Keely's Reviews > Hellboy, Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction

Hellboy, Vol. 1 by Mike Mignola
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's review
Aug 21, 09

bookshelves: comics, horror, reviewed
Read in January, 2008

After the movies, I didn't expect much from the comic. They were fun, but a bit cheesy. The film's director, Guillermo Del Toro tends to make films that are all flash and no substance, like Blade II and Pan's Labyrinth. I assumed that the Hellboy movies were just executed better, but I now realize that the movies fell far short of the source material.

The comics are moody, charming, and uniquely stylized. The dramatic inking and chiaroscuro lighting combines with the simple, evocative lines to create a fiercely dynamic visual experience. It's interesting to note that even though the films concentrate on visuals, they still never reach the stark beauty of the comic.

As lovely as the art is, what's remarkable is the depth of the story. Few artist/authors combine the necessary skills so adroitly. Few names suggest themselves for comparison: Winsor McCay, Frank Miller, Bill Watterson, Will Eisner.

The strength of Mignola's stories is his knowledge of myths and legend. From Norse Sagas to English Fairytales, Christian Apocrypha to Russian Folk Stories, Cthulhu to Nazi conspiracies, the breadth and depth is impressive. What may be more impressive is Mignola's ability to combine these disparate threads into a cohesive whole, and to present these bits of cultural history alongside a giant, wisecracking red guy without the losing the comic's serious, even terrifying tone.

It's no wonder that the films ended up more goofy than scary, since maintaining this careful balance is difficult at best. Mignola keeps a strong undercurrent throughout his stories. Instead of simply combining esoterica into an unwieldy mass (like Grant Morrison), Mignola makes the fables themselves the undercurrent of the story and lets the characters coast atop the strangeness (not unlike Lovecraft).

Usually, cross-genre stories like this end up losing me when they sacrifice plot and character for the sake of oddity. Mignola, however, rarely forgets to center his stories around straightforward plots and character motivation. Mignola doesn't really hit his stride until later in the series, but the first entry is still strong and enjoyable.

My Suggested Reading In Comics
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Michael You should enjoy the next couple of volumes (at least) as well.

Keely Yeah, I'm working through them. I actually really liked the short pieces in 'The Chained Coffin and Others'. I was a bit disappointed to return to the grander plot arc (and Nazis) in the next two volumes. They were still good though, just not as moody and peculiar.

I've heard good things about 'Strange Places', though, and after that is another short story collection. Should be good.

Matt Do you ever get tired of the storylines always culminating in Hellboy being confronted somehow with his "destiny", yelling "NO!" or "I DON'T THINK SO, PAL!", snapping his horns off and uppercutting whoever happens to be saying it this time around? Don't get me wrong, I think they are great and include a lot of interesting folklore/fairy tale elements that are pretty fascinating, but I just started to get tired of the way they all seemed to end.

Keely Yeah, I do. It was cool once, but I just really got tired of how much the main plot meanders, anyways. My favorite Hellboy collections are the ones with a bunch of weird, unrelated short stories with lots of interesting references to myth and fairy stories from around the world.

The ones that continue the main plotline got less and less interesting for me as things went on. The last one I read was just a bunch of exposition about 'what it all means' which felt pretty forced and unnecessary, especially because Hellboy was still yelling "I DON'T THINK SO PAL" at the guy who was sitting calmly, explaining the whole backstory of the world.

Josh Pan's Labyrinth is all flash and no substance, lol what?

message 6: by Ramsay (new)

Ramsay Clarke Pan Labyrinth is not all flash and no substance at all. I'd suggest you please take time to read this author's article, which isn't my own, but explains the significance of Pan's Labyrinth and why it has more substance than almost any fantasy films I've actually ever seen. Find it here:

Josh Thanks for the link Ramsay, very interesting read.

Keely I'm afraid I wasn't very impressed by the article. The author begins with the thesis that:
fairytales, and stories in general, clash with the fascism of post-Civil War Spain . . . Pan’s Labyrinth is constructed within two parallel worlds, the temporal and the fantasy . . . These two worlds are polar opposites that repel each other to the core . . ."

But then goes on, throughout the rest of the article, to draw parallels between those two worlds, and to remark that the fairy world is symbolic and representative of the real world:
"Ofelia’s fairytale mirrors the tumultuous, oppressed existence of those in fascist Spain . . . This monster and its relationship to the tree . . . could be symbolic of the fascist regime, the toad eating away at the country and its people . . . Vidal also unmistakably comes to represent the monster that Ofelia encounters under the trapdoor that which creates to accomplish her second task.[sic]"

So by the article's own logic, the two worlds are not opposed. The entire thing is a poorly-written contradiction which invalidates its own conclusion.

I also think that the critic is too free with his assumptions about what the images represent, and does not do enough to support his observations. Really, it is precisely what I've come to expect from critical analyses of works which possess a great level of detail, but comparatively little depth: it is a simple thing for a critic to combine a handful of details into any argument, particularly when the work is not substantial enough to refute their analysis.

Indeed, the reviewer even remarks that the director would disagree with his reading:
". . . though Del Toro would argue with me on this . . ."

Which suggests that either the critic is developing their argument by cobbling together conveniently vague elements, or that the director is simply does not possess enough deliberate control over his work to properly convey meaning. I suspect it is both.

message 9: by Ramsay (new)

Ramsay Clarke Okay, you just made me look stupid here, LOL! I'm not too good of a debater searcher am I? Though I still think Pan's Labyrinth is far from 'all flash and no substance', I thought it was a dark, gritty, and sophisticated look at adolescence and a child's fantasy in the times of war, strife, and depression. Maybe it's because I, personally, like to blot out reality for fantasy/escapism during some more difficult times. I won't argue with your opinion if you still think so, but I personally got a lot more from the film.

Keely Well, once again, as with all of Del toro's films, I felt he did very little with the source material. Fairy Tales are already full of social commentary and moral philosophy, so I'm used to seeing some depth there. Sure, Del Toro makes a few parallels, but overall, I found the film to be less provocative and complex than actual fairy tales, so it felt like a dumbing-down to me.

I mean, one of the interesting things about fairy tale symbolism is how each discrete part has some representation, some meaning for the characters and world. Yet in Pan's Labyrinth, we have a whole plot point tied around getting ahold of this knife, and yet, in the end, the knife doesn't get used for anything, it's just superfluous.

To my mind, a good storyteller makes everything they include in the story important, otherwise what's the point of putting it in there? But that's my general problem with Del Toro: he seems to include a lot of stuff because it looks cool, or seems interesting, but he doesn't have a strong enough storytelling ability to make it integral to the story, and that's what I mean by a story that's flashy but lacking in substance--those individual pieces don't tie together into something more meaningful.

Anyhow, thanks for the comment and the article.

message 11: by Ramsay (new)

Ramsay Clarke No problem, ;)

Michael Bacon Pan's Labyrinth is full of substance and only has a little flash. Ahem.

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