Seeing as I read Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil (the first two volumes of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series) back to back, I might as well review them as one, especially since they basically just compound on top of one another in following the same paranormal threat and mystery surrounding the beast that is Hellboy.
In all honesty, before starting this series, the only thing I knew about Hellboy was that there was a movie made about him a few years back with Ron Perlman, and master-of-makeup-and-costume-acting Dough Jones as some fishy thing? And Hellboy is super strong and almost like a rock or something? But you go to the odd convention here and there and hear Mike Mignola’s name being spouted around by people, and suddenly stumble upon this book and think, “Hey, why not?” And what a good random read this has turned out to be. Maybe the art is not as detailed as some might like (personally, I like things a little more minimal, and the drawings of Hellboy himself are totally entrancing to me), but the story is multifaceted in its complications and historical implications. In fact, you just scratch the surface with Seed of Destruction, which becomes apparent once you hit Wake the Devil, and the depth of the whole business of who Hellboy is and what he was made for becomes all the more elusive, despite the teases put out there for the reader to grab on to.
What the first two Hellboy’s are basically about are how Hellboy came into being. After an old, thought to be dead historical figure performs a summoning ritual for the Nazi’s in WWII in order to change the course of the war and future of the world, a young, red creature is found on the surface of the earth; he becomes known as “Hellboy,” as it is believed he was raised from the pits of Hell. Hellboy does not, however, end up immediately in the hands of those who summoned him, but is taken in by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense or BPRD (Saving people, hunting things, maybe not as much a “family” business as you thought, huh Winchesters?). Fifty years later, he is still working for them, hunting down ghosts and other paranormal activity across the globe, with others who have special abilities and mutations that were found by the BPRD, such as a woman named Elizabeth Sherman who has pyrokinetic powers, and an amphibian-like creature known as Abe Sapien.
In both Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil, those powers which had long before summoned Hellboy are constantly at play, trying to draw him into a trap to unleash his full potential upon the world: in essence, supernatural activity is occurring for Hellboy and his team to investigate, so that Hellboy can be obtained to perform what he was initially summoned to do. But what is this exactly? Well, it’s still unclear at this point, though all the stepping-stones are starting to fall into place as the series goes on (at this point, at least, though it is still early). All I know is that there are multiple Gods and belief systems all competing at this point for ultimate power, though I’m still not sure what the ultimate ends of each really are.
A great thing about this series thus far is the way the story intertwines with already-established history and names. I mean, why can’t Rasputin have something to do with all this stuff going on? The attention to detail and layers within the plot are definitely two of the strongest aspects of these works, as many, more strictly “superhero” type comic books can often become simplistic in their good vs. evil mantras (not all of them, of course). Though at times, I did get a little confused with all the names and history being thrown around, so it took a while to get my head around it at some points while reading: I just had to stop for a minute every now and again to straighten it all out, though that might also have been to do with the distracting settings in which I was reading… who is really to say?
What is also interesting about Hellboy as a character is that he is clearly different from everyone, but at this point in his life, he understands this, and just accepts it. Honestly, he is probably the most chill, gigantic mutant-y thing I’ve ever experienced in any work of fiction before, and it makes him very endearing as far as characters go. In addition, being that he is the main character of the series, it kind of goes without saying that he is likely to remain the “good guy” despite the fact that there is a prophecy or other (demonic?) purpose laid out for him. He resists this within the first two volumes, as you would expect from the protagonist, and yet, while I was reading, there was this little feeling I had that maybe one day he will turn his back on this humanity he has learned from the past fifty years. Would it be bad if he became an anti-hero or villainous character? I honestly don’t think it would. I think Hellboy would continue to work as a character and story regardless of what “side” he is on, which in my mind, is the markings of a very strong character. I mean, maybe others feel differently, and maybe he will inevitably go to the “dark side” for a tiny stint of time before returning back to his usual self, but either way, this seeming potential to be both a “good” and “evil” character leaves a bit of suspense and wonder as to what path Hellboy will eventually take, and that kind of unpredictability is something I like when reading books that could simply fall into the usual heroic plotlines. Though at the same time, being that Hellboy is virtually indestructible (or so it seems), there is never really any worry or doubt that he won’t survive the tale. Then again, this is basically inherent in most series (with the exception of things like Game of Thrones, of course), so it’s not like I can really fault this all that much.
All in all, however, I really enjoyed the first two volumes of Hellboy, and would recommend reading them to anyone who is a fan of the comic genre, or who enjoys things that involve a fictionalized spin on real world history. I myself think I’m going to continue with further volumes of this series at some point, or as soon as I can get my hands on them, more like.
[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]