Hellboy is probably one of the most recognizable comic properties outside of DC and Marvel. He’s graced multiple films, video games, animated features and tons of merchandise, not to mention countless comic stories that have been in print since the mid-nineties. His very existence is worth noting, showing how successful an atypical non-superhero book could be back then, right around the same time as the nascent Vertigo. All of it can be traced back to the first miniseries, and a dark night somewhere in England during WWII.
Seed of Destruction starts right at the beginning, on the night that Hellboy first appeared on Earth. Originally summoned by Rasputin and a team of Nazi paranormal specialists, he is instead found by Allied forces. This Allied contingent includes Professor Bruttenholm, the man who would go on to raise Hellboy and establish the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Despite his appearance and demonic origins, Hellboy takes to his upbringing wholeheartedly and becomes the best investigator that the B.P.R.D. has.
The story picks up again decades later when Hellboy is a grown man. Professor Bruttenholm has recently returned from an archaeological research mission to the arctic, organized by the cursed Cavendish family. Visibly shaken, he begins to tell Hellboy about his ill-fated journey before they’re attacked by a type of humanoid frog monster, resulting in a massive brawl with Hellboy. The Professor is killed, with Hellboy swearing vengeance and vowing to uncover the mystery of what’s happening.
Hellboy’s investigation leads him back to the Cavendish estate, accompanied by fellow B.P.R.D. investigators. Like Hellboy, these aren’t your typical detectives and include a pyrokinetic in Liz Sherman and an artificially created amphibious man named Abe Sapien (a character who would go on to star in his own series). Eventually this does lead back to the culprit behind the frogmen, the discovery of the expedition and the very origins of Hellboy.
Over the course of the book we’re left in a state of uneasiness as they discover more of the supernatural conspiracy enveloping them. We’re also left in a state of entertainment as Hellboy invariably tries to solve his problems by punching them. This creates an odd tone for the book, equal parts classic horror and vintage adventure. The book’s greatness comes from this celebration of the past, distilling what was most exciting and intriguing from those works.
Hellboy is a book that celebrates a multitude of genres, a mash-up incorporating everything from weird fiction to golden age superheroics. There’s a very distinct pulp feel to the book, and it could be described as if H.P. Lovecraft had written the Indiana Jones movies (and had a sense of humor in addition to foreboding terror). The perils of the Hellboy universe are underscored from the start as characters die horrible deaths, even though their influence and importance will be felt in the book for years to come.
One of the greatest assets of the Hellboy series is its mythos. The universe features a back story so deep that it inspires readers to speculate and re-read each issue. Secrets are eventually revealed, in many cases years later, and these big reveals are honestly worth the wait. Seeds are planted early, such as hints at Hellboy’s deeper origins, only to be explored many volumes later after a slow boil. It makes each revealed secret seem all the more important and makes the story appear truly epic. Considering that this is a series dealing with the apocalypse and unspeakable cosmic horror, it’s nice that it feels suitably climactic.
Hellboy is the creation of Mike Mignola and his distinct voice shines through. John Byrne did the scripting for this volume, and subsequently many other creators have added their touch to the story, but Mignola’s it’s hard to associate Hellboy with anyone but Mignola. The concept is incredibly unique, drawing on the things that have inspired him and you can see his passion shine through. His artwork is also what made Hellboy distinct, a style honed from work in the comic trenches but pulling inspiration from a variety of sources like German Expressionism to create a dark and easily recognizable vision. Seed of Destruction pulled in two Eisner awards when it first came out and subsequent releases have maintained the same high level of praise, all of it richly deserved.