The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XIII: The Return of the Master and Hellboy in Hell!
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. Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.
Wow, we are nearing the home stretch of our journey through Hellboy’s twenty-year publication history! But with the exciting expansion of the Hellboy universe over the past few years, we still have a lot of great stories to discuss. Onward!
Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu (2012) — The Lobster confronts an Egyptian priestess trying to harness the spirits of the four dead high priests of Anubis as we get to enjoy a story first hinted at all the way back in 2007’s The Iron Prometheus #2. It’s great to finally get to see the full story! This one-shot features gorgeous art from Wilfredo Torres.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism (2012) — At last! We learn the backstory of Ota Benga, the mysterious African-American man who assisted Professor Bruttenholm in B.P.R.D. 1947 #5! We learn of Ota Benga’s adventure in East Africa in 1890, while in the present day, B.P.R.D. agent Ashley Strode (who first appeared in War on Frogs #3) finds a very aged Benga to help her with an exorcism gone awry. We learn the secret of Ota Benga’s longevity: back in 1890, he imprisoned a demon within himself (similar to how he imprisoned the demonic sisters within Simon Anders in B.P.R.D. 1947). This is a great two-parter. It’s hugely satisfying to finally learn Ota Benga’s story, and I also love the present-day tale of young Ashley Strode’s gaining her confidence as a B.P.R.D. agent. I really hope we get to see her again sometime soon. I should also note the awesome art by Cameron Stewart, who also co-wrote the story!
Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortem (2012) — One of my very favorite Mignolaverse stories! In this awesome one-shot, the Lobster battles Nazis atop a zeppelin! This is pure comic-book joy. Tonci Zonjic’s art is gorgeous perfection. I wish I could draw like this guy.
B.P.R.D.: The Return of the Master (2012) — After the incredibly epic “Scorched Earth” trio of mini-series (The Warning, The Black Goddess, and The King of Fear), the last few years’ worth of B.P.R.D. mini-series have felt of a smaller scale. But here at last comes the next big B.P.R.D. epic, and it’s worth the wait.
In issue #1, we take a deep breath and can enjoy seeing most of the (surviving) B.P.R.D. agents reunited back at their Colorado HQ. Fenix is working with Panya to explore her psychic gifts. Meanwhile, Marsten & Zinco’s plan at last comes into focus: they trick the B.P.R.D. into giving them Johann’s huge cloned body, saying they want to make it work for Johann, but really to use as a vessel for the spirit of the “master” who currently dwells out in space with the Ogdru Jahad. Throughout these five issues, we’re left to wonder who this “master” is. When I read this originally, having never read the epilogue to Conquerer Worm that told of the end of Rasputin, I of course expected this story to give us the long-awaited return of Rasputin! So I was initially stunned — but enjoyably so! — by the twist that it’s not Rasputin who returns from communion with the Ogdru Jahad, but Landis Pope: the Black Flame, now a far more fearsome creature than he ever was before. (Guess his death back in The King of Fear didn’t quite take!) I love the focus on Kroenen and Kurtz in this mini-series. I actually felt a twinge of sympathy for those Nazi bastards when they discovered how they’d been used by Marsten.
In issue #2, Giarocco leads an expedition to Scotland and meets up with the now-aged Sal. What a thrill it is to see Abe Sapien’s old friend (from The Abyssal Plain and The Devil Does Not Jest) again! When I read this mini-series originally I didn’t recognize the character, but on this re-read I was delighted to see him again — and devastated by his death in issue #5. I was really rooting for him to survive. It was nice hearing Sal express his remorse over what happened to Abe, and his regret that he wasn’t around to help his old partner.
I wasn’t sure how much to trust Iosif when he was reintroduced in Russia, and so here I wondered if he was on the level about the Scotland mission that Giarocco wound up leading at his behest. But he seems genuinely concerned in issue #5 with the worldwide arrival of the Ogdru Hem and, unlike his Russian bosses, he is eager to think globally and to partner with the B.P.R.D. to do what he can to protect the entire planet, not just Russia. He winds up being Giarocco & her team’s salvation at the end of #5 when he sends his huge flying vehicle to pick up the survivors in Scotland. It’s a great ending, triumphant but also ominous as, uh oh, that huge flying vehicle looks just like the crashed vehicle we saw — albeit with B.P.R.D. rather than Russian markings — in Liz’s vision back in The King of Fear #4. (I presume that, with the B.P.R.D. and the Russian Secret Services now working together, the B.P.R.D. will soon start using those Russian vehicles… or perhaps the organizations will merge?)
At the end of this large-scale mini-series, I am left with a nagging question about one of the smaller stories. Who attacked Panya’s pet creature? Was it really Fenix’s bog Bruiser? After all this time, I still don’t quite trust Panya and have a lot of questions about her…
In an interesting move, in issue #3 of this mini-series the B.P.R.D. series changed its numbering to #100. No longer would the B.P.R.D. story-line be carried by a series of mini-series. This would now be a monthly comic. (Albeit still broken into distinct arcs illustrated by a rotating group of artists.) It’s amazing that there have been 100 issues of this B.P.R.D. series that began as a Hellboy spin-off. Very cool.
Hellboy in Hell #1 (2012) — For the first time in years, Mike Mignola returns to illustrating full-length Hellboy adventures with this new series, Hellboy in Hell. This is not a monthly series. (It’s 2016 as I write this, and only eight issues have been published.) But it is a new ongoing title in the Hellboy universe, and it is amazing. Following his “death” at the hands of Nimue at the end of The Fury, Hellboy has wound up in the Abyss, at “the outer edge of Hell.” Sir Edward Grey saves H.B. from some horrible huge sea creatures, thus intervening in Hellboy’s fate and receiving the Baba Yaga’s warning that he risks taking some of Hellboy’s burden upon himself. This is intriguing. Hellboy encounters the pissed-off hammer-wielding demon that he defeated outside Morgan Le Fay’s castle back in The Wild Hunt. After watching a puppet-show version of A Christmas Carol (classic Mignola), he encounters an ethereal cloaked figure with no face and a flame above its head. What a rich, weird, perplexing, wonderful beginning to this new chapter in Hellboy’s story!
Hellboy in Hell #2 (2013) — The Christmas Carol connections continue as the cloaked figure turns out to be the first of three ghosts who visit Hellboy. The first shows him Pandemonium and the heart of Hell where Satan sleeps. The second shows him the army being created for him to command. (This is a hugely creepy and amazingly original scene of fish — the souls of the damned — being hammered into armored figures.) The third shows him his birth (first glimpsed all the way back in the short story The Chained Coffin) and the attachment of his stone Right Hand.
Hellboy in Hell #3 (2013) — In this hugely important issue, Astaroth reveals himself as Hellboy’s uncle. It seems his brother (whose name, by the way, is confirmed here as Azzael) was Hellboy’s father, thus explaining why Astaroth has been so interested in Hellboy for all these years. It seems that other demons of Hell learned that Azzael had obtained the Right Hand of Doom and attached it to his son, so they imprisoned him, alive, forever. (This raises the possibility that someday Azzael could be released and Hellboy could meet his father. That’d sure be interesting…!) We meet Hellboy’s two brothers, and discover that he has a sister, too! (These are all children of Azzael.) Hellboy fights his brothers and, at the end, a huge creature devours them and Astaroth. Is that really the end of them? In the cliffhanger ending, it’s suggested that, in issue #2, Hellboy followed the first ghost’s suggestion and went down into Hell and killed Satan in his sleep. Did that really happen??? I still don’t know. I’m not sure what to believe…
Hellboy in Hell #4 (2013) — Holy cow, this is one of the best and most important issues of Hellboy since The Island #2. Edward Grey’s full story is revealed at last. We learn how he died in 1916 while on the trail of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra; how he survived that death; why he wears a mask; what’s behind that mask; and what the significance of Acheron is (from Mary’s vision in Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #2). (Acheron is the name for the spot in Hell where Sir Edward now dwells.) This is amazing stuff. Edward Grey intriguingly refers to the “three more things at least” that Hellboy is destined to do. Apparently Sir Edward will do the first of those things for Hellboy and be damned for it. (This is a fascinating call-back to Sir Edward’s conversation with Hecate in the Darkness Calls epilogue, in which Hecate told him that he would one day help find Hellboy when H.B. was lost — I think we’ve seen that happen in these first four issues of Hellboy in Hell — and that, by helping Hellboy, Sir Edward would seal his own doom and would eventually “suffer as few men have suffered.” I am sad to think the heroic Edward Grey will meet such an unfortunate end!! I can’t wait to find out what this is all about and where this is all going…)
B.P.R.D.: 1948 (2012-2013) — I am thrilled to return to this 1940’s-set series of B.P.R.D. prequel mini-series focused on Professor Bruttenholm, though I didn’t care for this one nearly as much as the first two (1946 and 1947). Neither the story nor the art really do it for me. I don’t get Bruttenholm’s character here, he seems unusually obtuse.
In this story, Professor Bruttenholm visits an air force base in Utah, where experiments to launch rockets into space powers by atomic explosions are being disrupted by huge creatures that are mysteriously appearing and disappearing in the desert. In the course of his investigations, Bruttenholm begins a romance with one of the scientists, Dr. Anna Rieu, but their fling turns sour when they find they have wildly diverging opinions as to what caused the arrival of the creatures, and how to deal with them.
I love Varvara’s description of Bruttenholm in issue #1: “You are strange little moth, Professor. You can’t find enough flames to burn your wings on, so you light your own.” (She’s referring to the Professor’s tendency, already apparent, to surround himself with potentially dangerous individuals/creatures who have been touched by the paranormal.) I’m intrigued that Bruttenholm is still being visited by Varvara (from B.P.R.D. 1946), and we see that Simon Anders is still haunted by the demons locked inside him (by Ota Benga in B.P.R.D. 1947 #5). I like that we see that Agent Stegner (from 1947) is still with the B.P.R.D., and I like the glimpse into young Hellboy’s life at the B.P.R.D.’s new HQ in Connecticut. Hellboy seems to be doing OK, and he has a nice friendship with a young man, Archie Jackson, at the base. But issue #5 has a somber ending as we see young Hellboy, who just wants to be normal, preparing to saw off his horns for the first time (something he will continue to do for the rest of his life).
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #103-104: The Abyss of Time (2013) — This incredibly rich two-parter is a stand-out of the whole “Hell on Earth” run so far. James Harren’s glorious artwork here cements him as my current favorite of the rotating cadre of B.P.R.D. artists. In this story, a trio of B.P.R.D. agents uncover a Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra site in Chicago. (And hey, upon this re-read I realized something super-cool: I think this is the same temple where Edward Grey bought the farm, as told in Hellboy in Hell #4!!) In a cool detail, we see the Temple has a painting of Larzod (who we learned back in The Wild Hunt #8 was the Egyptian god worshipped by the Heliopic Brotherhood). The agents reference what happened to agents Vaughn and Peters in The Pickens County Horror, a nice touch of continuity.
Another new human B.P.R.D. agent steps to the fore in this story. Agent Howards finds a proto-human sword of the distinct type that we’ve been seeing even since The Hollow Earth. But this isn’t just any sword. This one has a stone-aged handle. This is the same sword that Sir Edward Grey found back in Witchfinder: In the service of Angels!!
When he touches the sword, Howards’ consciousness is flung back into pre-history, into the body of the stone-aged chief Gall Dennar, whose people have been attacked by monsters/zombies they call “the Cold People.” His wizened old advisor says that their world was once nearly overrun by monsters — just as is happening in the present-day of the “Hell on Earth” story-line — and that human shamans (like Shonchin!) fought them. Then we get the secret origin of that mysterious and significant sword! Gall Dennar’s grandfather found it in the ruins of a Hyperborean city, and the spirit of a long-dead Hyperborean warrior entered the blade.
In issue #104, Gall Dennar and his men track the Cold People back to a temple of the Black Goddess, and a spirit of the Ogdru Hem — called Mera Hem — rises. What follows is massive carnage as only James Harren can draw it, as Dennar’s stone-age men fight the cold people creatures and the monstrous Ogdru Hem spirit.
In the present-day, we see that Harren’s two fellow agents are murdered by an old man who carries the symbol of the Heliopic Brotherhood. It seems that this secret order is still active in the present day! I hope this is followed up on in future stories.
Sledgehammer 44 (2013) — This two-issue story gives us the further adventures of the Vril suit, from Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus. A mission in France goes wrong and Fields, the man in the suit, dies. But when a G.I. grunt, Redding, is killed nearby, his spirit enters the suit. This is a fairly slight story. It’s OK, but mostly set-up for the next Sledgehammer story.
B.P.R.D.: Vampire (2013) — This sequel to B.P.R.D. 1948, set that same year, follows an angry Simon Anders who quits the B.P.R.D. to go hunt vampires (like the two evil sisters trapped inside of him). He encounters the vampire Lord Wilhelmin in Czechoslovakia, who has ties to those two vampire sisters. Unfortunately, evil takes control and Anders kills Wilhelmin and, in issue #4, slaughters a coven of witches and then, in issue #5, lays waste to an entire town. The series ends on a cliffhanger that has not yet been resolved, as Professor Bruttenholm gathers the B.P.R.D. together to go hunt Anders down. This series features gorgeous, beautiful artwork from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. I hope they return to the Mignolaverse soon.
Only a few more Hellboy posts to go, and then we’ll be all caught up with the present day! Next time I’ll discuss the start of the Abe Sapien ongoing solo series and a number of great new B.P.R.D. stories, most notably Lake of Fire, a defining moment for Liz Sherman. See you then!
The issues discussed in this post are collected in: Lobster Johnson vol. 3 Satan Smells a Rat, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth vol. 5 The Pickens County Horror and Others, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth vol. 6 The Return of the Master, B.P.R.D. 1948, B.P.R.D. Vampire, Sledgehammer 44 vol. 1, and Hellboy in Hell vol. 1: The Descent.