The first things an artist learns to draw – that we all do (besides a straight line) – are squares, circles, and triangles. These are the basic building blocks we’re taught for cognitive functionality as a child. Which shapes fit together we figure out through trial and error. Like stories written on the walls of a cave, all of Mike Mignola’s creations start as a combination of various circles, squares, and triangles. Hellboy did, and Mignola breathed life into these shapes on pieces of paper, creating a modern-day myth the likes of which few have managed since the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient civilizations wrote of gods, Heaven, Hell, humanity, and the beings that lie somewhere in between. Hellboy is one of those beings with the desire of a man, but the fate of a god. If nothing else, Mignola is well studied in these areas and knew what the hell he was doing.
I recently spent a week reading the third and fourth omnibuses of Hellboy. This was my first experience going this far into the Hellboy universe, and I was taken on a journey like few other comic books have given me. The reason for this is because the story of Hellboy isn’t only Hellboy’s story, but of all of the creatures – witches, vampires, immortals, and mysterious figures – that encounter him. The smallest characters zig-zag back into the greater thread, setting into motion events that they may not be able to control, becoming tragic figures themselves.
Hellboy’s story is one where we eventually learn the jaw-dropping beginning of but may never see the complete picture of nor know exactly how it ends. We will never be able to draw back far enough to understand everything. That’s why these characters leap from the pages, because they live beyond the confines of the events. We can only guess their ultimate fates. The only thing we know is enough, just enough, to follow them as far as our humanly eyes can gaze.
The third Hellboy omnibus is epic and far reaching. It begins the final arc of Hellboy’s story here on Earth. It features the constant battle of who he was meant to be and the constant running from his fate, while also fighting against his greatest foe. Characters from every corner of the Hellboy world come into play, from the major stories to the short stories. (Yes, to truly understand the epic nature of this world, one must invest themself into reading all of the omnibuses and short story collections that have recently come out.) The forces surrounding Hellboy whip around him like a vortex, drawing him closer to the center. It’s exciting on so many levels and heartbreaking in a way I wasn’t prepared for.
Hellboy is walking through a tempest of his decisions, hoping those decisions will lead him to who he wants to be and not who he was told he would be. That is what makes Hellboy’s struggle universal. He wants to be the master of his fate.
The fourth omnibus follows Hellboy during his time in Hell. In this final storyline, Mignola sets aside armies and evil forces looking for power or revenge and takes us on a personal journey, one that could be as short as two months or long as 20 years. Time doesn’t matter. This playing with the feeling of time, which Mignola has done on several occasions, allows us to experience the true breadth of Hellboy’s life. His struggle in Hell takes on a Shakespearean tone, but his desire for helping others continues unphased. His fight to be a force of good, and not a tool for destruction, grows even more earnest as the stakes become more personal and less global. That’s what makes Hellboy a hero, no matter where he is, no matter how futile his own story may be. He feels great empathy for those around him and only wants to do whatever he can to help. Somehow, though, he always feels set apart. This may be why I connect with him so strongly. Whether that feeling of disconnect is of his own making or simply because of who he is, something that exists beyond life and death, he’ll never not put others first.
There’s a quiet poetry to this fourth omnibus, a stillness. The creatures aren’t there to conquer or to build an army; they seem more like puzzle boxes and riddles, the once living trying to contend with what it means to be dead, mirroring Hellboy’s situation in an incredibly unique way.
The end of Hellboy’s story is fitting. The final few moments are symbolic, lingering just long enough. Finally, he stands in an environment that he probably always dreamed of, ready to begin the next chapter of his life, as if this journey we’ve been on with him was only the beginning. The images of Hell and the story of what lies even deeper than Hell itself paints a vivid picture of a story we can only imagine and a fate that may or may not come. Like we are made of dust and return to dust, Hellboy returns to where he began, the most basic shapes on a page.
With the new movie coming out based on stories from the third omnibus, this is the perfect time to get your toes wet, or like myself, to finally and fully embrace something that my teenage mind would never have been able to wrap its head around in the same way I can appreciate it now.
Creative Team: Mike Mignolia (creator, story, art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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