[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
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.