The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XII: Hell on Earth!
My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!
What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there. Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction. Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil. Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil. Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm. Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs. Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island. Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga. Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls. Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D. And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever (2011) — Although the premise of Sir Edward Grey in America should be a hoot, I don’t much care for this follow-up to the far-superior first Edward Grey mini-series, In the Service of Angels. Sir Edward seems almost out of character here, floundering and in over his head for almost the entire time. This doesn’t feel to me much like the more confident Sir Edward we had met before. And while it is terrific to see comic book great John Severin illustrating these pages — and boy is his work great — it felt to me like the wrong fit for a Witchfinder story. I missed Ben Stenbeck’s smooth, crisp line. I did enjoy the flashback sequence in issue #2 in which we saw how Edward got his start as an occult investigator at age 12. And the series left me intrigued with Isaac’s gift of a magical wrist-band to Sir Edward. Is the noble Witchfinder now immortal? I wonder if this will be referenced again, and if it will connect to Sir Edward’s apparent ability to escape death (as evidenced by his still being around and able to observe Hellboy over a hundred years later).
Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest (2011) — Abe investigates an old demonology expert, up to no good in the woods of Maine. Now this is more what I am talking about! This two-parter is the best Abe Sapien solo story yet. Gorgeous Dave Johnson covers are matched by James Harren’s first work for the Mignolaverse on the interior pages — amazing stuff. It’s great to see Hellboy in this story, and I was pleased to see Abe’s friend and fellow B.P.R.D. agent Salvatore (from The Abyssal Plain) again.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia (2011-12) — Iosif (from The Abyssal Plain) re-enters the story, and he’s not only survived, he has prospered. He is now the Director of the Russian Special Services, their equivalent to the B.P.R.D.! Can he be trusted? This mini-series leaves that delightfully unclear. He seems jovial and friendly to Kate and Johann, but he’s clearly willing to manipulate others to get what he wants. In issue #5, initially it appears that Iosif has been careless in risking Johann’s life, but we then learn that not only was Johann in on the plan, but that Iosif has given Johann a new and better containment suit (replacing the iconic bubble-headed look Johann has sported for so many years). The new suit more closely resembles Iosif’s own (not to mention the look Johann had in the movie Hellboy 2: The Golden Army). But still we must wonder to what degree Iosif was manipulating Johann, using the new suit as a carrot? At the end of the series we see Iosif brutally murder several Special Services agents. Were they really up to no good, or did they just dislike Iosif and his secret ways? I am not sure…! Even years later, with Iosif now a major part of the continuing Hellboy saga, I’m still not 100% certain he can be trusted…
In this series we also check back in with Marsten — formerly Landis Pope’s underling — at Zinco HQ. And guess who’s with him? Kurtz and Kroenen! Still alive!! We hadn’t seen them since the explosion all the way back in Wake the Devil. Wow. Great to see these characters again. We also get our first glimpse of Abe’s transformation…
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand (2012) — This great five-part mini-series kicks off a new wave of Lobster Johnson stories that is still ongoing. These stories are set several years before the unfortunate events of the first Lobster mini-series, The Iron Prometheus. That took place in 1937, while this series is in 1932. In subsequent Lobster stories we will start slowly inching up to those fateful events in 1937. But here now is the type of pulp adventure of the Lobster in his prime that I had expected when I originally read The Iron Prometheus.
The Lobster has been cutting into the mob’s business, so the mob-boss Wald calls in some super-powered help: the woman Kamala and the Black Flame! Wow, it’s our first taste of the WWII-era Black Flame in action! (We’d previously seen the modern-day Landis Pope version, and photos of the WWII Flame in the scrapbooks that Johann found back in The Dead #3.) It’s so cool that, after all the hints, the first “era” appearance of the WWII-era Black Flame is here in a Lobster Johnson adventure. (And though the Flame seems finished here, we know he’ll survive and is still operating in 1944. Soon we’ll see his fight with the man in the Vril super-suit in the Sledgehammer ’44 series!)
Meanwhile, we get to know the Lobster’s team better than we had before (even though we know from The Black Goddess #1 that they’ll all meet an unfortunate end, except for Harry McTell who survives to be a very old man, helping Kate track down Memnan Saa). This series brings in many other members of the Lobster’s supporting cast who will continue on through the stories to follow: Cindy Tynan, Detective Jake Eckerd, and Peter Lorre look-alike Mr. Isog.
Hellboy Versus the Aztec Mummy (from Dark Horse Presents #7) (2011) — It’s great seeing Mike Mignola drawing Hellboy again in this short follow-up to Hellboy in Mexico as H.B. fights the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. There are some interesting notes on the final page. We get a reference to B.P.R.D. agent Pauline Raskin (who popped up so intriguingly back in Dr. Karp’s Experiment and The Ghoul, both collected in The Witch Troll and Others) and we see that Professor O’Donnell (and, by the way, it’s fun to see Mr. Mignola draw Professor O’Donnell) thinks that all the Mexican spirits are actually Ogdru Hem.
An Unmarked Grave (from Dark Horse Presents #8) (2012) — In this wonderful epilogue to The Fury, Kate Corrigan visits England and meets Alice Monaghan, learning from her that Hellboy is dead. I love this meeting of these two women. I agree with Kate in disagreeing with Alice — I can’t see Hellboy wanting her to run away and hide in England. It’s interesting to see the fallout from the events of The Fury. England lies decimated and London has been destroyed. But Alice says that a garden is growing in England, the last garden on Earth. And lilies are everywhere.
Lobster Johnson: Tony Masso’s Finest Hour (from Dark Horse Presents #9) (2012) — A fairly forgettable Lobster tale.
Hellboy: House of the Living Dead (2011) — This gorgeous hardcover, illustrated by Richard Corben, feels like the culmination of all of the great work that Mr. Corben has been doing in the Hellboy universe ever since Makoma. It’s a great sequel to Hellboy in Mexico, as Hellboy faces off against all sorts of classic monster weirdness: Frankenstein’s Monster, a werewolf, a vampire, ghosts, etc. (By the way, every time I have read this I have thought that the creature who Hellboy is forced to wrestle was just intended to resemble Frankenstein’s Monster, but comments from Mike Mignola later indicated that this actually WAS Frankenstein’s Monster, and eventually the character re-entered the Hellboy universe in a big way. Cool!) This story has a fairly sad ending as Hellboy fails to save the girl, though perhaps we see him start to make peace with having failed to save Esteban in Hellboy in Mexico. I was very surprised to see Astaroth pop up at the end of this Mexican flashback tale. Everything is important and everything is connected in the Hellboy universe, man! I love this hardcover format, it looks phenomenal.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death (2012) — This is one of my very favorite of the B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth mini-series. Gorgeous Duncan Fegredo covers are accompanied by even more amazing James Harren interiors. Mr. Harren did terrific work in The Devil Does Not Jest, but this is where I really sat up and took notice of his extraordinary artwork. This three-issue mini-series gives us one of the best (and most violent!) monster throw-downs of all time. Picking up right where New World left off, Johann and Giarocco resume (continuing on without Abe) the hunt for Daimio. They find him, and Johann, seeking vengeance for Daimio’s having killed his huge body (back in Killing Ground) tries to kill him (using the special god-killing blade that Chavez had when he hunted Daimio — see Killing Ground #5!), but Johann fails. Monster chaos ensues as we see Zombie moose verses jaguar god versus Darryl the Wendigo. Crazy, crazy stuff, and I loved every panel!
This mini-series is also notable for introducing us to African-American B.P.R.D. agent Nichols, and we also learn that Carla Giarocco has a husband and a baby (thus twisting the knife even further, since we’ve already seen her corpse in Liz’s vision back in The King of Fear).
I’m not sure I understand what exactly goes down in the final issue. I think that, since Daimio can’t kill himself, Darryl does it for him. But the jaguar spirit inside of Daimio doesn’t want to be killed, hence the big fight. We see Daimio’s corpse at the end — but does that mean that his spirit is now inside the Wendigo, thus freeing Darryl? I hope we get this cleared up at some point.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Pickins County Horror (2012) — This two-issue story is somewhat of a letdown after the awesome The Long Death. This story introduces yet another new human B.P.R.D. agent (quite a few new human characters have been popping up lately): Vaughn, who will go on to appear in several future stories before getting killed and then resurrected by Gustav Strobl in the Abe Sapien ongoing series. Here, Vaughn meets a vampire expert who tells him of the vampires’ secret plot to disappear from the world until humanity forgets how to fight them (a plot revealed in B.P.R.D. 1947). This two-parter’s story of vampires and mushrooms and fog was not explained to my satisfaction at the end.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell (2012) — This one-shot finally gives us some back-story on the kooky Professor O’Donnell. (You’ve gotta love Mike Mignola’s long-game, waiting ten long years after the character’s introduction to finally tell us something about his background!) We learn of his mission with Hellboy in 1987 that goes awry and winds up exposing him to the secrets of the world that drive him half-mad. After such a long wait, I unfortunately found this story to be disappointing. Everything that we see happen to O’Donnell is so vague that we don’t really wind up learning much of anything. As with the also-disappointing Pickins County Horror, I wanted a little more concrete information to understand what was going on.
However, upon this re-read, I was thrilled to discover that this one-shot is notable for finally bringing back the mysterious agent Pauline Raskin!! She had caught my attention in the two short-stories Dr. Karp’s Experiment and The Ghoul, but she wasn’t seen or heard from again until her reference just a few months prior to this issue in Hellboy Versus the Aztec Mummy. It is super-cool to FINALLY see her again!! (Though it’s sort of a bummer to see her now as a plump, middle-aged paper-pusher. Let’s get a flashback to sexy field-agent Raskin, OK??) Raskin tells the story of O’Donnell to Agent Nichols (introduced recently in The Long Death). Very cool. So thrilled to see Raskin again, this was a great discovery of my re-reading project.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Devil’s Engine (2012) — It’s great to have the “main” B.P.R.D. artist Tyler Crook back, as we catch up with Devon (who, man, has gotten really annoying) and Fenix. We see more of the devastation spreading across the U.S., with volcanoes in New Mexico and a huge earthquake swallowing an entire train of evacuees. Meanwhile, Marten, Kurtz, and Kroenen continue to work in secret at Zinco HQ. That’s not going to be good for anyone.
I love the chase sequence in issue #2 as Fenix and Devon desperately flee the hideous “hammerhead” creatures chasing them. Fenix reveals that she shot Abe because she felt he needed to die (was this because Abe’s destiny was to transform into this new creature, this harbinger of the “new race of man”??), and Devon admits that he let her go (after he witnessed her shooting Abe) because of his suspicions about Abe. I issue #3, Devon gets to be a big action hero. Is he not such a bag guy after all…??
OK, that’s all for today. We are nearing the home stretch of my Hellboy re-reading project!! Next up is the next huge B.P.R.D. epic: The Return of the Master. See you soon!
The issues discussed in this post are collected in: Witchfinder vol. 2: Lost and Gone Forever, Abe Sapien vol. 2 The Devil Does Not Jest, Lobster Johnson vol 2. The Burning Hand, Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, and B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth vol. 3 Russia, vol. 4 The Devil’s Engine and The Long Death, and vol. 5 The Pickens County Horror and Others.