The Conqueror Worm

For whatever reason, back when my blog was 5 and I featured Hellboy during Birthday Week, I neglected to get to the fifth trade paperback in the series, The Conqueror Worm. Which is weird, because my goodreads profile tells me that I did read it back then! When I had first got into Hellboy, this was as far as the series went, and I had wanted to relive the early 2000s with my birthday feature, but never mind – let’s correct this oversight now, in fact let’s do so twice!

Firstly, let’s talk about the comic. Back at the start of 1939, the Nazis had attempted to commune with the elder beings floating around in space, sending up a dead body for one of these monstrosities to inhabit, but the plan failed before they could recall the rocket. Well, the rocket has been spotted in 2000 and the BPRD are dispatched to investigate! Hellboy and Roger are led to Hunte Castle in Austria by a local police officer, who later turns out to be Inger von Klempt, granddaughter of Hermann von Klempt, the Nazi scientist who led the experiment in 1939. Lobster Johnson, something of a Captain America figure from the WW2-era, and believed dead when the original Nazi plot was disrupted, reappears and teams up with Roger to destroy the castle’s power generators, while Hellboy is initially tortured by von Klempt and his cybernetic Kriegaffe (war ape).

The rocket lands and a gas comes out, transforming everybody present into frog creatures. Inger has been protected against it to some extent, but when the Conqueror Worm itself emerges from the capsule and begins to devour the transformed mutants, she asks her grandfather how he could possibly hope to control the beast. Hermann tells her, after the failure of so many projects to bring about Nazi domination, he just wants to watch the death of the world as the Conqueror Worm will awaken the Ogdru Jahad. Roger is able to kill Hermann, and Lobster Johnson then uses a lightning rod to attract a massive jolt of electricity to kill the Worm. After his experiences with the BPRD, Hellboy decides to quit, and travel to Africa.

In an epilogue, Rasputin’s ghost is taunted by Hecate, who herself is inhabiting the body of Ilsa Haupstein still contained within the iron maiden. Rasputin’s plans to release the Ogdru Jahad will forever come to nothing, as the only force capable of releasing them is Hellboy’s stone right hand. Rasputin screams in defiance, to the point where his spirit shatters; Baba Yaga collects a fragment to wear in an acorn around her neck.

The book is quite glorious, I have to say. Some of the panels have such a gothic imagery that it really speaks to the search through the lower depths of Hunte Castle, and the sense of foreboding and dread as if the gargoyles are watching Hellboy’s progress. There’s something of a 90s feel to some of the panels, as the Conqueror Worm goes about his business – a lot of the colours and shading brings to mind the Dark Empire series, for me. The story is just exactly what I think of when I think of Hellboy – crazy Nazi scientists with their doomsday plots, it’s all delightfully over the top. The epilogue though, is really quite eerie – there’s a sense of the evil puppet masters, behind the scenes going over their plots, and so on. I especially liked the addition of Baba Yaga at the end, as well.

All in all, very creepy, and exactly what I like in a Hellboy story!

Secondly, I played with the Conqueror Worm expansion for the first time not too long ago, and I was really quite impressed! For years, despite having the graphic novels, Hellboy to me was Big Red going up against the Nazis and their Project Ragna Rok, thanks to the movie portrayal. While the frog monsters make sense within the board game universe, it’s still really quite special when you get more into this side of the Hellboy universe. The expansion features five types of Nazis, plus the eponymous Worm himself, as well as new scenery and rooms, and the associated card decks, along with two new playable agents: Lobster Johnson and Roger.

I’ve played The Cold Shoulder scenario, and I found it to be really thematic for this particular storyline. I’ve talked about it before, but there are very few “big” stories within the Hellboy comics – for the most part, two parters are as long as things get. So it’s nice to see a big story like Conqueror Worm get the big expansion treatment here. The game starts out with the agents exploring the hallways of the castle until they come across a point of interest, which (spoiler alert) reveals the laboratory where the Nazis are containing the Worm itself. With this tile placed, the Confrontation begins, and in order to win you’ll need to place charges in specific rooms and blow the castle up. While the Worm only has a move characteristic of 1, that miniature is huge, and it’s really quite frightening to see it coming across the board at you! As it happens, I somehow managed to block it in a chokepoint with a piece of terrain, not sure if that was played correctly, but it did slow it down enough that I was then able to move through and place the remaining charges to rig the castle, and get out before it all went boom. Poor Lobster Johnson did actually almost give his life for the cause, though I was able to heal him enough before the final showdown so that we all made it through!

This was my first game with three agents, and I think it definitely helped, as I was able to do a lot on my turns, and the game overall felt like it went much faster for having those increased options. Of course, I’m not sure if I’d always want to do that because the game does scale up for more agents being on the board, but still, it was a lot of fun, and I thought this was perhaps the first time when I felt like the game was a real co-op experience.

The Hellboy board game is truly shaping up to be one of my favourites here, and in recent weeks I think I’ve now doubled the number of plays with it. I think it helps that we’re in that season when it’s good to hunker down with a game, and despite all of my rantings and ravings about Kickstarter games here on the blog, there is something quite exciting about opening up a massive box that is choc-full of trays and trays of miniatures. The Hellboy theme is just the icing on the cake, really!

I do have Hellboy volume 6, and I think I may have investigated one of the stories in there, but I’m soon going to be in uncharted territories with the comic book series. I’m hoping to increase the library there soon, branching out into the BPRD series as well, to see what that’s all about. As for the board game, I definitely want to see more of the BPRD Archives expansion, and start putting together my own case files, as well as trying out more from the core set. The only thing that kinda gives me pause on that is just the sheer amount of frogs… Having all of the Kickstarter goodness does make me feel like mixing things up with some of those other miniatures for some variety, you know? There are suggested rules for that, as well, so I’ll have to take a look into the wider game and see just how I can bring that about. I have clearly been spoiled…!

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