A Hell Of A Start
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows takes a look at Hellboy Volume One, the hardback which reprints Seed of Destruction and Wake The Devil
Hellboy Volume One: Seed of Destruction and Wake The Devil
Writers: John Byrne and Mike Mignola
Artist: Mike Mignola
Colourists: Mark Chiarello and Dave Stewart
It is hard to believe that Mike Mignola’s Hellboy celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Back in 1994, Mike Mignola was a jobbing comic artist who had worked for DC and Marvel, creating some interesting work. Hellboy was part of Dark Horse’s now defunct Legend line, which also included Frank Miller’s Sin City and John Byrne’s Next Men. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, the first Hellboy tale, was scripted by the aforementioned John Byrne and introduces us to the eponymous character. Brought to Earth as a child, Hellboy straddles two worlds and whose destiny is possibly to destroy the world.
Seed Of Destruction introduces all of the ingredients that have made Hellboy such an enduring character: evil Nazis obsessed with the occult, the sardonic central protagonist and a crew of intriguing supporting characters. It is interesting to read this in retrospect and compare it with what follows. Having John Byrne onboard as its scripter to get the ball rolling was a stroke of genius. By this point, he was a very experienced writer and Byrne sets the scene with pace and brevity.
Artistically, it is a little more primitive than the later Hellboy stories but if you consider that, prior to this, Mignola was best known as drawing some of Marvel and DC’s most well-known superheroes, so Hellboy was a true breath of fresh air compared with what had come before in his career.
The synthesis of pulp adventure and superheroics was well-delineated and a lot of fun. Hellboy had arrived and Seed Of Destruction is still a brilliant introduction to an enduring character.
Wake The Devil sees Mignola set out on his own and since the character has already been introduced, it leaves his freer to just tell a great horror yarn. Rasputin is alive and helping a group of surviving Nazis to bring about the end of the world and only the BPRD with Hellboy seem capable of stopping them.
Visually, it is a real step forward from Seed Of Destruction. Thanks to the colouring of James Sinclair, the art feels a lot more subtle and the colour palette is a lot more muted. Where the first series feels more like a superhero series, Wake The Devil is very much more rooted in horror. We are introduced here to the goddess Hecate, who will play an even greater role in Hellboy’s future destiny as the series progresses.
Wake The Devil is a brilliant horror adventure tale with some exceptional storytelling and Mignola displays his deft touch for dialogue and captions, where he is able to pack in so much information in an easily digestible and accessible form. Hellboy works as a protagonist because he continues to try and battle his inevitable destiny and his origins.
Some of the pages here are truly beautiful too with Mignola’s simple lines adding up to an exceptional gothic experience. You can see a throughline here from Stoker’s Dracula and onto things like Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four and beyond. Mignola is far greater than the sum of his artistic influences and Wake The Devil is compelling reading for fans of the pulps, classic horror novels and vintage superheroes too.
The other nice thing about these Hellboy hardcovers is that, as well as the series, they also represent Mignola’s character sketches and these are fascinating to glance through, giving the reader a glimpse into the creator’s mindset and his approach as an artist to how he constructs characters. We are also treated to the first short stories which introduced Big Red to the world and it is quite something to compare and contrast these with what came after. The quality of the reproduction here in this black hardcover also allows you to appreciate his work at a bigger size than if you were looking at it in regular comic format.
25 years after his first appearance, his first two longer form tales still hold up for fans of the character and it is a pleasure to revisit them years later. Mignola is one of the most unique comic creators to come to the fore over the past forty years and Hellboy is a testament to this.