Although the library doesn’t yet have a copy of Hellboy: The First 20 Years, a collection of art celebrating Mike Mignola’s comic creation, you can start placing your holds on Hellboy in Hell: The Descent, the first collection in Hellboy’s new story cycle, out this month from Dark Horse Comics.
So what has Hellboy been doing the past 20 years? How exactly did he wind up in hell? Why should you care?
If you’re only familiar with Hellboy through Guillermo del Toro’s two blockbuster movies, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, I should warn you that the comics are completely different–but each incarnation has its charms.
If you’d like to start at the beginning, I suggest reading the collected hardback library editions instead of the individual trade paperback volumes. Volume One might seem vaguely familiar if you’ve seen the Hellboy film, as it tells the red demon’s origin story and introduces most of the recurring characters in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, B.P.R.D. for short.
The main two differences between the movies and the comics is that there’s no love interest between Hellboy and Liz Sherman in the comics, and no civilians freak out when they see Hellboy or the other members of the B.P.R.D. People act totally normal when the big crimefighter shows up at the scene of a haunted house, supernatural carnage, or other strange happening. I prefer it this way–the freak trope is pretty over-used in comic books and Hollywood movies, and dispensing with it allows Mignola to get right down to the meat of the story.
After you read Hellboy’s first two hardback collections, you’ll want to pick up the first hardback volume of the spin-off series B.P.R.D., entitled Plague of Frogs 1 (see this website for a full reading order, and this page of the Hellboy Wiki for what material is collected in which volume). Fire-starter Liz Sherman, fish-man Abe Sapien, ecto-plasmic being Johann Krauss, homunculus Roger, and the other members of the BPRD make do without Hellboy and work toward solving the world’s growing frog problem. Although there’s lots of icky gore, funny hijinks, and paranormal investigative goodness, the best part of B.P.R.D. is the way the characters develop over the course of the series.
By now you’ve probably realized I’m not actually going to tell you how Hellboy winds up in hell. If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the series (there are only five hardback volumes–trust me, you’ll be itching for more when you close the cover on the last one). If you’re not sure you want to commit to 20 years worth of material, try one of the off-beat collections or shorter spin-off series, like Hellboy: Weird Tales, Abe Sapien, or Lobster Johnson–a series about a supremely bizarre crime fighter.