Greetings, o kind reader. This is Jonathan Kruschack, co-host of the Enigmatic Monster Project Podcast and this is Peril In Panels, the hip, new column all about monsters in comics. Which I’m using as a soapbox from which to blather on and on about comics because why else would I do anything, right? And I’m going to be talking about monsters in any way, shape or form that they’ve appeared in comics. From cosmic entities that pierce reality to slug people who thirst for flesh (while fearing salt) to crazy, unstoppable axe-murderers baying for your blood. If it’s monstrous and appeared inside of a panel in a funny book, I’ll be sure to be all up in its grill. By which I mean I’ll discuss it as intelligently as possible.
Oh, and I may have to periodically give out some spoilers which I will clearly indicate beforehand and I’ll try not to reference once mentioned. Because I’m such a great guy. Forgive me if mistakes occur, in an effort to make get this article out as fast as possible I’m editing it myself and I am in no way qualified to do that.
I’m unsure how long I’ll be doing this so I figured I better start off strong.
So our first subject is the world savin’, Right Hand of Doom havin’, paranormal investigatin’ Hellboy.
Hellboy (a.k.a. Anung Un Rama) was first created by Mike Mignola around 1993 as a simple drawing for a comic book convention. Mignola was kicking around the idea for his own comic series and decided he liked the name he’d absentmindedly scribbled onto the creature’s belt buckle. And thus the world was given Hellboy. Kind of. It took Mignola a while to slowly but surely craft the HB we all know and love to this date. Except those who don’t. And those people should be ashamed, as if all their collective, grubby hands were caught in the cookie jar.
Canon-wise Hellboy is the spawn of a demon, Azzael and of the witch, Sarah Hughes. Because of this Hellboy is half-human and also a descendent of Morgana La Fey, which makes him <SPOILERS AHOY> the rightful holder of Excalibur as well as the true King of England. Or he was, anyways. <SPOILERS OVER FOR NOW>
Confused? That’s understandable. Interested? You’d better be.
Born on Christmas Eve, 1944 in an abandoned church in England after being summoned to Earth by the surprisingly still alive Grigori Rasputin and a group of Nazi mad scientists working on “Project Ragnarok” on Tarmagant Island near the coast of Scotland. The Nazis hoped to use whatever Rasputin summoned to win the war in their favour. Unfortunately for those goose-stepping chumps the mad Russian monk couldn’t bring HB to them and he instead appeared before the gathered forces the Allies had sent to stop the Nazi spook squad. Among those gathered were Professor Malcolm Frost, who’s only line of dialogue to my knowledge was “SHOOT IT! KILL IT! IT’S A DEMON COME FROM HELL TO DESTROY US ALL!”, Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones (England’s top medium who detected the summoning) and Trevor Bruttenholm (pronounced “Broom”), an expert on all things occult and supernatural. Oh, also an elite US Ranger unit and The Torch of Liberty, a superhero who is barely ever mentioned again. Hellboy was named and adopted by the not-so imaginative Bruttenholm who taught him all he knew and trained by the US military to combat the forces of darkness. He gained honorary human status in 1952 thanks to the U.N. and slowly became known as the world’s greatest paranormal investigator over the course of more than 50 years of service. Whew, okay, sorry that was a lot to get out.
Hellboy as a series has always been very well illustrated and most importantly, very well written. Why is that more important? Because good writing can sometimes save bad art, but good art can’t really help bad writing. Thankfully, this series knocks it outta the park in both respects. With that beautiful, derailing segue, this is as good a time as any to get into the writing. Mignola worked with writer John Bryne to write the first full HB story Seed of Destruction but from then on he has worked almost entirely by himself in terms of writing within the series and you really can see him grow as a writer and artist as it progresses. The first stories he did on his own he seemed to stay in his comfort zone, so to speak.
This isn’t really a negative point, because Mignola in his comfort zone is pretty much paradise for all involved unless those involved hate good things to read. But as the plot progressed Mignola had Hellboy take on grander, more varied adventures in various locals while meeting/being-beaten-up-by all manner of creatures and people and entities. Or maybe it was a case of the character telling the author what ought to happen next? That seems a much more fitting description of events, knowing how much Mignola enjoys the characters he created. Mignola’s writing, to me anyway, has always been phenomenal outside of odd dialogue choices early on. Though I must say, after several re-reads (and by “several” I mean “I will never stop rereading them”) they all now seem more appropriate. As an author, Mignola loves sprinkling references to various famous and, much more often than that, not-so famous myths and literature, movies and nearly every other medium under the sun. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the Irish folktale of Teig O’Kane and the Corpse, he works in what he can where he can and none of it ever feels shoehorned in or poorly executed. Even when he doesn’t know much about something he’ll put in the effort to make you think he knew everything. See the story “Heads” in the TPB volume Hellboy #4, Right Hand of Doom if you don’t believe me, he admits it right before the beginning in the little explanation page.
Now moving on to the art, much like the writing, Mignola has worked on the art for the majority of Hellboy with a few guest artists here and there taking over, like the great Richard Corben. Eventually with HB becoming a well known property that would eventually become a movie series starring good ol’ Ron Perlman (with a third one on the far horizon) and Mignola doing more and more writing with BPRD (the art for that is done first by Guy Davis and then later Tyler Crook) as well, he eventually handed the art off to Duncan Fegredo, who’s style is very fitting to Mignola’s. Mike’s art, while heavily detailed when needed, usually leaves a lot hidden in heavy shadow. This causes the reader to have to sort of fill in the blanks. This probably sounds wrong, right? Like Mike isn’t doing his job? Well, you’re wrong but you have a good reason to think that, considering how I just described it. Let me go into it a bit more. The stylized art of Mignola has a kind of obscured brilliance to it. At a glance, it seems very simple. Jack Kirby, heavy on the inks, super creepy monsters. But when you stop to examine a pose, or a background or the expression on the face of a man who’s been cursed by a Saint to become a werewolf forever ’cause his parents were pagans as he removes his skin like a coat you see the depth of the art. How he implies action and detail, instead of outright showing. The shadows or a lack of heavy detail aren’t a crutch at all. They’re tools which, when used correctly, are of great value to the artist and reader. The implication of action/detail is, in an odd way, more visceral than actually seeing the entirety of the thing. Mignola also shows a deep appreciation for detail when it comes to recreating old art or sculptures, from Francisco Goya to medieval paintings depicting religious figures or carvings on stones in a graveyard, he sets the scene perfectly in every panel. And the artists he works with almost always do the exact same, though in their own way. Richard Corben, for example, draws nothing like Mignola except when it comes to his depiction of Hellboy. Corben’s style is more rounded, while Mignola’s seems more pointed and stiff. Duncan Fegredo, on the other hand, takes after Mignola fiercely. He doesn’t mimic him, it’s more of an homage in the same way Mignola draws similarly to Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. Duncan Fegredo’s art is much more detailed than Mike Mignola’s, and he uses less shadows but stays close enough to keep even die-hard Mignola fans happy. Even the lettering is top notch, thanks to Pat Brosseau and Clem Robbins.
But enough stroking the author’s ego. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details. You like monsters? Big fan of creepy, hauntingly weird creatures, huh? Well, have I got you covered.
Here’s a short list of some that have appeared in Hellboy and BPRD books over the years. If this can’t convince you to go out and read all the HB stories you can then I don’t know what will. These images, as well as most of the images in this article have mostly been scanned in from comics I own. I’d say 90 percent of these were from scans while the remaining I simply found online.
Please forgive the poor scan quality and the odd cropping. It wasn’t intentional. Now enjoy those links, boys and girls!
*ahem* Here we go:
– Werewolves (and some werejaguars)
Alright, there we go. What? What do you mean “I’m still not convinced?” Did you seriously not read the part with the wereJAGUARS?! Did the words “The Wendigo” and “Ogdru Jahad” not instantly pique your interest? Nothing? Really? Wow. You…You have some kind of problem. Like a parasite that hates everything good and fun might be slowly burrowing away in your skull, eating your mind. Or I’ve got to try harder. Probably that first one though, it makes the most sense. Well fine, you don’t have to give me those glazed over, “please help, my nervous system is being devoured” puppy-dog eyes. Just for you I’ll end with random pages from various HB stories, ranging from creepy to funny to action packed to sad in no specific order. If that don’t work, nothin’ will.
Now get to reading, quickly as possible. It’ll keep that/those parasite(s) at bay. They hate cool stuff.
Keep it monstrous!
– J. Kruschack