Hellboy (2004)

It’s time for Birthday Week to go to the movies! Continuing my obsessive look at all things Hellboy this week, I thought it high time I took a look at the movie that, for me, started it all. Of course, the comics pre-date the movie by more than a decade, but I wasn’t familiar with them before seeing Big Red in action here…

Hellboy (2004)

The movie is basically the origin story of Hellboy, picking out a lot of the threads that we see in the comics, and building on the Seed of Destruction storyline to give a satisfying main story overall.

We start with the Tarmagant Island incident in 1944, with Rasputin opening a portal and bringing forth Hellboy from another dimension, then we fast-forward to the modern day and the BPRD, with a new recruit John T Myers joining the team to work as Hellboy’s liaison. Very quickly, the action moves to a museum break-in where an ancient daemon known as Sammael has been awakened by Rasputin and his disciples, Ilsa and Kroenen. Sammael goes on a rampage, and while the Bureau believe it to have been killed, in actual fact two more have been birthed from its carcass, thanks to Rasputin’s curse of multiplicity.

Myers works to bring Liz back to the team, as she had previously left due to mistrusting her own powers of pyrokinesis. The team are sent into the sewers to attempt to destroy the Sammael eggs, and while most of the agents that accompany them are killed, they also manage to capture Kroenen. In reality, Kroenen had given himself up by feigning death and, once inside the Bureau, manages to kill Professor Bruttenholm. The Bureau is taken over by FBI agent Tom Manning, who directs a mission to Moscow to end the Sammael threat and, hopefully, that of Rasputin and his followers.

In Moscow, the team tracks down the nest in Rasputin’s mausoleum, and while Liz manages to incinerate the eggs, they are captured. Rasputin sucks out Liz’s soul from her body, and uses it to cause Hellboy to use his stone right hand to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad and bring about the apocalypse. Myers manages to reach out to Hellboy, however, reminding him that Bruttenholm raised him to defy his destiny and choose his own path. Hellboy stabs Rasputin, whose death throes release a tentacled monster that Hellboy manages to defeat by detonating a belt of grenades inside the beast.

Hellboy (2004)

For me, this movie really encapsulates the feeling of Hellboy from the comics. We’ve got the half-demon wandering about in graveyards and reanimating corpses, we’ve got him hunting disgusting daemon creatures – it’s really fantastic. While Ron Perlman does steal the show as the titular character, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, and Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, also have their parts to play – though due to going through the backstory, I think Liz is definitely the more short-changed of the two. John Hurt’s Professor Bruttenholm lends a dignified presence to the movie, though I think it’s really the villains that provide so much of the enjoyment here.

Hellboy (2004)

Rasputin is quite the character, and Karel Roden’s performance is quite chilling at times, especially when he’s in his suit doing his puppet-master routine. Ladislav Beran as Kroenen is a whole different kettle of fish, though – creepy doesn’t even begin to cover it. Beran has a fluid grace that really sets your teeth on edge, and when he’s gliding down those stairs in Bruttenholm’s office… urgh, gives me chills to just think about it!

Hellboy (2004)

Kroenen is definitely the character that benefits the most from his movie incarnation. Everybody comes over from the page to the screen fairly similarly, but for Rasputin’s lieutenant, we have a sort of amalgamation of a couple of the comic book characters. He’s part Nazi scientist, with his surgical compulsion and all, and an expert assassin – a less-mad Red Skull, I suppose. He’s the embodiment of almost the entire Nazi scientist enclave that exists within the comics, and I love how del Toro has managed to distill so much down into the character. Truly wonderful.

Something should also be said for the way the story is handled. It is often said that this movie takes Seed of Destruction as its starting point, but the Sammael threat is so far removed from that of the frog monsters that I don’t really think we can talk about them together. The story is an original one that nevertheless takes the essence of the comic book story and makes it work.

Hellboy (2004)

I’ve not seen the new movie, but while this one exists, I don’t think there’s a need for it. I’ve read the film was a flop, which is a shame, as I think the Hellboy universe really would benefit from a big screen showing, branching off into the BPRD proper and all, but part of me wonders if this failure might then allow for del Toro and Perlman to come back for the Hellboy 3 that we’ve heard teased over the years?

Hellboy: part two

Hey everybody!
It’s still birthday week here at spalanz.com, and all week I’ve been rambling about Hellboy in my own, inimitable style! Today sees a return to the comics that started it all, as I turn my gaze onto the third and fourth books in the trade paperback series!

View this post on Instagram

#Easter #Hellboy

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Unlike the first two, these books are basically short story collections, bringing together one or two-issue books into the trade paperback format. The stories span a wide expanse of both releases and also points on the Hellboy timeline, with escapades from the 1950s right up to the 1990s, in-universe. They’re a mixed bag, ranging from the two-page Pancakes right up to such monumental stories as Box Full of Evil. I’m not going to attempt to cover all of the stories contained in the books, but instead touch on a couple of what I consider my favourites…

The Chained Coffin & Others collects seven stories, of which we have Mignola’s favourite, The Corpse, as well as three fairly substantial stories that have a long reach throughout the lore. The titular Chained Coffin story tells something of the origin of Hellboy as a half-daemon, following Hellboy as he returns to the ruined church in East Bromwich where he first appeared in 1944. He has a dream of a woman recanting on her deathbed her sins of being a witch, only for her soul to be claimed by the daemon Azzael who then turns to Hellboy, calling him “my favourite son”. It’s quite a short one, but we learn a bit more about Big Red’s ancestry, so definitely worth a mention!

the wolves of saint august

The Wolves of Saint August is a werewolf story that has a bit of a creepy feel to it, but then I suppose that’s true of most of these stories! There is a very definite sense of atmosphere in the tale, as we follow Hellboy and Kate Corrigan as they investigate an abandoned village in the Balkans. It’s really very creepy and atmospheric, and well worth the read to see how the tale unfolds for itself! Finally, Almost Colossus follows on from the events of Wake the Devil, as we see the homunculus from Czerge Castle run amok with Liz Sherman’s powers. The team track it down in order to restore Liz’s powers, as the homunculus has been sapping her will to live. We get a bit of backstory on the whole thing, and the hilarity of the fact that Hellboy names the chap Roger… anyway!

The Right Hand of Doom is a similar collection, bringing eight stories together in roughly chronological order, starting with the two-page Pancakes story and building up from there. There are plenty of short tales that often feel more like vignettes from the universe, as we see a lot of stuff breeze by like the Japanese floating-heads story, the St Leonard’s Wyrm story, and the Vârcolac story. They’re stories that were written for much larger collections, and serve in their original outing to give a sense for what Hellboy is all about. Reading them in this format doesn’t really work, for me, as they all just feel a bit like throwaway adventures that don’t feel like they add too much to the overall storyline, as much as any such thing can be said to exist in this sense.

right hand of doom

The final two stories, however, are a bit more meaty. The Right Hand of Doom does go someway to address the existence of Hellboy’s stone right hand, though it is yet another account of Hellboy’s history up to this point, as Hellboy explains his story to the son of Malcolm Frost (one of the three paranormal investigators present in East Bromwich on the night Hellboy first came to earth). Not an origin story per se, but certainly hitting all of the story points that we’re by now familiar with.

Box Full of Evil is the final story, and finally we get Hellboy and Abe reunited for an adventure! The two are investigating the strange reappearance of Igor Bromhead after his release from prison. Bromhead, using a hand of glory, has broken into an English mansion and removed a small box and a set of tongs, which the two BPRD agents immediately realise have links to the legend of St Dunstan, who is said to have trapped Satan in a box. Bromhead releases the devil, taking the form of the daemon Ualac, and when Hellboy arrives, his destiny to bring about armageddon is once again addressed. The story is really quite involved, and feels like it has a lot more substance to it than the others that appear in the volume, so was definitely a fitting finale!


I think I definitely prefer my Hellboy stories to be longer tales than the sort of one-shot stories we have collected in these two books! That’s not to say that they’re bad, per se, it’s just a lot more satisfying to read a fairly meaty story that can bring the full depth of Mignola’s talent for weaving folklore and myth into his universe. Wake the Devil is the archetypal story at this point in the lore, and I feel like most of these other tales are merely background.

Nevertheless, I enjoy seeing Hellboy taking part in an adventure that manages to pull together one or two elements of folklore and superstition, and it all helps to add to the character overall.

I think it’s quite informative to fans of the board game to read these stories, as they go a long way to explaining a lot of the enemy miniatures that have been included there. I must admit to feeling a bit puzzled when they revealed minis for things like the monkey with a gun, or St Leonard’s Wyrm, as they’re hardly the more important aspects of the Hellboy mythos. However, as I said in my blog about the game, the Hellboy comics are – largely – made up of these sorts of vignettes and short tales that feature Hellboy going up against some aspect of folklore or myth, which is why the modular design of the game and its one-shot-style play fit so well. If you read the comics, you realise that this isn’t really a campaign, but instead a series of standalone adventures with a rough chronology that can, on the whole, be enjoyed by themselves.

They’re definitely worth a read, anyway!!

Hellboy: part one

Hey everybody!
This week marks my fifth year of blogging here in my quiet corner of the internet, and to celebrate, I’m taking a look at one of my favourite comic books, the classic Hellboy. Let’s start with the first two books, Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil.

Hellboy 1 & 2

Seed of Destruction is very much the origin story for Big Red, and while creator Mike Mignola had previously written a short story introducing his concept for the character, it’s here that we start his story proper. Back in December 1944, in East Bromwich, England, American troops and three paranormal investigators are drawn to a convergence of energy that seems to indicate something is about to happen, thanks in part to the precognition of England’s premiere medium, Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. However, at the critical moment, Lady Cynthia realises it is far to the north that a second epicentre has opened – it is there that the Nazis have gathered, led by a mysterious monk figure who is intent on opening a portal to another dimension to bring about the end of the world and allow the Nazis to claim victory in the war: Project Ragnarok.

While the portal is opened, it is in East Bromwich that the agent of that doom appears – a tiny red “ape” with a stone right hand. The Americans dub him Hellboy, and take him with them back to the USA, and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD).

Years later, Professor Bruttenholm finally returns from a two year polar expedition. Bruttenholm, one of the investigators from East Bromwich and Hellboy’s surrogate father, is recounting some of the adventure to the now-mature half-demon when frogs start appearing, and the professor himself is killed by a frog-monster. Hellboy manages to kill the creature, however.

Following the trail of the frog monsters, Hellboy and his colleagues Liz Sherman and the amphibious Abe Sapien travel to Cavendish Hall, home of two of Bruttenholm’s companions on his polar expedition. Lady Cavendish reveals that her family has been inexplicably drawn to the arctic for generations, but the death of her two sons on the expedition might finally mean an end to this. Further investigation brings Hellboy into direct conflict with the monk-like figure who led the Nazis in 1944, none other than Rasputin. He wishes to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad, the seven gods of the apocalypse, and destroy the earth. Rasputin has captured Liz, and attempts to use her fire-control abilities to augment his own and awaken the Sadu Hem, a mystical totem brought back from the arctic by Bruttenholm and the two Cavendish brothers before they were transformed into frog monsters. The Sadu Hem should then have the power to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad, however Abe manages to spear Rasputin through the chest (with the help of the zombie-like Elihu Cavendish, founder of the dynasty) and rescue Liz.

Wake the Devil pretty much picks up where Seed of Destruction ended, with Rasputin’s disciples from the 1944 project – Ilsa Haupstein, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, and Leopold Kurtz –  coming out of a deep freeze in a castle high up in Norway. Meanwhile, the Bureau is tasked to track down the body of Vladimir Giurescu, an almost-mythological figure who is believed to be immortal, and was once hoped to head up one of the Nazis many doomsday projects, ‘Vampir Sturm’. The BPRD teams up to track the body to three separate locations within Romania, where Hellboy quickly finds himself at the correct location, coming face to face with Ilsa Haupstein, and her attempt to revive Giurescu.

Others on the team land at different sites in Romania, and Liz’s team discover an unusually large homonculus in the ruins of Czerge Castle. The homonculus attacks them, attempting to drain Liz’s energy, until Bud Waller manages to shoot it, causing it to run off. Meanwhile, Ilsa sets the cyborg Nazi Unmensch on Hellboy, the two having a massive fight that eventually leads Hellboy to a room in the castle where Giurescu is being revived by the goddess Hecate, who turns out to be Giurescu’s mother.

Hellboy battles Hecate, while Rasputin promises Ilsa immortality if she is willing to step into an iron maiden. The torture device kills her, but is placed at a crossroads with a chained Hellboy just as Giurescu comes back to life and tries to kill him. Hellboy defeats Giurescu, a fragment of whose soul then enters the iron maiden. However, in the extraction from Romania, the BPRD manage to lose the body of Giurescu, and the iron maiden mysteriously disappears.

Hellboy frogs

The first two books in the Hellboy series are absolutely cracking. While the first story remains relatively straightforward in the telling, with some folklore thrown in among the tale, by and large it is the story of a mad monk attempting to bring about the end of the world, using frog monster minions to do his bidding. The initial backstory of Project Ragnarok is there, but only to form the initial backdrop to the main tale.

In the second book, we have what Mignola is perhaps best at, weaving mythology and folklore into a story that also takes in the mysticism of the occult and linking strongly with Nazi scientists, to provide a wide-ranging, highly-textured and detailed storyline. While Seed of Destruction is perhaps required reading to give you the background, Wake the Devil is really what Hellboy is all about, and manages to encapsulate the character and the series in just one book.

I think it’s incredibly impressive the way Mignola manages to treat all the various threads of folklore into the narrative, and it’s a bit of a treat to see the way these tidbits manage to make it into the storyline. Overall, the dark gothic feel of the Hellboy universe is wonderful and these first two books in the series really help to put you on the road that the Hellboy books travel.

There is so much to enjoy in these books that I can barely convey the breadth of the story in this review. I’ve tried to hit a lot of the points because I think there will be significant mentions and stuff later on, but I’m now a bit worried that I’ve made it sounds slightly muddled in the re-telling!