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

Hellboy, Vol. 1 by Mike Mignola
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's review
Aug 04, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: comics, horror, reviewed

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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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
August 4, 2008 – Shelved
August 13, 2009 – Shelved as: comics
August 14, 2009 – Shelved as: horror
August 21, 2009 – Shelved as: reviewed

Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new)

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

J.G. 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.

J.G. 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.

J.G. 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.

J.G. 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.

message 13: by Nenče (new)

Nenče What fantasy movies do you recommend?

J.G. Keely Oh, there are a lot of great ones out there: Kwaidan, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits, Legend, The City of Lost Children, Beetlejuice, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Thief of Baghdad, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, Jan Svankmajer's 'Alice', The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Illusionist, Fantastic Planet, Big Trouble in Little China, Dragonslayer, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Big Fish, The Fall, Troll Hunter--it's a big genre with a lot of variety.

message 15: by Nenče (last edited Sep 13, 2015 05:41PM) (new)

Nenče Keely wrote: "Oh, there are a lot of great ones out there: Kwaidan, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits, Legend, The City of Lost Children, Beetlejuice, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage o..."

Wow, thanks for the recommendations! I've only recently begun exploring cinema seriously, so there are plenty of titles I've overlooked. Your list really helps.

J.G. Keely Glad to hear it, hope you find some of them interesting.

message 17: by Rocko52 (new)

Rocko52 Ooh you're a fan of Svankmajer's "Alice?" I know of your love for the original work, (Carroll's) but it pleases me to no-end to see that my favorite reviewer also likes, what I believe to be the best adaptation of said work. Excuse my eagerness, I just adore stop-motion and Svankmajer's work in particular. (By extension Svankmajer also got me into non-animated surrealist films like the works of Lynch and Bunuel) I think the film works brilliantly in, both bringing the spirit of the book alive and subconsciously evoking strong memories of early childhood. The choice to place Wonderland in an endless and labyrinth indoor setting particularly feels like an inspired choice, it very much reminds me of far-off, vague childhood day-dreams and fantasies. To me it very much captures the limitless wonder a small-child's mind can bring to even the most common. It also does a great job of bringing out the novel's themes of the un-knowable and bizarre world. Of all children's books, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is perhaps most suited to Svankmajer's style of surrealism.

Sorry for the digression on a review that has little to do with my topic but I just adore this movie and was incredibly excited to see that you also liked the film. You are my favorite reviewer on this site and your points leave me with far more than any others do you plant beautifully worded ideas and perspectives that stick with me for a long time so I'd just like to thank you for all these fantastic reviews. Keep up the extraordinary work!

J.G. Keely Rocko52 said: "I just adore this movie and was incredibly excited to see that you also liked the film"

Yeah, I haven't seen it in years, but it certainly stands out as a great piece of fantasy. I know it's currently on Netflix--I should watch it again. Anyways, thanks for your kind words, glad that you feel you've gotten something out of my reviews.

message 19: by Colton (new) - added it

Colton King I never really cared much for Labyrinth, care to elaborate on why you enjoyed it Keely?

J.G. Keely Colton said: "I never really cared much for Labyrinth, care to elaborate on why you enjoyed it Keely?"

Well, there are a number of factors that come together to make it work. First there's the fact that the script was written in part by two members of Monty Python, and so you have characters who aren't merely silly, but also have a certain absurdity to them, who are strange and bothersome and even frightening or disturbing. It's less wackiness and more akin to madness, which fits in very well with how fairytales were originally written.

But, this also makes it work well as a parallel of the transition to adulthood, because there is so much about the world that doesn't make sense, in a way that can be really upsetting, because this is the world we've been thrust into, the world we're supposed to live in and make sense of, and it's just full of naive weirdos, who don't feel like a teen's idea of 'adulthood' at all--but you still have to learn how to deal with them.

Bowie is a very clever choice to sit at the middle of this, codpiece and all, as a representation of looming sexuality--a grown man who wants a baby, who wants to play games with this girl, who enjoys it, but who is also frustrated at how naive she is about the whole thing--especially since this all started at her behest in the first place, except that she doesn't really know what she wants.

But Bowie is also silly and absurd--half sexy, half laughable--and that, again, is true to the experience of a teen growing up and trying to come to terms with sex. In one sense, it's a very serious thing: children, marriage, intimacy, and all that--but on the other hand, it's ridiculous: people rubbing their mouths and floppy bodies together.

And of course, that's already part of Bowie's social role in the real world, as a pop star: he acts as a symbol of sexuality for teens who are trying to come to terms with their own identity, who put up posters of him and listen to his music in order to experiment with those feelings, to try to understand what adulthood really means.

Then there's the visual aspect, which is quite wonderful--fantastical and dreamlike, with excellent translations of the scripted characters to their physical representations. One of the best parts is that the visuals aren't simply repetitive, but give the audience many different 'dreamworlds', many aesthetics and moods to fit the different scenes.

It's also not a 'Disnified' film, it's not reductive, trying to teach us a certain lesson, or turn us into 'good little citizens'--it's much more experimental, inviting us to widen our horizons, to delve into imagination, to more fully explore our own labyrinthine headspace, and all the monsters and goblins therein.

message 21: by Clouds (new)

Clouds Once again, I wish I could 'like' a reply...

message 22: by Colton (new) - added it

Colton King Fair enough. I never really put much thought into it, I suppose I just didnt like it on a surface level. I found the whole thing a bit boring and ugly, except for the set designs. Never been a big fan of musicals either, so it had that against it, and even if I were, I dont remember too many of the non-Bowie songs being that good anyway. But after such a thoughtful response, I do feel a bit compelled to give it another try, since I've got the dvd at home anyway. Thanks for the great response Keely.

J.G. Keely Well, it's not really a musical--very few of the characters do any singing. Beyond that, all of the songs with lyrics were written by Bowie (even the one not performed by him)--though the incidental music was by a film composer.

message 24: by Colton (new) - added it

Colton King Huh, could've sworn it was more musical. Well it's certainly been a long time since I've seen it, maybe I was just dwelling a bit too much on that one song where those weird red muppets keep taking their heads off.

message 25: by Rocko52 (new)

Rocko52 Hmm well there were a fair few songs although it was mostly Bowie. The fire gang (that's what they were called I think) also had their song...and there was magic dance...and that song when Bowie and Sarah are at that surreal ball. That might've been it... I guess it wasn't really a musical heh. But I really liked the film when I saw it.

Also Keely have you looked into Svankmajer's other work at all? I think you would like his adaptation of Faust. It's a very abstract adaptation that pulls from many variations of the story. I'd highly recommend it.

message 26: by Augustin (new)

Augustin Keely, what other fantasy films do you like?

J.G. Keely Rocko52 said: "Also Keely have you looked into Svankmajer's other work at all? I think you would like his adaptation of Faust."

No, I haven't--I should check out some of his other stuff.

Augustin said: "Keely, what other fantasy films do you like?"

I put up a list of movies a few comments ago, if you didn't see that.

message 28: by Daniel (last edited Jul 26, 2016 09:59AM) (new) - added it

Daniel Phillips J.G. Keely wrote: "Oh, there are a lot of great ones out there: Kwaidan, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits, Legend, The City of Lost Children, Beetlejuice, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage o..."

A few suggestions you might not have heard of are 'Celine and Julie Go Boating' (1974), 'Ugetsu' (1953), 'Beauty and the Beast' (1946), and 'Orpheus' (1949), both by Jean Cocteau, 'The Thief of Bagdad' (both 1924 and 1940 version), and 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' (1985), 'Stardust' (2007), 'Coraline' (2009), 'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' (1926), and 'Poltergeist' (1982), 'Jason and the Argonauts' (1963), 'Song of the Sea' (2014), 'Yellow Submarine' (1968), 'Spirit of the Beehive' (1973), and the 'Complete Short Films' of Jan Svankmajer.

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