Monday 7 April 2014

A Hellboy Tribute: 20 Years of The Right Hand of Doom

by Marie Victoria Robertson


The first Hellboy comic arc, Seed of Destruction, was released twenty years ago on March 22nd. The world was introduced to Mike Mignola’s iconic creation: the big, red, demonic, Right-Hand-of-Doom-wielding paranormal investigator. 

In its 20 years, Hellboy has had successful comic spin-offs such as BPRD, Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson, has spawned two live-action movies (opinions differ, though I personally love them), two animated movies (I heartily recommend Blood and Iron), two video games and several tie-in novels of varying quality (though the Odd Jobs anthologies are absolute must-reads!)  

As a character, Hellboy boasts a superhero’s typically far-out origin story: he is the child of a witch and a demon prince, summoned to Earth by WWII-era Nazis led by Rasputin in an attempt to change the course of the war. This failed, and Hellboy was adopted and raised by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, becoming an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). If this seems weird, bear in mind that weirdness is mundane for a Hellboy reader. We tend to shrug, smile, and go, “Yes, cyborg apes and jellyfish monsters! Of course!”

Hellboy’s supernatural origin is combined with the relatability and nonchalance of a typical blue-collar schlub. To put it mildly, Hellboy isn’t crazy about who he is (and what he’s meant to be) or what he does, but hey, it’s his job. 

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes Hellboy so unique. Mignola’s art is arguably the most distinctive style in modern comics. The characters are swathed in shadows and feel fluid, yet still sharp, as though they were carved out of stone. The art duties have been passed to different artists over the years, with Guy Davis taking over a large part of BPRD’s run and other notable artists such as Duncan Fegredo and Richard Corben taking over art duties for some of Hellboy’s run (Mignola is currently back at the art helm.)

It could be the art, and it could be the writing. There’s an inexplicable charm, humour, and humanity to it, leading to the creation of some amazing characters: Hellboy’s notable teammates include fish-man Abe Sapien, pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, adorably naïve homunculus Roger, disembodied-medium-in-a-diving-suit Johann Kraus, and badass intellectual Dr. Kate Corrigan. 

Speaking of characters, Mignola has forever earned my respect for portraying female characters who are competent, slightly chubby, noticeably aging, and dressed comfortably for their job. It can be done, folks!

The Hellboy universe, unlike some of the worlds of DC and Marvel with their multiverses, has been tightly-woven and has followed a solid story arc since day one. The stakes have always been high and there is no reset button; when mayhem and destruction happens, the characters often struggle to pick up the pieces. Death is not cheap in this world; when characters die, they stay dead—as much as it broke my heart, as a reader, to see my beloved favourite character be killed all those years ago!  

Ultimately, we don’t know where the story is headed, where Hellboy’s destiny will lead him, whether the Earth will meet its end, or which characters will even survive to see the end. But we know-- with a faith I wouldn’t personally reserve for any comic series but Hellboy—that wherever it’s going, it’s going to make us weep and curse and smile. And it’ll be worth every minute, and every penny spent on the series.

Happy 20th anniversary, Hellboy! 

Marie Victoria Robertson is a speculative fiction writer and playwright, as well as the board president of Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative ( When all the other girls wanted to marry Johnny Depp, she wanted to run away with Worf on the Enterprise. She enjoys giant robots, time-travel paradoxes, and forcing her son to watch Futurama.

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