Why Hellboy is my favorite comic
Like most of you, I've been trapped in my house and taking the opportunity to re-read some old favorites. One of the first I started with was Mike Mignola's long-running comic Hellboy. From the time I started reading comics in middle school, I've always stated this was my favorite and going through it all again just reminded me why that is. But the short version? It's all Guillermo Del Toro's fault.
Some time around 2005 give or take, I rented Del Toro's first Hellboy movie from my local video store (ah, those were the days). I quickly fell in love with its world of cyborg Nazis and ancient monsters, and with the character of Hellboy himself. Played masterfully by Ron Perlman, he had a great humanity to him that made him feel more grounded than the other comic book heroes whose movie adaptations I was devouring at the time. So as soon as I returned that rented DVD, I rushed out to get the first Hellboy trade paperback, Seed of Destruction.
Reading the comic brought another new dimension to Hellboy and his world. The character's adventures became more episodic, like he could go anywhere and encounter almost anything. For a kid like me who grew up on monster of the week genre TV shows, it was great. But these stories were more refined than some of those shows, even if they were about as pulpy. Writer and artist Mike Mignola's liner notes in the collections attested to that. He spoke about how he pulled inspiration from different historical, literary, and mythological sources, and tried to put as many of the weird, off-kilter details as he could in there. It was from him that I first learned about figures like Hecate, goddess of witchcraft, and the Baba Yaga or authors like H.P. Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson.
Of course, when it comes to Hellboy, the artwork is what everyone talks about. For good reason though, because Mignola is a great artist. His use of black and negative space is eerily effective in creating mood, but I think atmosphere is where he really succeeds. Everything in Hellboy's world feels ancient, castles and churchyards that are slowly crumbling to time's advance. Dust hangs over everything and even the monsters feel diminished somehow. Which is perfect for stories that have the fading of old-world magic as a major theme and in which the literal apocalypse is always hanging in the background.
Oh, and Mignola's really good at drawing monsters. That's important too.
The other reason Hellboy is my favorite comic though is Hellboy himself. There's such a genuinely human quality to him. His job is to fight monsters and he's presented with escalating levels of weirdness all the time, but he kind of just shrugs it off. Yeah, he'll get taken by surprise and knocked on his ass, but he adjusts to situations quick and doesn't lose focus. Hellboy is unpretentious about himself, and that creates a great contrast with the occultists he usually fights. They'll monologue about their power and magic, tell him he's doomed, then he'll just give an annoyed retort and punch them in the face.
Those two things, the age Mignola's art gives his environments and Hellboy's almost blue-collar approach to it all, are the real secrets to what make the comic so special in my opinion. Hellboy exists in a world with a lot of lore, buried secrets, and terrible things in the dark, but he comes at it all very humbly and matter-of-fact. He's not a destined hero. Any talk of destiny pisses him off. He's a guy just doing his job, and that job is protecting people and fighting monsters. And he might screw up and get his ass kicked, but he'll get the job done.