Monday, August 27, 2007

Mike Mignola's Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 1 (1 of 2)

[Just for fun today I though I would write about Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #1. We hit a good stopping point with the Whedon posts. Nothing says I can't have more than one issue-by-issue analysis going, or that I can't try one issue and just drop it.]

The second page of the first issue of Hellboy shows a superhero -- in a army trench-coat, with a bright red shirt, covered in mud splatter and drinking something out of a tin cup. The Torch of Liberty. He looks none-too-heroic. Mignola acknowledges the superhero genre that dominates comics -- and that has such a huge influence on what he will be writing -- but is careful to indicate that it is only a small part of the background of his horror story. In the image he just looks like one of the soldiers, but with a bright shirt and a kato-mask.

With the Nazis Mignola does an amazing job bringing together disparate elements into a new whole. We see regular Nazi soldiers early on in the issue, but in the foreground are "weird" Nazi villains -- stylized and uber-creepy. One has a kind of gas-mask on his face. The other has a swastika prominently displayed on one of the lenses of his goggle-glasses. These are the kind of bad guys you figure could be for the superhero on page two, except they look like they could eat him for breakfast. Mignola is creating a space where Hellboy will be needed for these threats -- Superheroes won’t do the job, he implies. Hellboy will appear at the broken church in front of the statue of Christ. He is born in fire – a bigger fire than implied by the superhero’s torch.

The good guys adopt him as their own, and this flashback ends with a photograph of everyone who was there. Here, again, Mignola handles his influences deftly – in the front and centre of the photograph is Hellboy, of course, and over him are the mystics. At the back and to the right is the superhero. His emblem is still clear on his chest, but the black and white of the photo has robbed him of his bright colors, and the shadows have effectively taken away his mask – his eyes look much like the shadowed eyes of the solders around him. He used to have a bright red shirt; Hellboy, in a nice detail, has the faintest hint of red, even in a black and white photo.

The first appearance of the adult Hellboy picks up the superhero image again. He is in a trench coat and has military packs on his belt – just like the superhero. And just like the superhero the trench coat frames bright red, here Hellboy’s chest. Mignola could not be more clear – Hellboy is here as a replacement to the superhero, as someone to handle what the superhero cannot. That is why mythological creatures stand behind him for his first appearance – this is what he is here to face.

The professor is attacked, and Hellboy responds. This is what he narrates: “I’d be the first to admit that I have not shortage of faults. But if I had to pick one, the one that’s gotten me into the most trouble over the years … it would be that I sometimes get angry. And when I get angry I sometimes do stupid things. Things like charging headlong into a pitch black room. I’m tougher and stronger than any human. But I can’t see any better in the dark. I wish I could.” Hellboy is clearly linked to the Hulk here – it is the addition to a wry sense of self that marks the difference. It is also one of the things that makes Hellboy the book stand out. The hero is kind of a lug-head and knows it and is not above being sarcastic. And, it turns out, he is firing the gun that the superhero in the prologue carried. It was given to him from a superhero called the Torch of Liberty. The torch – get it? – has been passed from the superhero genre to Hellboy, and he must carry it forward.


maskedcomicdork said...

Very cool analysis of Hellboy's first story...

...not to nitpick, but his first appearance was in John Byrne's Next Men #21...

..and his first true "appearance" was way back in the second issue of the San Diego Comic Con Comic as a pin-up.

Sorry, I had to bust your balls a little, I saw your bulletin on MySpace and rushed over thinking, "Oh cool, I don't think I've seen an analysis of Hellboy's 1st appearance in Next Men"...and I saw that it was Seeds of Destruction and wanted to give you a friendly poke to the ribs.

Still, nice analysis.

Steve Ekstrom

Scott said...

I reread Seeds of Destruction a couple of months ago and I was surprised by how wordy and straight forward it was compared to more recent Hellboy. You can begin seeing what Mignola will be setting up but with John Byrne's writing, Seeds is much more direct and to the point than something like The Island or Makoma will ever be.

Matt Brady said...

I need to reread this sometime; in fact, I need to buy and read all the Hellboy collections. I've only read Seed of Destruction and The Chained Coffin, I think. And the more recent stuff, although not having followed the character through the whole series has left me kind of confused.

Oh, and nice analysis, Geoff, as always. This is another good series to cover.

Todd C. Murry said...

Following what Scott said, I'd like to see some analysis of how Byrne's scripting affected the tone of this mini (in contrast to from the later Mignola only efforts).