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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Comics Explained: Hellboy

Hellboy is perhaps one of the most underrated comic book characters of all time. A big part of this is because he is not from the two big comic books companies, (DC and Marvel), but instead from Dark Horse. From the mind of Mark Mignola Hellboy is a well-meaning, half-demon brought to Earth to destroy reality but is instead the world's greatest paranormal detective. Blending Lovecraftian ideas, pulp fiction, horror and folklore Hellboy is a thrilling read. He has made several appearances outside of print, most famously in Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Hellboy 2. Recently he has been announced as a downloadable character for the DC fighting game Injustice 2 and in 2019 there will be a reboot which just this week, (as of writing), the new actor playing Hellboy was revealed in costume.
The new Hellboy
There have been many Hellboy stories so we're mainly going over the main ones. First, let's look at his real world origins.

Real World Origins
The first appearance
Hellboy first appeared in a convention program book in 1991 as a huge hulking monster which Mike Mignola added the name 'Hellboy' last minute. The name made him laugh and became the name of the character. Two years later a version of Hellboy resembling the form which we know now appeared on the cover of Italian comic Dime Press #4. Later Mignola wanted to make Hellboy into a comic and he started to resemble his present incarnation more. He originally wanted Hellboy to be in a team and the concept art shows several members of this team resembling future Hellboy characters. Their team logo was the same as the logo for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) which Hellboy is a key agent for. This team idea was abandoned when Mignola couldn't think of a good name to fit them. Then in August 1993 Hellboy got his own comic story in San Diego Comics Con Comics #2
Hellboy's First Story
Mignola was less interested in the plot and it is wild, paranormal, and sets up the future of the Hellboy comics. Hellboy goes to a town where all the inhabitants have suddenly vanished. The only thing that is there is a 'mangy little mutt' which turns out to be the Egyptian god Anubis. In a few panels Hellboy defeats the dog/god by slamming a gas station sign into Anubis' shoulder who then falls onto a gas pump which then explodes. 

Birth of the Demon
Hellboy's father
Hellboy's early origins were explained in The Chained Coffin. We have to go all the way back to 1617. Hellboy's mother was a witch in East Bromwich, England called Sarah Hughes. Sarah was married to a Hell lord named Azzael, (pictured above), but on her deathbed wished to repent. To repent this required her children to chain her to a coffin in the church of East Bromwich and keep her protected from Azzael for three nights. Naturally Azzael being a Hell lord he easily slaughtered Sarah's children on the first night, dragged her to Hell and told her that she was carrying 'a son, my favorite son'. Sarah was burnt in the fires of Hell and thanks to this Hellboy was born. He was given the name Anung Un Rama and his father cut off his right hand to replace it with the Right Hand of Doom. The Right Hand of Doom was a relic of the Ogdru Jahad, (which we'll discuss soon). As Azzael had done this the other Hell lords punished him by stripping him of his powers and then freezing him in ice. Those who have read Dante's Divine Comedy will recognize that Lucifer had the same thing done to him.

Ogdru Jahad
The Ogdru Jahad
The Ogdru Jahad perfectly shows the creativity of the Hellboy universe with it blending Christian myths with Lovecraftian themes. At the start of creation God created several great spirits and one named Anum stole some of God's power to create the Ogdru Jahad. Darkness had helped waken the Ogdru Jahad so they set out to destroy reality by creating the 369 Ogdru Hem. A war broke out between the Ogdru Hem and the spirits with the spirits winning. The Ogdru Jahad were sealed away and the spirits destroyed Anum, except for his right hand. Anum's right hand, renamed the 'Right Hand of Doom', is the only thing that can now reawaken the Ogdru Jahad. In punishment for allowing the Ogdru Jahad to be created God cast the spirits to either the pit or Earth. Those on Earth were granted physical forms and became the first people to inhabit the planet, called Hyperboreans. The Ogdru Hem barely survived through the eons and cults emerged serving the Ogdru Jahad which caused the decline of the Hyperboreans. When the Hyperboreans collapsed during the Ice Age their legacy continued through humanity, and with it the cults of the Ogdru Jahad.

Hellboy on Earth
Hellboy first arriving on Earth
Hellboy's arrival on Earth was first shown in Seed of Destruction. When Russian mystic and monk Grigori Rasputin was assassinated in 1916 he was revived by the Ogdru Jahad to act as their agent on Earth. When Hitler came to power he was contacted by the Nazis and started working for them. It is common knowledge that Hitler was fascinated by the paranormal so he wanted Rasputin to use supernatural forces to defeat the Allies. Rasputin agreed but his intention was never to fight the Allies. Instead his goal was to use the resources of the Nazis to trigger the Apocalypse by summoning the Ogdru Jahad. On December 23, 1944 Rasputin and a group of Nazi commandos arrived on a Scottish island to summon Amun's Right Hand in Project Ragna Rok. However, Britain's leading psychic Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones detected Rasputin's actions someday's prior. With a group of American commandos, Professor Malcolm Frost, paranormal expert Trevor Bruttenholm, and the Hellboy universe's version of Captain America Torch of Liberty went instead to the church of East Bromwich. Rasputin summoning went wrong and instead of being summoned to Scotland Anung Un Rama was summoned to East Bromwich. The soldiers nicknamed the summoned demon 'Hellboy' and the name stuck. Trevor Bruttenholm adopted Hellboy and raised him. 

Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense
The BPRD logo
After adopting Hellboy Trevor Bruttenholm had the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) formed. Unlike the movies in the world of Hellboy people are fully aware of the paranormal. The BPRD as a result is funded by several countries, mainly the USA and UK, and keeps good contacts with most governments and institutions, (China and the CIA being exceptions). Thanks to his membership of the BPRD in 1952 the United Nations granted him the status of 'honorary human'. Hellboy isn't the only 'enhanced' being to be a member of the BPRD. Other members have included a firestarter called Liz Sherman (changed to Hellboy's love interest for the movies), Ben Daimio a 'werejaguar', Roger the Homunculus, and an ectoplasmic spirit called Johann Kraus. My personal favorite is Abe Sapien. The best way to describe Abe is that he is a Gill-Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon. Abe was discovered sealed in a tube of water in Washington D.C. in 1978 and, was named 'Abe' as the paper attached to the tube was the same date as Lincoln's assassination and 'Sapien' as the tube read 'Ichtyo sapien'

I would highly recommend reading the Hellboy comics. I've avoided talking about the storylines as they are best read first hand with no spoilers. I hope you have enjoyed this post. For future posts please see our Facebook or get me on Twitter @LewisTwiby.

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