Thursday, August 30, 2007

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

The thing that got me into Hellboy was the Alan Moore blurb on the back of one of the collections -- I cannot find it right now but he talks about all the influences that have been synthesized: Kirby, Lovecraft, Toth, world mythology. Hellboy, and his world, is a design triumph, a tremendous artistic success. I just want to grab a few moments where Mignola handles his influences beyond superheroes.

The first panel is split between a haunted castle structure (which turns out to be a broken church with no roof) and a prose diary in courier type-writer font, prose right out of the pulps. An American Sergeant, gruffly skeptical of all the paranormal stuff going on around him, writing in England in 1944 and World War Two is thrown in as well. The next panel is a triumph -- The Nazi dark priest or whatever. This guy combines three different kinds of bad guys into one formidable whole – A Nazi, a Satanic High Priest, and a Mad Scientist – he has a swastika on his chest surrounded by a upside-down pentagram; he quotes Lovecraftian speeches about evil, but also has crazy techno gloves that have a host of wires connected to what look like various power sources. I think he is generating a kind of lightning blast, but the point I think is another allusion, to Frankenstein, the creation of a monster with a soul. Mignola is setting a great stage for the introduction of his character.

In his office, the professor says he feels that he has been cut off from his past, that he cannot remember, that he is too old. Hellboy’s first line ever is to tell the professor that he looks fine to him. The line is reflexive: Mignola is telling the audience that the horror comic is not cut off from its past even though superhero comics dominate, that there is a lot to draw on and a lot to remember.

I realized that I was moved to write these posts this week because of Morrison’s most recent Batman story. I was thinking of Hellboy as a better example of artistic synthesis and allusion to many different kinds of comic book history. You may disagree, but I think it is a good thing to consider as a contrast.

I also should say that I am not that familiar with how John Byrne fits into all this. I call the character Mignola's because the character is so closely associated with him, but I know it is more complicated than that. Unfortunately, I am not the guy to take this on -- anyone want to give it a shot?


david brothers said...

As far as I know, Byrne was just the scripter for the mini. He did all the dialogue, or touched it up, while Mignola did the heavy lifting.

Scott said...

I remember it pretty much as David describes. I think at first, Mignola wasn't confident in his ability to script the story so he asked Byrne to do it.

Jason Powell said...

On his own website, Byrne has claimed credit for Hellboy's characterization -- what you described, Geoff, in your first post: The "wry sense of self ... that makes Hellboy the book stand out. The hero is kind of a lug-head and knows it and is not above being sarcastic."

Unless Mignola claims otherwise, John Byrne is apparently the man to thank for that aspect of the character.

RAB said...

Mignola talks about working with Byrne here and here.