better than ever, even after well over 100 issues, the Abe Sapien title is exploring a side of the Mignolaverse that we haven’t seen much of in the past, and the other spin-off miniseries all remain in top form with each new book. Action, adventure, mystery, intelligence, humor, and terrifying thrills, these stories have it all. Mike Mignola is a brilliant mind and the Mignolaverse is something that every comic book fan should experience in its entirety. Here’s to 20 more years of Hellboy, the B.P.R.D., and everybody else!