Tuesday, 14 December 2010

‘Hellboy: Seed of Destruction’ – Mike Mignola & John Byrne (Dark Horse)

I’ve read bits and pieces of ‘Hellboy’, over the years, but it has always seemed to be for reasons other than the character himself. I read the ‘Ghost/Hellboy’ team-up way back in the mid nineties but that was more about my being a big fan of Ghost; Hellboy just happened to be there at the time. More recently, I found time to read ‘The Fire Wolves’; something that started out being about Hellboy but ended up being more about my checking out Tim Lebbon’s work for the first time. Hellboy even managed to force his way into my reading when he turned up in a ‘Goon’ storyline. While I’ll always be grateful to Hellboy for introducing me to the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia (I love those guys), he again found himself playing second fiddle to an established comic book favourite of mine.
As one of the more iconic comic book characters out there, I thought it was time to get to know Hellboy properly in his natural setting. No ‘cameo spots’ or spin off novels; I wanted to take it right back to the start with the comic books that made him so popular. So that’s just what I did...

In the last days of World War Two, an increasingly desperate Nazi High Command resorted to the occult talents of one Grigori Rasputin in order to cast a spell that would save them from defeat at the hands of the Allies. The end result was a child like demonic being rescued by Allied Forces and raised in America by the US Army and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence. These days Hellboy works as a Paranormal Investigator for the Bureau but the one mystery he has never solved is that of his own identity. Hellboy doesn’t mind this, as such, but when the answers finally start to present themselves... he’s going to mind very much indeed. What Rasputin began all those years ago is about to end... in a rain of frogs.

I’ve been a fan of Mignola’s cover art for a while now and it felt like a real treat to open up ‘Seed of Destruction’ and find that his work gets to grace the inner pages as well. To put it succinctly, Mignola’s art is gorgeous and I want to see more of it. Just one reason why I can see myself picking up more books in this series. The artwork complements the story perfectly with a good blend of darkness, humour and action. I also like the way that Mignola will sometimes concentrate on character detail at the expense of the background as this has the affect of letting the story flow much easier without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. It’s not often you see artwork that just ‘is’ part of the story in the same way that Mignola’s art is here. I can’t get enough of it (especially the Lovecraftian monsters that appear from time to time).

The story itself is very much a case of setting things up to play out in future books but, at the same time, there’s also a self contained plot with a very definite ending. It’s a balancing act that plays out very well and you end up getting the best of both worlds here. One thing I would say though is that you don’t necessarily get to find out much about Hellboy’s history here, understandable really due to the way the book is structured. There were enough hints though to make me want to come back for more. Hellboy is a little on the gruff side but he’s loyal to his friends and wants to do the right thing. He also has a mystery in his past that is crying out to be solved; what’s not to come back for? The overall background setting owes a big debt to H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos but doesn’t rip it off entirely and comes across all the more fresh for it. I’m looking forward to delving into more of its secrets very soon.

As far as the plot itself goes, I could see ‘The Big Reveal’ coming quite a way off but this is more of a tale where you enjoy seeing the characters fumbling in the dark rather than having to do it yourself. While all that’s happening you get to see Hellboy go up against mutant frogmen and something that seems to be made entirely of tentacles. Hellboy may have a hand made of stone, that dishes out a mean punch, but that doesn’t stop him taking a beating at the same time. You never know quite how it’s going to turn out and that made me want to stick around all the more. It goes without saying that Mignola portrays these confrontations in fine style. There’s plenty going on (for a relatively short book) and it’s all good.

I think it’s fair to say that my first real experience of ‘Hellboy’ (in the format that made him such a big deal) was a resounding success; I think it’s also fair to say that you’ll be seeing a lot more ‘Hellboy’ here if this first volume was anything to go by...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

1 comment:

Carl V. Anderson said...

Hellboy really is a fantastic series, as is much of B.P.R.D. I am glad your first foray into the graphic novels was a resounding success and I hope you enjoy the rest just as much.