Catching Up With Mike Mignola’s Hellboy!
For over twenty years now, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics have been one of my very favorite comic book series. This series has expanded from an occasionally-published series of mini-series and short stories to a vast universe of stories, with multiple interconnected stories chronicling over 100 years of the history of these characters and this universe. A little while back I spent a long time re-reading the entire saga from the very beginning, and writing about it. Over the past year and a half, Mr. Mignola and his extraordinarily talented team of collaborators have continued to publish many new and wonderful stories…
B.P.R.D.: Rise of the Black Flame #5 (2016) — In my last post I wrote about this mini-series, but the final issue had not yet been released. That last issue is a doozy, as we learn the true identity of the original Black Flame and witness his tragic origin. It’s a heartbreaking twist to learn that this villain was once a noble man. I was also delighted and surprised when we met Kamala again. I love how the last page of the issue brings us full circle with this iteration of the Black Flame’s first appearance in Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 from 2012, with the Flame and Kamala on a boat headed for New York in 1932. Brilliant. (I’d love for a follow-up to further explore these characters. Does anything of the original good man still exist within the Flame? What does Kamala make of her role in all of this? Is she a villain, or is there some conflict within her?)
Witchfinder: City of the Dead #5 (2016) — As with Rise of the Black Flame, when I wrote about Witchfinder: City of the Dead in my last Hellboy post, this last issue had not yet been released. Issue #5 brings this story of Sir Edward Grey’s encounter with the vampire Giurescu (first introduced way way back in Hellboy: Wake the Devil from 1996) to a fine conclusion, once again gorgeously illustrated by Ben Stenbeck, whose work is absolutely perfect for these London-set Hellboy universe stories. I was left unclear by this issue whether Sir Edward Grey’s victory over Giurescu here meant the end of the vampire plot that we’ve been reading about for years. We see one panel of Grey’s men digging up some of the vampires buried around London, but have they really found all of the vampires that have been hidden by Giurescu over the years? If this is truly the end of this storyline, then on the one hand I am happy to see it reach a conclusion, but on the other hand it felt a bit too easy. We’ll see where this goes. I am also curious to learn whether Mohlomi’s warning to Sir Edward refers to the events that will wind up with Edward in Hell (as we learned about from his appearances in Hellboy in Hell) or to something else…
Lobster Johnson: Garden of Bones (2017) — In which the Lobster fights voodoo Zombies (or “Chombos”). It’s a perfectly fine weird little Lobster Johnson adventure, though nothing particularly memorable.
Hellboy Winter Special (2017) — This is a great collection of Hellboy universe short stories. In “The Great Blizzard,” we see a team-up between Sir Edward Grey and Sarah Jewell, as hinted at in B.P.R.D.: Rise of the Black Flame, illustrated by Christopher Mitten who also illustrated that mini-series. In “God Rest Ye Merry,” Paul Grist illustrates a prequel to The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, in which a man dressed all in white helps out Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm. We won’t have to wait long to learn his identity (in that Visitor mini-series). We also get to see Victor again (the boy who could manifest creatures, introduced in B.P.R.D. 1954: The Unreasoning Beast), now a teenager and helping Hellboy out in the field! Finally, in “The Last Witch of Fairfield” we get a tale of Hellboy, Abe, and Liz from 1979. I love these Winter Specials and hope they continue for many more years to come!
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1954: Ghost Moon (2017) — I quite enjoyed this two-part story in which Hellboy, Susan Ziang and Archie investigate weirdness in Hong Kong. I like this threesome, and hope to see lots more of their continuing adventures in the fifties and sixties. I enjoyed Brian Churilla’s art — his combination of cartoony stylization with great detail is a nice fit for the Hellboy universe. It was nice to see Lady Cynthia (who had a minor role in the first Hellboy mini-series, Seed of Destruction) again, and the story’s epilogue hints that we’ll be seeing more of her, and the mysterious British S.I.D. (Special Intelligence Directorate) in the future. In also curious to learn what the dying mystic whispered to Susan — we’ve been getting hints as to her past, and her family, and I look forward to seeing where that is going. (One note: this story is repeatedly identified in the comic as taking place in 1953, though the cover title identifies it as 1954. Which is correct??)
The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed (2017) — Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, and illustrated by Paul Grist, this mini-series is one of my favorites in recent years. We finally, FINALLY get to learn the story of the mysterious alien glimpsed all the way back in Seed of Destruction. The first issue is a wonderful trip back down Hellboy memory lane, as we see how this alien has been following Hellboy ever since his “birth” in 1944. We get to see the famous photo of baby Hellboy with Professor Bruttenholm and the U.S. soldiers, and since I had been noting this in my Hellboy re-reading project, I’ll comment that, once again, John Byrne’s Soldier of Victory character who appeared in Seed of Destruction has again been omitted. (The photo is cleverly presented at an angle so that the place where the Soldier would have been is off the page.) I also love how this first issue starts and ends with an image of the white lillies that have been so intimately connected to Hellboy.
We learn how this alien refused his assignment to murder Hellboy as a child, instead choosing to stay on Earth and carefully monitor his growth and development, ready to step in if Hellboy turns evil. As Hellboy grows and begins fighting monsters, we see the “visitor” helping H.B. and the B.P.R.D.; we see his interaction with Hellboy and Susan Xiang in 1953, as seen in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: Beyond the Fences; and we see H.B. at the Osiris Club (a nice connection to Hellboy universe history) in 1954. In 1964 we see that Victor has grown up and is still working with Hellboy in the field. In issue #3, set in 1978, we see the Visitor investigate a group of Ogdru Hem worshipers, and a very familiar-looking Ogdru Hem statue pops up. In issue #4, we get to see Abe, Liz and Hellboy in 1992. (It’s always such a pleasure to see that trio back together, on another adventure!) Finally, in issue #5, we catch up with the alien’s death as seen The Conquerer Worm.
The main emotional through-line of this story is the Visitor’s relationship with an African-American woman, Ruby Mathers. I loved watching this relationship develop. Issue #4’s story of the end of Ruby’s life was very affecting.
This was a fantastic mini-series, a highlight of recent Hellboy stories. Chris Roberson has truly stepped up as one of the primary authors working with Mr. Mignola to chart the continuing Hellboy saga, and Paul Grist’s cartoony art was perfect. I loved this mini-series.
Lobster Johnson: The Pirate’s Ghost (2017) — This three-issue mini-series, once again beautifully illustrated by Tonci Zonjic, brings a number of long-running story-lines to a head, as the gangster Wald and his henchman Isog both meet their fates. We’ve gotten hints in previous Lobster stories that perhaps the Lobster’s origin is connected with some ancient pirates. I had hopes that this story-line would clarify that, but while we get a lot of interesting teases, in the end it seems that the titular “pirate’s ghost” is all in the increasingly-crazy Wald’s head. So that was a bit of a disappointment. Still, this was a fun adventure and a very fast-paced, entertaining story. (There’s a LOT crammed into these three issues.) I enjoyed seeing the development of the relationship between Cindy (the intrepid reporter who has been following the Lobster over the years) and Harvey, the tough African-American man who is a key part of the Lobster’s team. I was sad to see their relationship come to an end in issue #3, but that fits with what we know about where Harvey and the Lobster’s story is going. I wonder if we’ll see Cindy again? (She moves to Chicago in the end, to pursue a future in TV.) It’s hard to imagine her not figuring into future Lobster Johnson stories, but who knows. We are rapidly catching up to the Lobster’s fateful encounter with Memnan Saa, as depicted in the very first Lobster Johnson mini-series The Iron Prometheus from back in 2007. Also of note: the opening of issue #1 features the Lobster rescuing Harvey from the clutches of villain the Steel Hawk. (He’s also featured on that issue’s cover.) The Steel Hawk was first glimpsed in the scrapbook found by Johann, all the way back in B.P.R.D. The Dead #3, from 2004! Wow!
B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know #1-5 (2017) — After a significant break following the end of the “Hell on Earth” saga with Cometh the Hour, we finally got a new B.P.R.D. story, picking up after the Bureau’s defeat of the Ogdru Jahad that had come to Earth. In this mini-series, we begin to explore the fallout and the global devastation that had happened throughout the years-long “Hell on Earth” story. I’d love to learn more, in future stories, about the degree to which countries and governments continue to exist (or not) in any sort of recognizable form following the chaos of the monsters ravaging the planet.
Yet another human B.P.R.D. agent falls in issue #1, Tian. (Then Martens kicks the bucket in issue #2!) We see Liz and Howards continuing to fight surviving monsters, with Devon now in command of the Bureau. (The question as to whether Devon can be trusted has been simmering for years. Its’ clear in these issues that Liz and Abe don’t trust him. I’d love to see this finally addressed in a definitive fashion.) I am intrigued by this new Liz-Howards relationship. (I loved the moment in issue #3 when Liz tells Abe that she has a boyfriend!) I was happy to see Agent Ashley Strode re-enter the main B.P.R.D. story after years in her own solo tales. But the highlight was finally, finally getting to see a reunion between Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien in issue #2. Abe has been off in his own adventures in his solo series for years, and it is a delight to see him back in the B.P.R.D. fold. (Issue #3 reminds us that Liz and Abe hadn’t actually seen one another since way back in B.P.R.D. King of Fear #4 from back in 2010.) I am glad that they took the time in issue#3 to show us some of the process of Liz’s filling Abe in on everything that he’d missed since he left. It’s incredible to consider how much has happened in the last several years of B.P.R.D. stories! It’s fun to see Abe and Liz discuss Johann and Kate and Iosif and Devon; for Abe to tell Liz about Grace and the times he’d been shot, and for the two of them to compare notes on Hellboy’s sort-of girlfriend Alice.
And speaking of H.B. himself, issue #5 ends with a whopper of a cliffhanger — the uncovering of Hellboy’s buried corpse, which seems perfectly preserved. Will Hellboy finally, finally be returning to Earth and reunited with the B.P.R.D., or is this just another tease? I can’t wait to see…
It’s also a hoot getting to see Krauss and Von Klempt’s head back in the story — and paired up with the newly-released Varvara (still in the form of a Russian young girl)!! This is going to be trouble! It was nice to see the Osiris Club in issue #3, a nice nod to this group that has been popping up here and there throughout the Hellboy saga.
Also of significance: in issue #2, vampires finally re-enter the B.P.R.D. tale. In the flashback series over the past several years, we have learned of Giurescu and the vampire’s plan to hide themselves in the earth until humans forgot how to fight them. The most recent Witchfinder series (see above) suggested that this plan was defeated, but lo and behold, here are vampires re-emerging to battle our B.P.R.D. heroes! Excellent! (I also enjoyed the reference in issue #2 to the deadly fungus last seen in the two-issue The Pickens County Horror mini-series from 2012.). I hope this brief encounter isn’t the last we see of the vampire threat…
In discussing these issues, I have to highlight the gorgeous Duncan Fegredo covers. Amazing.
I liked the moment in issue #3 when Abe tells Liz: “Looking at you, it could be twenty years ago.” The series hasn’t really fully acknowledged that Liz doesn’t seem to age anymore. I was glad to see a character reference that! I wonder what the true story is behind this…
I’m unclear if this is a mini-series or the start of an ongoing series… either way, I can’t wait to see what’s next for the ongoing B.P.R.D./Hellboy story…
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1955: Secret Nature (2017) — I am really enjoying this series of flashback Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series and one-shots, charting the course of H.B.’s early days with the bureau! In this one-shot, Hellboy and Woodrow Farrier (the African-American agent introduced in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1954: Black Sun) investigate a creature on the loose in Oregon. It’s fun seeing Hellboy in such an American setting, and I was interested to see this series touch on the racist way that Woodrow was often treated (while Hellboy himself, astonishingly, seems remarkably well-accepted by common folk). Shawn Martinbrough’s art was terrific, with strong, thick line-work that felt perfect to me for a Hellboy story.
Lobster Johnson: Mangekyo (2017) — Those crazy smiling monkeys pop up again in this one-shot, as the Lobster and his team track the Crimson Lotus. (The Lotus was first mentioned way, way back in the early B.P.R.D. mini-series The Dead and Killing Ground, and we saw the Lobster facing the Lotus in A Scent of Lotus from 2013.) Man, I love those crazy smiling monkeys!!! (See image above!) It’s great to see those monkeys and the Lotus back in the story. I trust we’ll see more of them in the future. Ben Stenbeck’s art is gorgeous. I think Mr. Stenbeck is my favorite artist working in the Mignolaverse these days!!
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1955: Occult Intelligence (2017) — We’re back in 1955, as Hellboy and his fellow B.P.R.D. agents find themselves in the middle of trouble on a military base in the South Pacific. (I love all of these vastly different settings in which Hellboy stories take place!) It’s great seeing agents Jacob Stegner, Archie Muraro, Woodrow Farrier, and Susan Xiang all back in this story. (And I’m glad we were given a handy guide for pronouncing Xiang, for all of us dumb American readers!!) It’s nice to see Professor Bruttenholm’s friend Harry Middleton back in the story, as well as Doctor Sandhu (introduced in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: Beyond the Fences, and who I assume is related to Constable Sandhu from Rise of the Black Flame) and Victor Koestler (introduced as a boy in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1954: Unreasoning Beast, and then seen as a grown-up in the 2016 Hellboy Winter Special). We even get to see Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones (first introduced all the way back in Seed of Destruction!) again, as Professor Bruttenholm investigates what he believes to be a secret network of occult investigators. What fun it is for all of these B.P.R.D. supporting characters to all be involved in this story!
I am interested where this story with Lady Cynthia and the S.I.D. (continuing a thread from Ghost Moon, see above), a secret British tracking occult activity, separate from Professor Bruttenholm’s American-based B.P.R.D., is going. It’s interesting that the Brits in the S.I.D. don’t trust Bruttenholm because of the B.P.R.D.’s connections to the American government. The events in this mini-series show us that the Americans are up to something involving the occult (apparently continuing the experiments with Enkeladite begun in Utah in 1948, as seen in B.P.R.D.: 1948), without the B.P.R.D.’s knowledge, so perhaps the S.I.D. has a reason to be wary…
(By the way, I loved the revelation on the last page of issue #3 that this secret American military group is operating out of a facility in Colorado that will, decades later, become the B.P.R.D.’s headquarters! There were a lot of hints about a weird history to that secret facility… it’s so fun to now, a decade later, finally begin to learn the truth about what went on there! This is another classic example of Mr. Mignola’s circular style of storytelling, in which we get the end of the story long before we get the beginning!)
It’s been a running joke since B.P.R.D. 1948 that Hellboy has thought every monster they investigate might be the result of creatures being mutated by, or at least attracted to, Enkeladite (sand fused into glass by exposure to an A-Bomb explosion), as was the case in that 1948 adventure. And so it was neat to see here, in 1954, that actually turn out to be the case!
Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea (2017) — Gary Gianni (whose Monster Men stories appeared as a back-up in early Hellboy comics) gorgeously illustrated (and co-wrote) this lovely hardcover special, telling a story of the time when Hellboy was lost at sea (following the events of The Island). H.B. comes across a shipwreck, and suddenly finds himself reliving the events of decades earlier, when a mysterious black-clad woman — a member of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra — attempts to raise the serpent Heca Emen Raa. (We better know this serpent as the “Black Goddess” Hecate, and she’s been a villain back across decades of these stories!) It’s always interesting to see the Heliopic Brotherhood, and I love when the series dips into the mythology of Hyperborea. Ultimately this story doesn’t affect Hellboy much, and I’m a little unclear on how or why H.B. got enmeshed in this vision of events long past, but Into the Silent Sea is a nice creepy story, and the art is beautiful.
Mike Mignola’s ongoing Hellboy saga continues to be my very favorite continuing comic book series. These interconnecting mini-series are each fun, entertaining tales in their own rights, but together they form one of the most each, rich fantasy universes I have ever encountered, in any media. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for 2018!