The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XVII: Frankenstein Underground
My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning is in its home stretch!
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. Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell. Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire. Click here for part fifteen, in which I discuss new adventures of Sledgehammer 44, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, and Abe Sapien, as well as the epic B.P.R.D. story-line The Reign of the Black Flame. Click here for part sixteen, in which I discuss Abe Sapien: Sacred Places and A Darkness So Great, B.P.R.D. Flesh and Stone, and the first Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series.
With this post, I’ve finally almost caught up with the Hellboy saga! Onward…
Frankenstein Underground (2015) — This fantastic mini-series, gorgeously illustrated by Ben Stenbeck (one of my very favorite of the current Mignolaverse artists, making a triumphant return to the main Hellboy universe after a while spent illustrating Mr. Mignola’s also-great Baltimore series) is set “somewhere in Mexico” in 1956, the same year as the last Hellboy in Mexico adventure, “The Coffin Man Part 2” short-story. The Monster from the Richard Corben-illustrated House of the Living Dead is revealed to have actually been Frankenstein’s Monster!
Fleeing persecution, in issue #3 Frankenstein finds members of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, those pesky guys, inside the Hollow Earth, wearing masks that quite resemble that of Memnan Saa! The leader of this underground group of Brotherhood members, William, tells of how he studied the Hollow Earth theories (Hollow Earth was, of course, the title of the very first B.P.R.D. mini-series) and so led a Heliopic Brotherhood expedition. (I LOVE Stenbeck’s drawing of the Heliopic expedition — zeppelins traveling to the center of the Earth! Marvelous!) Williams gives us what I believe is our first mention of a woman named Tefnut Trionus, the “Queen of Heliopolis” who was apparently “the reincarnated Eugene Remy, Founder of the Brotherhood.” She shares with the Heliopic Brotherhood a vision of “Hell on Earth” — that “in the end, ancient monsters would wake to destroy mankind,” as we have seen happen. I love the way this mini-series, centered on a character almost totally new to the Mignolaverse, nonetheless winds up being so crucial, pulling together so many disparate story-threads!
Issue #4 is a doozy, with the most information we’ve ever gotten about Hyperborea. We learn of those “golden people, descended from angels.” We see the much-discussed King Thoth, in the flesh. We see a very creepy ceremony in which women are blessed with Vril energy and encased in crystal to be the heart of seven new cities across the world. But the people turned to the Black Goddess (or Hecate as we know her) and invited demons back into the world, eventually loosing powers they couldn’t control and destroying the Hyperborean cities. One apparently sunk deep into the Earth, which is where Frankenstein and these Heliopic Brotherhood members are now. (Apparently one of the brotherhood members plundered the tombs of the ancient Hyperborean priests and released an evil spirit that possessed William.)
But that’s not all — we also learn that Frankenstein was brought to life by Vril energy! (Just like Roger!) “As Anum took fire out of heaven.” Issue #5 continues the revelations as Tefnut Trionus tells the men of the Heliopic Brotherhood the secret origin or the world: of the Watchers and their creation of the Ogdru Jahad who spawned the Ogdru Hem (events that we first learned about back in Hellboy: The Island #2). She ominously says that “the Ogdru Hem can never die.” This doesn’t bode well for the current B.P.R.D. state of the world. (Though I am pretty sure we’ve seen some of the Ogdru Hem get killed by our heroes.)
This mini-series also gives us the return of the Marquis de Fabre, from B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine. This was a hugely pleasant surprise, as this was not a character I ever expected to see again! (This story is set decades before the events of The Universal Machine.)
The story has an amazing climax in issue #5 as Frankenstein finds himself by a hideous altar to the Black Goddess, and discovers and frees the Hyperborean woman, the “heart of the city,” trapped within. Frankenstein frees her spirit and her Vril energy. At the end, we get to hear the rest of Thoth’s blessing of the women, when he gives them the Vril. He says: “So go forth and accomplish great things… and have no fear of the dark… for it never shall have any power over you.” With Liz Sherman powered by Vril, does this give us a bit of hope for the B.P.R.D.’s ability to triumph over the Ogdru Hem in the B.P.R.D.’s present-day? I love the glimpse, in the final pages, of the aged, content Frankenstein of the present-day. So… when will Frankenstein join forces with Liz and the rest of our B.P.R.D. heroes…? That would be amazing! This was a spectacular mini-series, a true highlight of the past several years.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #130-132: Nowhere, Nothing, Never (2015) — In this terrific story, tension between Johann and his men (which we’ve seen building for years) boils over when Enos — poor Enos, who had been getting a lot of attention in the last year or two of B.P.R.D. stories, and who almost died in Flesh and Stone — is killed and Johann uses his spirit to animate Enos’ corpse. Issue #130 teases us with the idea that Johann had committed suicide. That doesn’t turn out to be what happened, but I wonder, was Johann ever considering finding a way to end his existence, or was returning to the scene of Enos’ death his plan all along?
The emblem with Abe’s symbol on it in Johann’s room caught my eye in #130. In #131 we learn that it had belonged to Enos, though Enos’ spirit declines to elaborate on why he had it in #132. I love Johann’s conversation with Enos’ spirit, by the way. I love that Johann doesn’t know Enos’ last name!! Neither, sadly, do we. What do Enos’ final words to Johann say about the nature of Johann’s seances with the dead (that we’ve been seeing for years, ever since Johann was first introduced). Were they all somehow in his head??
Peter Snejbjerg’s art in this three-part story is terrific, and Laurence Campell provides a terrific series of covers, three close-ups of different versions of Johann’s head. Terrific.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #133-134: Modern Prometheus (2015) — That strong three-parter is followed by an even more spectacular two-parter, as various long-simmering story-threads come together and Johann assembles and then inhabits the Sledgehammer armor (last seen in action in Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War — though flashbacks here pick up after that story and show how the armor was nearly destroyed at the Battle of Bastogne — and recently found by Kate in the B.P.R.D. HQ basement in B.P.R.D. #120). Putting Johann’s spirit in the Sledgehammer armor is a genius idea. Now Liz isn’t the only Vril-powered B.P.R.D. agent! When Johann is inside the suit, we get to once again see the mysterious spectral figure with whom we have seen the spirits inside the suite communicate. We still don’t know the nature of this entity. This story features terrific art by Julian Totino Tedesco, a newcomer to the Mignolaverse.
Abe Sapien #23: The Ogopogo (2015) — An awesome flashback issue, with gorgeous art by the amazing Kevin Nowlan (making a long-awaited return to the Mignolaverse), gives us a great Hellboy & Abe adventure from 1991, as they hunt a lake monster in British Columbia. It’s so great to see those two characters together again! The story is a fun mystery, though it ends a bit abruptly. (A not uncommon trait of these Hellboy stand-alone short-stories.)
Abe Sapien #24-26: The Shadow over Suwanee (2015) — Abe visits Suwanee, Florida, a city that has been half-drowned by the huge Ogdru Hem that emerged from the ocean three years ago. Issue #24 opens with a terrific flashback, drawn by artist Sebastian Fiumara in a classic Mignola style (which is a neat touch), of Hellboy, Abe, Kate, Liz and Professor Bruttenholm. This scene takes place immediately before Seed of Destruction, as Bruttenholm is about to go off on the ill-fated Cavendish expedition. (Something that I still can’t believe he’d do! So foolish!) This sequence is wonderful — nostalgic and bittersweet. It’s incredibly cool to see, more than twenty years later, the story circle back to the moments before that very first Hellboy adventure. Those early stories remain so important to the current narrative, which is so impressive for serialized story-telling like this. I can’t think of another comic book series like this. (Even for Dave Sim’s Cerebus, the momentous “three hundred issue limited series,” those earliest issues are somewhat forgettable.)
Issue #25 gives us a very surprising connection to the epilogue of Witchfinder: The Mystery of Unland! We get to see what happened immediately afterwards that final epilogue scene with Abe. And, in a phenomenal surprise, this sequence is illustrated by Tyler Crook (who illustrated Unland!). Very cool. The Unland serpents meet Abe and call him “the end of our race — the end of all races!” Ominous!
We also get in issue #25, in a wonderful montage of imagery, the clearest statement yet of what Abe has been looking for ever since he left the B.P.R.D. He wants someone or something to say: “I recognize you — you’re like me.” I am not exactly sure what happens to Abe inside the huge Ogdru Hem in issue #26, or why it leaves. But the important thing is that Abe is told that there is none of the Ogdru Hem inside him. He is not one of them.
Issue #26 has a cruel ending with the death of the girl Autumn. This is a cruel series sometimes! (I am reminded of the cruel death at the end of the coffee-guy at the end of B.P.R.D. #125, “Grind.”) The deaths of these innocents hits me harder than, say, the death of a B.P.R.D. agent like Enos. Though his death made me sad, too!
Meanwhile, Strobl sees a vision of Shonchin, who warns him off his quest (whatever it is that Strobl is after, at this point I’m still unclear). Shonchin refers to the Watchers and the origins of the Ogdru Hem, which is always fun (and was most recently brought up in Frankenstein Underground), and we even get a glimpse of the Conquerer Worm! (Again, awesome to see these connections to the earliest Hellboy stories.)
Abe Sapien: Subconscious (from Dark Horse Presents #11) (2015) — Not a great story, though interesting in that it hints that Abe’s troubles fitting in at the B.P.R.D. might have stretched back longer than we thought.
Lobster Johnson: A Chain Forged in Life (2015) — A Lobster Johnson Christmas-time adventure, as narrated by a drunken Santa. This is a lesser Lobster adventure, but still fun. It’s nice to have Kevin Nowlan back (he had drawn the terrific Lobster Johnson: Satan Smells a Rat) illustrating the wrap-around first and last page. Troy Nixey’s art was a little too scribbly for my tastes, but it works well enough. There’s no year on this tale, which surprised me. (I’ve been enjoying tracking the way these Lobster stories have been slowly taking us back up to 1937 and the events of The Iron Prometheus.) I guess this story is supposed to be timeless, like a Christmas fable.
Hellboy in Hell #7-8: The Hounds of Pluto (2015) — Hellboy sees a vision of Alice, illustrated by Mike Mignola in gorgeous watercolors, and England, destroyed but looking beautiful as the site of the new world tree. “The old world is done,” says Alice, channeling the dead Queen Mab. “Here it all begins again.” I am enjoying these tantalizing glimpses we’re starting to get of hope for what might be coming after the end of “Hell on Earth.” Will Hellboy ever return to Earth and be reunited with Alice? This scene suggests that he will not, but I still dare to hope, based on seeing a photo of HB reunited with his gang in Liz’s vision from back in King of Fear #4.
The main story of this two-parter is great goofy weirdness in the classic Mignola style as Hellboy is helped by three skeletal doctors. He discovers he’s been plagued by the Furies. (I LOVE Mignola’s version of the Furies!) I’d hoped we’d get a little more clarity here on HB’s apparent murder of Satan (from Hellboy in Hell #3) but it seems the Furies are more interested in the death of HB’s brothers and his uncle Astaroth. Hellboy finally gets to meet his sister (actually for the second time, as the flashback to The Midnight Circus reminds us). Poor Gamori seems doomed to a nasty fate.
Abe Sapien #27: Icthyo Sapien (2015) — This great flashback one-shot flashes back to Langdon Caul’s life in 1834, before his transformation into Abe. We get to see more about the Oannes society (including a great Mignola rendition of the fish-man/god Oannes himself on the cover. We’d last glimpsed an image of Oannes back in Abe Sapien #17.) Caul and two other members of the Oannes Society (including McWhirter, who we last saw inside his undersea suit way back in 2007’s Garden of Souls, a story set more than a century after this issue) set out in search of the secrets of the origin of man, only to run afoul of agents of the rival secret society, the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra. It’s fun to see representatives of these two secret societies collide — I’d like to see more of this. Caul finds a fish-man/creature in a tube, a specimen who he believes to be a glimpse at one of Oannes’ people, the precursors of human beings. The fish-creature in a tube is, of course, a link to what Caul himself will soon become… By the way — and I love these connections — McWhirter will pop up again immediately after this issue, in the “present day” of the HB universe, in B.P.R.D. #136!
In my next post, we’ll discuss the finales to this “Hell on Earth” phase of the Hellboy saga, as B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Abe Sapien, and Hellboy in Hell all reach their climaxes! See you soon!
The issues discussed in this post are collected in: Frankenstein Underground, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth volume 12: Metamorphosis, Abe Sapien volume 7: The Secret Fire, and Hellboy in Hell volume 2: The Death Card.