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Josh Reviews Hellboy

April 22nd, 2019
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Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is one of my very favorite comic book characters.  Over the past 25 years, the comic book universe surrounding this big red paranormal investigator has grown and deepened into a fantastically fun and complex epic-scale saga.  The various Hellboy-universe comic books continually top my list of my favorite comic book series each year, and I have written extensively about these amazing comics here on the site.  I loved the two Hellboy movies directed by Guillermo del Toro.  Neither is perfect, and while there are aspects of the comic-book series and the characters that they get exactly right, there are also many instances in which the movies are less a faithful adaptation of the comics and more a version of the comics filtered through Guillermo del Toro’s particular vision.  But a Guillermo del Toro version of Hellboy is a spectacular thing, and there are so many aspects of those two movies that are just so wonderful, in particular Ron Perlman’s absolute perfect embodiment of the title character.  The ending of the second film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, seemed to set the stage for a trilogy-capping third film, and it’s one of the great cinematic disappointments that this third film never materialized.  I was disappointed when I heard that they’d be rebooting the Hellboy film series, but I also saw potential in the idea of a more faithful adaptation of the comic book source material, and I thought the casting of Stranger Things David Harbour as Hellboy was a great idea.  So, how was the finished film?

It’s a disappointment, honestly.  There are a lot of interesting moments and ideas in the film, certain concepts and scenes that work great.  But for every moment that works, it feels like there are three that are huge missed opportunities, and I didn’t feel that the film came together into a coherent and enjoyable whole.

Hellboy feels, frankly, like a B-movie.  There are several reasons for this:

First, the film is overstuffed with over-the-top gore and violence that is cartoonishly silly.  When I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, I was completely unprepared for the intensity of the violence.  I wasn’t expecting so much blood and violence in a fantasy movie!  That intensity elevated the movie; it showed that this was a movie to be taken seriously, one with real dramatic heft.  But here, in Hellboy, the blood and gore feels to me like it makes the movie LESS serious.  The over-the-top crazy violence feels silly and juvenile to me, like a teenager’s idea of “yeah, cool!!” but not something to be taken seriously.

The entire film feels … [continued]

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Let’s begin with the upcoming movie that I am most excited to see (OK, after Endgame, I guess):

I am so excited to finally see What We Left Behind, a documentary looking back at my favorite of all the Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine!  I backed the kickstarter that funded this project, so I’ll be able to stream this soon.  But I couldn’t conceive of missing the documentary’s one night in theaters, courtesy of Shout! Studios and Fathom Events.  My tickets are purchased!  Will you be joining me…?

Next up: our first glimpse at the next Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:

That’s a great tease.  I am excited that a brand new Tarantino movie is only a few months away!

I don’t know what exactly to make of this first trailer for the Joker movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix:

On the one hand, I am always open for a movie that takes superhero/supervillain characters dead seriously, and this certainly looks like a well-made, bonkers piece of work.  So I’m intrigued.  On the other hand, it looks so horrific and joyless that it’s hard to muster too much enthusiasm.  Also, please name one movie that tried to turn a comic book villain into the main character, without the hero, that wasn’t absolutely terrible.  You can’t.  This feels like DC/Warner Brothers having absolutely no idea what to do with their stable of DC characters.  So I’m not sure what to think.

On a lighter note, here’s the first full trailer for Toy Story 4:

I loved Toy Story 3 so much; I felt it was the perfect final chapter for this series.  (Did it really come out almost a decade ago??)  So far all three Toy Story films have been great, and I have faith in the talented men and women at Pixar, so while I don’t feel the need for any more Toy Story films, I have no reason to doubt the quality of this coming fourth film.  This trailer shows a bit too much of the movie, but it suggests that there’s lots of new existential ground for this new film to cover.  I can’t wait.

Stranger Things season 3 is coming on July 4, 2019.  Here’s our first detailed trailer:

That looks like fun!  Some great imagery in that trailer.

For all you Parks and Rec fans out there, here is a report from the Paley Center’s 10th anniversary celebration of the show.  This sounds like it would have been amazing to have been at!

It looks like Amazon’s Dark Tower series might actually happen!  I adore these books, and I’m still bummed that the long-awaited film adaptation was so lame.  … [continued]

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The Ever-Expanding Universe of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy!

For over twenty years now, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics have been one of my very favorite comic book series.  This series has expanded from an occasionally-published series of mini-series and short stories to a vast universe of stories, with multiple interconnected stories chronicling over 100 years of the history of these characters and this universe.  This is my favorite currently-published comic book series!  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  (If you’re new to the Hellboy universe, you can dip your toes into the water with the Hellboy Omnibus vol. 01: Seed of Destruction, a relatively inexpensive lengthy collection of the first several Hellboy mini-series.)

A little while back I spent a long time re-reading the entire saga from the very beginning, and writing about it, and then last year I checked in with the saga again.  Here’s what’s been cooking in my favorite comic book universe in the months since then:

Hellboy: Krampusnacht (2017) — Extraordinary artist Adam Hughes illustrates this one-shot in which, well, Hellboy fights the Krampus.  It’s a fun little yarn, elevated by Mr. Hughes’ gorgeous imagery.  I particularly loved the “Christmas Memories” epilogue, especially that wistful shot of H.B. and Alice.  Here’s hoping there’s a possibility of a happy ending for those two somewhere down the line…

Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon (2017-18) — This delightful five-issue mini-series has Rasputin in the title, but it’s really about Trevor Buttenholm and how, in 1941, he transitioned from an office-bound academic to an in-the-field adventurer.  I love seeing more of Bruttenholm in his prime!  (Hellboy’s mentor and father-figure Bruttenholm was famously killed off in the very first Hellboy mini-series, Seed of Destruction, but in the years since we’ve thankfully gotten many stories exploring who Bruttenholm was.)  Even more delightfully, this story sees Bruttenholm crossing paths with A.N. Sandhu (from Rise of the Black Flame)!  It was great to see Sandhu again, though a bummer that he didn’t make it out of this story alive.  (In issue #3, when Sandhu recounts what he’s been up to since Rise of the Black Flame, I was excited to see he’d crossed paths with the were-yeti monks from 2009’s B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess!)  It was also nice to see Bruttenholm’s chum Harry Middleton (who recently popped up in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1955: Occult Intelligence) again (and a reference to their first brush with the supernatural as boys that led to the death of their friend Billy, as seen in Hellboy and B.P.R.D.: 1953).  I also smiled when Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones popped up to lead a seance.  (Lady Cynthia was first introduced way back in Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, but we never learned … [continued]

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Let’s start with this amazing creation:

Topher Grace and Jeff Yorkes wove together footage from every single Star Wars film so far to create a gorgeous, emotional five-minute tribute to the Star Wars saga.  I have watched this thing a LOT of times so far.  What an incredible expression of love for Star Wars, and what an impressive achievement of editing.  I love the way they juxtaposed moments from the different films in order to connect events and characters.  And I love that they even included snippets of deleted scenes from Episode III, A New Hope, and Return of the Jedi.  Most impressive!

The second trailer for Dark Phoenix recently appeared:

I’m not sure what to think.  X-Men: The Last Stand broke my heart because it bungled the Dark Phoenix storyline.  I’ve long hoped for a reboot.  But so far what we’ve seen of Dark Phoenix doesn’t look any more faithful to the original comics (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) than The Last Stand was.  For example, the trailer’s opening moment in which a tearful Jean asks “why did you make me do that?” implies that she’s not in control of her actions, which in my opinion is a complete misunderstanding of the Dark Phoenix story, which is about how ultimate power can corrupt even the most noble of souls.  (True, the later comic book stories that returned Jean to the Marvel Universe retconned the Dark Phoenix Saga to suggest that the Phoenix power wasn’t from within Jean, but was an alien entity that had bonded with her.  But even so, I still think it’s incorrect to depict Jean as being controlled by that entity.)  Also, from what we can see on this recently-released poster, Jean’s Dark Phoenix attire doesn’t look anything like her iconic look from the comics, but instead looks almost exactly like the sort of silly dark red jacked that Famke Janssen wore as Dark Phoenix in The Last Stand.  What a weird choice!  With the X-Men characters returning to MCU control following the Disney-Fox merger, Dark Phoenix feels like a “lame duck” movie, as I expect these characters and stories to soon be rebooted and incorporated into the MCU.  I still want Dark Phoenix to be amazing… but as of now I’m not expecting too much…

(And, actually, there is one other remaining Fox X-Men film — the much-delayed New Mutants.  Apparently the planned reshoots for that film still haven’t happened… will they ever…?)

We also recently got our second trailer for the rebooted Hellboy film:

As with Dark Phoenix, I’m not blown away by what we’ve seen of this film so far.  I desperately want this film to be great.  This second … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018 — Part Three!

Please click here for part one of my list of my Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018, and click here for part two.

5. Saga (by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) — This wild and crazy, funny and deeply moving sci-fi fantasy adventure continues to surprise and delight me at every turn and just seems to get better and more emotionally rich with each passing year.  Mr. Vaughan is a Joss Whedon-level master at creating characters that we fall in love with, and then putting them (and therefore the audience!) through torturous hell.  There’s no other comic book out there that is anything like Saga, with its roller-coaster-ride style of storytelling, merging an overwhelming amount of stunningly original ideas and concepts with deeply affecting character arcs.  Saga is funny and weird and terrifying and heartbreaking.  Fiona Staple’s gorgeous artwork never disappoints, and is evidence, panel-after-panel and page-after-page, that she is one of the very best illustrators working in this business.  This Saga only gets richer and more emotionally wrenching with every issue.  I adore it.  (And the back-of-the-book letters page is the best in comics today.)  (The best place to begin is with Saga Book One, available on Amazon.)

4. Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses (by David Lapham) — I have been a fan of Stray Bullets since I first picked up issue #1 of the original run back in 1995.  The series went away for almost a decade in the aughts, but miraculously returned in 2014 for a new run that has been just as compelling and heartbreaking as those original stories.  This series is the greatest comic book noir I have ever encountered, filled with hard-luck cases for whom life usually goes from bad to worse.  This latest run is theoretically a mini-series, subtitled Sunshine and Roses, but it’s been going on for over forty issues and doesn’t seem to show any sign of stopping.  Which is fine by me!  This latest story has looped back in time to depict the adventures of Orson, Beth, and Nina, on the run after stealing money and coke from a group of criminals.  We already know their fates from the early issues of Stray Bullets’ original run, and I wouldn’t have thought there was any more story to tell.  Boy was I wrong!  This is one of the most brilliant, idiosyncratic books out there.  I am so glad it has returned from the dead.  I will have a much longer post about Stray Bullets to share soon!  (Click here for a much longer post in which I sing the praises of Stray Bullets!)  (Dive into the sage with the first, and still probably the best, … [continued]

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Let’s start with the long-awaited look at the new Hellboy film:

There’s a lot to take in here.  I’m excited for this film, though not nearly as blown away by this first teaser as I’d hoped.  David Harbour’s Hellboy is quite different in look and personality from Ron Perlman’s near-perfect version and, well, it takes some getting used to.  There are moments in this trailer where Mr. Harbour inhabits HB to perfection — such as his delivery of “he’s an asshole” late in the trailer.  But other moments — like his first appearance in the trailer, gesticulating wildly and shouting “I’m on your side!” — that feel a little too over-the-top silly, and where the make-up and prosthetics didn’t look quite as convincing as I’d hoped.  The tone of the trailer isn’t gothic majesty, but hip, fast-paced humor.  That’s not necessarily a bad tone for a Hellboy story, just not quite what I’d expected.  I’m intrigued to see lots of glimpses of what look like story-points from the Darkness Calls saga from the comics (which I discussed at length here).  I caught shots of the “Wild Hunt,” and Nimue.  I grinned wildly when I saw Gruguach (the large pig-creature)!  The saga that stretched from Darkness Calls through The Fury in the comics was a high-point of the long-running Hellboy series, and this could make a cool movie.  I am hoping for a winner with this one…!

I’ve been a reader of Bill Hunt’s The Digital Bits website for about two decades, and I find Mr. Hunt to be one of if not the very best writers covering home entertainment, DVDs, blu-rays, etc.  Last week he published a pessimistic editorial declaring the beginning of the end for physical media.  It’s a great read, albeit a depressing one.  I wish I could disagree with any of Mr. Hunt’s points.  I am a collector, and I love physical media.  Many people ask me why I bother, in the age of streaming.  I love streaming, and I stream movies and TV shows all the time via Netflix, Amazon prime, Verizon Fios On Demand, etc.  But physical media has many advantages over streaming.  Here’s a great editorial by Mr. Hunt from a few months ago explaining why.  Here are the three reasons that are the most important to me:  1) Special features — I love in-depth special features, making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, etc.  It’s no coincidence that in recent years as streaming (which comes without those bells and whistles) has risen in popularity, the quality of great DVD/blu-ray special features has dramatically declined.  2) Higher quality and fewer interruptions — My wife and I have streamed a number of movies … [continued]

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Catching Up With Mike Mignola’s Hellboy!

For over twenty years now, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics have been one of my very favorite comic book series.  This series has expanded from an occasionally-published series of mini-series and short stories to a vast universe of stories, with multiple interconnected stories chronicling over 100 years of the history of these characters and this universe.  A little while back I spent a long time re-reading the entire saga from the very beginning, and writing about it.  Over the past year and a half, Mr. Mignola and his extraordinarily talented team of collaborators have continued to publish many new and wonderful stories…

B.P.R.D.: Rise of the Black Flame #5 (2016) — In my last post I wrote about this mini-series, but the final issue had not yet been released.  That last issue is a doozy, as we learn the true identity of the original Black Flame and witness his tragic origin.  It’s a heartbreaking twist to learn that this villain was once a noble man.  I was also delighted and surprised when we met Kamala again.  I love how the last page of the issue brings us full circle with this iteration of the Black Flame’s first appearance in Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 from 2012, with the Flame and Kamala on a boat headed for New York in 1932.  Brilliant.  (I’d love for a follow-up to further explore these characters.  Does anything of the original good man still exist within the Flame?  What does Kamala make of her role in all of this?  Is she a villain, or is there some conflict within her?)

Witchfinder: City of the Dead #5 (2016) — As with Rise of the Black Flame, when I wrote about Witchfinder: City of the Dead in my last Hellboy post, this last issue had not yet been released.  Issue #5 brings this story of Sir Edward Grey’s encounter with the vampire Giurescu (first introduced way way back in Hellboy: Wake the Devil from 1996) to a fine conclusion, once again gorgeously illustrated by Ben Stenbeck, whose work is absolutely perfect for these London-set Hellboy universe stories.  I was left unclear by this issue whether Sir Edward Grey’s victory over Giurescu here meant the end of the vampire plot that we’ve been reading about for years.  We see one panel of Grey’s men digging up some of the vampires buried around London, but have they really found all of the vampires that have been hidden by Giurescu over the years?  If this is truly the end of this storyline, then on the one hand I am happy to see it reach a conclusion, but on the other hand it felt a bit too easy.  We’ll … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XIX: For Whom The Bell Tolls

December 28th, 2016
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And so, at last, we come to the end of my epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga!

Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.  Click here for part fifteen, in which I discuss new adventures of Sledgehammer 44, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, and Abe Sapien, as well as the epic B.P.R.D.story-line The Reign of the Black Flame.  Click here for part sixteen, in which I discuss Abe Sapien: Sacred Places and A Darkness So Great, B.P.R.D. Flesh and Stone, and the first Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series. Click here for part seventeen, in which I discuss Frankenstein: Underground and a variety of Abe Sapien and B.P.R.D. adventures.  Click here [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XVIII: End of Days

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.  Click here for part fifteen, in which I discuss new adventures of Sledgehammer 44, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, and Abe Sapien, as well as the epic B.P.R.D.story-line The Reign of the Black Flame.  Click here for part sixteen, in which I discuss Abe Sapien: Sacred Places and A Darkness So Great, B.P.R.D. Flesh and Stone, and the first Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series. Click here for part seventeen, in which I discuss Frankenstein: Underground and a variety of Abe Sapien and B.P.R.D. adventures.

BPRD137.cropped

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #135-139: End [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XVII: Frankenstein Underground

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning is in its home stretch!

Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.  Click here for part fifteen, in which I discuss new adventures of Sledgehammer 44, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, and Abe Sapien, as well as the epic B.P.R.D. story-line The Reign of the Black Flame.  Click here for part sixteen, in which I discuss Abe Sapien: Sacred Places and A Darkness So Great, B.P.R.D. Flesh and Stone, and the first Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series.

FRANKENSTEIN-UNDERGROUND.cropped

With this post, I’ve finally almost caught up with the Hellboy saga!  Onward…

Frankenstein Underground (2015) — This fantastic mini-series, gorgeously illustrated by Ben … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XVI: A Darkness So Great

September 2nd, 2016
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My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.  Click here for part fifteen, in which I discuss new adventures of Sledgehammer 44, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, and Abe Sapien, as well as the epic B.P.R.D. story-line The Reign of the Black Flame.

Hellboy and the BPRD 1952.cropped

When I began this re-reading project and decided to write about it, I never dreamed it would result in this sixteen-part epic blog series.  I have never written about a comic-book series in as much depth.  But I’ve hugely enjoyed the process of keeping this on-line journal throughout my re-reading process.  I hope you’ve enjoyed coming with me … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XV: The Reign of the Black Flame!

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning has entered the home stretch!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.

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We’re getting close to the end of this Hellboy Re-Reading Project blog post!!  It’s exciting to be so close to the end of this massive re-read.  Onward!

Abe Sapien #6-7: The Shape of Things to Come (2013) — Abe heads to Arizona and meets a spirited woman, … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy re-Reading Project Part XIV: Lake of Fire

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning is finally nearing its conclusion!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.

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It’s exciting to be so close to the end of this massive re-read project.  Onward!

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #105-106: A Cold Day in Hell (2013) — This two-issue story brings a welcome focus onto Iosif and his relationship with Varvara.  The first page of issue #105 spells out the horror happening world-wide: monsters and upheaval and death.  Our heroes have proven to be woefully inadequate at stopping any of this.  Is this truly the end … [continued]

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The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XIII: The Return of the Master and Hellboy in Hell!

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.

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Wow, we are nearing the home stretch of our journey through Hellboy’s twenty-year publication history!  But with the exciting expansion of the Hellboy universe over the past few years, we still have a lot of great stories to discuss.  Onward!

Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu (2012) — The Lobster confronts an Egyptian priestess trying to harness the spirits of the four dead high priests of Anubis as we get to enjoy a story first hinted at all the way back in 2007’s The Iron Prometheus #2.  It’s great to finally get to see the full story!  This one-shot features gorgeous art from Wilfredo Torres.… [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XII: Hell on Earth!

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.

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Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever (2011) — Although the premise of Sir Edward Grey in America should be a hoot, I don’t much care for this follow-up to the far-superior first Edward Grey mini-series, In the Service of Angels.  Sir Edward seems almost out of character here, floundering and in over his head for almost the entire time.  This doesn’t feel to me much like the more confident Sir Edward we had met before.  And while it is terrific to see comic book great John Severin illustrating these pages — and boy is his work great — it felt to me like the wrong fit for a Witchfinder story.  I missed Ben Stenbeck’s smooth, crisp line.  I did enjoy the flashback sequence in … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XI: The Storm and The Fury!

February 12th, 2016
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My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line.

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Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain (2010) — This is a lovely, melancholy story about a Russian soldier trapped at the bottom of the ocean since 1948.  The undead Iosif’s story seems complete in this two-parter — I never dreamed that we’d see him again, but he’s gone on to become such an important character!  Very cool.  (By the way, I very much suspect that my initial suspicions from this re-read are correct, and that the Iosif glimpsed in B.P.R.D.: 1946 is the same Iosif who is given this unfortunate suicide mission by Varvara in 1948.  Also, it’s interesting to see Iosif meet Varvara here, as their relationship will soon entirely change!)  As an aside, I wonder who this guy Vasily is?  He’s sent from the Special Sciences department after the burgonet — this feels like the introduction of a significant character, but I … [continued]

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The Top Fifteen Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part Two

And so we come to it at last, my final Best of 2015 list!

A few days ago I began listing my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2015, listing numbers fifteen through six.

Here now are my Top Five:

5. Velvet (by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting) — What if Moneypenny was actually a former double-oh agent, now assigned to a desk at HQ but forced back into the field by a terrible betrayal?  That’s the brilliant hook of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting’s phenomenal spy yarn Velvet.  The year is 1973, and Velvet Templeton has been, for eighteen years, the secretary and right-hand woman for the Director of Arc-7, a super-secret British organization of spies.  When their best agent (think James Bond) is murdered on assignment, Velvet finds herself framed for the deed and on the run from everyone she once trusted.  Velvet is a rich conspiracy thriller and a loving homage to the mystique of sixties-era James Bond adventures  Mr. Brubaker’s twisty story constantly has me guessing, trying to put the pieces together (just like Velvet herself is doing).  Mr. Epting’s art, meanwhile, is jaw-droppingly astounding, filled with incredible period detail.  I don’t know how he does it.  I love this book and, as I wrote last year, I desperately need it to come out more frequently.

4. James Bond (by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters) — One of the few 2015 comic book series that was better than Brubaker & Epting’s Bond-inspired saga is Warren Ellis and Jason Masters’ take on the actual double-oh-seven himself!  I’d never have expected to see the phenomenally talented Warren Ellis writing a licensed comic book series, but it’s a match made in heaven.  This James Bond series doesn’t feel like any other licensed comic book series that I have ever read.  This comic is brutal, take-no-prisoners story-telling.  I love Mr. Ellis’ depiction of Bond as a merciless “blunt instrument” of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  And Jason Masters’ art is extraordinary, with clean crisp lines that nevertheless manage to incorporate a staggering amount of detail into every panel.  It’s perfect for this series.  I love this team continues chronicling the adventures of James Bond 007 for many more years to come.

3. The Fade Out (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — The latest collaboration between Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips, the best team in comics, is a riveting whodunnit set in Hollywood of the nineteen-forties.  Hollywood screenwriter and drunk Charlie Parrish wakes up one morning to find himself in a room with the dead body of  young starlet Valeria Sommers.  As the story unfolds, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an ugly story whose tendrils stretch … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part X: The Black Goddess & The King of Fear

November 18th, 2015
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My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.!

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I was completely unaware when reading B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs that an epic story was beginning, one that would position the B.P.R.D. book as the center of the Hellboy universe and that would wind up rocking that universe to the core.  Things come to a head in the “Scorched Earth” trio of mini-series that I will discuss today (along with a few other stories): The Warning, The Black Goddess, and The King of Fear.  Onward!

B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man (2008) — This one-shot gives us a glimpse into the origin of Johann Kraus, and what happened to him immediately following the death of his physical form in 2002.  I wish we’d learned more about the Chengdou disaster in China that wiped out so many psychics, thus setting Johann’s story in motion.

B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #1 (2008) — This was the first of a series of one-shots that told short stories set a few years prior to the current B.P.R.D. books, in the early days of their War on the Frogs.  In this one we see Roger hunting down the two surviving Cavendish brothers, who were transformed into frog-men back in Seed of Destruction.  It’s nice to see that dangling plot thread wrapped up, but there’s not much to this story.  Feels like this would have been an awesome … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part IX: The Iron Prometheus & Others!

Over the last several months I have undertaken an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.

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Following Darkness Calls, we got three mini-series that explored supporting characters in the Hellboy universe: Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus, B.P.R.D.: 1946, and Abe Sapien: The Drowning.   These mini-series might have been disposable, but to my delight each wound up being hugely important in the larger Hellboy epic.  I will discuss each of them (and a few other stories!) below!

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus (2007) — I didn’t think too much of The Iron Prometheus when I read it the first time back in 2007.  It seemed like a fun but ultimately irrelevant adventure of the pulp vigilante (who had been such a fascinatingly mysterious part of Wake the Devil and who had just recently re-emerged, in spirit-form, in B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground).  But over the years I have grown to understand what a HUGELY IMPORTANT story Iron Prometheus is.  It’s one of the most important Hellboy universe stories ever published.  We get so many incredible pieces of the puzzle here in this adventure!!!

The series opens with Jim Sacks, who is carrying a prototype Vril energy suit.  We saw photos of this in the scrapbooks that Johann found back in B.P.R.D. The Dead #3 and B.P.R.D.: Garden of [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part VIII: Darkness Calls

I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discuss the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discuss on the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.

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The Troll Witch and Others (2007) — The seventh Hellboy trade paperback collection, called The Troll Witch and Others, collects Makoma (which I reviewed in part 7 of my re-read) along with several other great short stories, all of which I had missed when they were originally published.  (Most of them appeared in Dark Horse’s various Book Of… short story collections.)  The Penanggalan has a spooky supernatural villain with an awesome name.  The Hydra and the Lion, which tells the story of a creature who might be the real Hercules, has what is possibly the single greatest line I have ever read in a comic book: “You think the little girl was the ghost of his pants?”  The Troll Witch is a very sweet, very sad story, my favorite of the collection.  It’s unusual in that Hellboy doesn’t fight anyone and winds up letting the creature he encounters live.  The Vampire of Prague is illustrated by comics master P. Craig Russell but it doesn’t work for me.  I wasn’t that interested in the story and felt Mr. Russell’s artwork was too light and bubbly for Hellboy.  (Though the story is notable in that it will be referred back to several years down the line in Hellboy in Hell.)  Dr. Karp’s Experiment is my second favorite story … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part VII: The Black Flame

I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discuss the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.

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B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame (2005) — If there was any doubt in my mind that these B.P.R.D. stories were now the centerpiece of the Hellboy universe, that was swept aside by the phenomenal mini-series The Black Flame, which saw the introduction of an important new villain (the titular Black Flame), a horrifying expansion of the threat facing the B.P.R.D., and the devastating death of a major character.

The story opens with the B.P.R.D. in full combat mode, engaged in vicious fights all over the United States, trying to stop the spread of the frog-creatures but daunted by the new nests popping up everywhere.  The conflict with the frogs has turned into a WAR.  The B.P.R.D. agents are no longer bookish academics, they are soldiers.  The fight with the frogs in issue #1 is brutal.  I love the development of Roger’s relationship with Captain Daimio and Roger’s mimicking of Daimio.  It’s such an interesting progression for the sweet Roger.  I love that Zinco finally re-enters the main story, after having been mostly on the sidelines since way back in Wake the Devil a decade earlier.  Issue #2 of this series introduces the new Zinco head, Landis Pope, and his assistant Marsten, both of whom will remain major players in the Hellboy universe for quite a while.

The introduction of The Black Flame is (as I have discovered in this re-read) classic Mignola, once again giving us the end of the story before the beginning.  The … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part VI: The Island

I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.

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Hellboy: The Island (2005) — Following the two-issue Hellboy mini-series The Third Wish in 2002, it was a long, long, long wait for a follow-up.  Finally, the two-issue The Island arrived in 2005.  This was a tough period for Hellboy fans, with the newly-launched B.P.R.D. mini-series having not yet caught fire (at least, not yet with me), and with such an unprecedentedly lengthy stretch between Hellboy issues.  More frustratingly at the time, The Island was just another short, two-issue story, and it continued with the new, more obscure and slowly-paced style that seemed to have begun with The Third Wish.

The first issue of The Island seems almost like a haiku version of a Hellboy story. It feels extremely experimental, filled with repeated phrases (that seem to have great significance but whose meaning was, at the time, unclear) and abstract imagery.  Both Mr. Mignola’s drawing style and his prose have been simplified to the point of extreme.  At the time, I didn’t know what to make of it.  THIS is what we waited over two years for??  What the heck is going on??!!

Back in 2005 it was frustrating, but over the years I have grown to recognize the genius on display in these issues.  The Island achieves true poetry in its simplicity, and Mr. Mignola’s artwork has never been more haunting and mysterious and beautiful.

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Interestingly, this series continues with Mr. Mignola’s approach of aging his characters along with the comic’s publication history.  As such, an editorial note acknowledges that Hellboy has been hanging out at the bottom of the ocean (where he was left in the cliffhanger ending … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part V: Plague of Frogs

I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.

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At the end of Conquerer Worm, Hellboy left the B.P.R.D. and then, in the two-issue The Third Wish, H.B. got himself into a lot of trouble at the bottom of the ocean.  We left him floating, alone in the dark waters; a heck of a cliffhanger.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it’d wind up being a while before we returned to Hellboy’s story.

Meanwhile, with Hellboy departed from the B.P.R.D., it became clear that Mike Mignola was interested in expanding the scope of his stories to move beyond focusing only on the big red guy.  Following up on B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth, 2003 saw the release of four B.P.R.D. one-shots, written and illustrated by a variety of individuals.   These were: The Soul of Venice, Dark Waters, Night Train, and There’s Something Under My Bed.  Mike Mignola wasn’t credited as the writer of any of them, and (as a result) none of them are all that interesting.

This was not a good start to the idea of an expanded Hellboy universe.  It just felt like a lame dilution of the series, with lesser artists and lesser writers.  Re-reading it now, Night Train doesn’t even feel like it should be considered in continuity.  Shouldn’t Lobster Johnson be abroad, getting himself killed, in 1939?  Dark Waters is notable because it’s the first Hellboy-universe work of artist Guy Davis, who will soon become the main B.P.R.D. artist.  But other than that, these one-shots are forgettable (and the last one, There’s Something Under My Bed, is almost unreadable).  I was extremely unenthused by these early attempts to expand the Hellboy universe, and I was disappointed by the increasingly slow pace of new Mignola written-and-drawn Hellboy stories.  This was a low point for me as a Hellboy fan.  Which brings us up to … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part IV: The Conquerer Worm

I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.

Onward!

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Conquerer Worm (2001) — Back in 1939, the vigilante adventurer Lobster Johnson was killed while destroying a key installation of the Nazi space program in Austria.  But now, sixty-one years later, a capsule the Nazis shot into space returns to Earth, with a very dangerous passenger.

Conquerer Worm could be my very favorite Hellboy mini-series.  I just love it.  It’s got all the now-classic Hellboy elements: Nazis, crazy creatures/monsters, and a World War II back-story.  But this mini-series also feels like a huge leap forward for Mr. Mignola and the series.  It is short, only four issues, but holy cow is each issue jam-packed with all sorts of wonderful, original, truly unique weirdness.

The series opens with the death of Lobster Johnson in 1939.  I have now realized this has become something of a delightful trait of Mr. Mignola’s Hellboy stories — starting with the end of a character and then, over the years, going back to slowly flesh out that individual’s character and history.  (Just like Mr. Mignola did with Professor Bruttenholm and, later, Sir Edward Grey!)  It’s a fascinating story-telling device, and it makes a re-reading project like this phenomenal fun as I work my way through these stories and discover all sorts of connections.  Dr. Manning’s briefing about Lobster Johnson in issue #1 is short but wonderfully dense with details, and over the years as the Lobster Johnson story has progressed, I have often returned to these pages to try to parse whatever secrets and details I could find.  (I love Manning’s comment about “weirder stuff,” while we see a panel of the Lobster fighting a living brain.  It’s funny, for years I thought that was just a one-off joke; I had totally forgotten, until this re-read, that we actually saw that specific Lobster Johnson adventure back in Box Full of Evil!)

Von Klempt and his monkeys appear!  I love this crazy villain, it’s … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part III: The Right Hand of Doom

December 19th, 2014
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I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part 1, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part 2, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.

Onward!

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Almost Colossus (1997) — This two-issue mini-series serves as something of an epilogue for Wake the Devil, exploring what happened to Liz and Roger the Homonculus following their fateful encounter in Wake the Devil #3.  Liz has been left alive but apparently sapped of her very life-force, leaving her as little more than a shell that is wasting away towards death.  Meanwhile, Roger is loose in Romania, where he eventually finds a fellow Homonculus with a terrible plan, forcing him to choose whether he is a monster or a man.

Roger is a great character, an innocent heart in a monster’s body, and I can see why he caught on.  I wasn’t sure where his story would go after he was introduced in Wake the Devil, but I was pleased, when I originally read this, to see that he was getting this two-issue story to focus on him.  But, at the end of this mini-series, I never expected to see the character again.  Who knew??

A Christmas Underground (from The Hellboy Christmas Special, 1997) — These days I am not so interested in the other stories in this collection, by other creators, but it opens with a humdinger of a Hellboy tale written & drawn by Mr. Mignola.  This is a classic Hellboy short story, whimsical with a touch of sadness.  The “happy ending” in which the kidnapped daughter is “saved” doesn’t wind up meaning that she is returned to life, once again pure and innocent, just that she is dead and her spirit free.  Often in the Hellboy world that’s the best you can hope for.  This short story is also chock full of wonderfully weird creatures and Hellboy hitting a lot of things.  What more could I ask for?

Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead (1998) — We can see in this one-shot the desire of Mr. Mignola (and perhaps, the team at Dark Horse Comics) to expand the Hellboy universe, but there were only so many comics that Mr. Mignola could write and draw himself.  Thus we get this one-shot, written … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part II: Wake The Devil

November 19th, 2014
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I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part 1, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.

Onward!

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The Wolves of Saint August (1995 — originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents #88-91) — One of Hellboy’s old friends, Father Edward Kelly, gets himself killed in a small village in the Balkans.  Hellboy comes to investigate and winds up in a bare-knuckle brawl with a very long-lived werewolf.  This is a dynamite short-story. I love the big epic Hellboy stories, but I also love the shorter stand-alones, in which Hellboy must face-off against some sort of occult phenomena.  It’s delightful fun watching Mike Mignola filter all sorts of mythological stories from all over the world through his particular lens, and this early werewolf story is no exception.  I like that this story also spotlights Kate Corrigan, fleshing her out a bit and developing her friendship with Hellboy.  She has a different type of bond with H.B. than he has with his fellow field-agents like Abe and Liz.  It’s nice.  Kate is a phenomenal character.  It’s great getting to see a middle-aged woman who is smart and fun and brave.  As for poor doomed Father Kelly, he is the first but by no means the last of Hellboy’s old friends who get themselves nice and dead.  (Actually, I guess Professor Bruttenholm really counts as the first!!)

The Chained Coffin (1995 — originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents #100 Part 2) — Holy cow I had forgotten all about this short story, I don’t think I’d ever re-read it since it originally came out.  How could I have forgotten about this crazy story in which Hellboy returns to the site of his birth/first appearance on Earth and sees a vision of his demon father and the human woman who was his mother??  Turns out Hellboy’s mom was a witch who repented her ways before her death.  But her children chaining up her corpse in its coffin (hence the story’s title) didn’t prevent that big bad demon from coming to find her.  This is a really crazy-weird tale, and it’s unclear if Hellboy’s mom is/was really in love with that demon or if this should be viewed as a forceful abduction.  Is Hellboy the child of a rape?  That is dark.  The demon impales the witch-woman’s spirit on a hook at … [continued]

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The Force Awakens and News Around the Net!

So the new Star Wars film is going to be called The Force Awakens?  Sigh.  Someday I would love to be really EXCITED by the announcement of a new Star Wars title.  While The Force Awakens is certainly a better title than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, it seems very nondescript and bland.  It also seems to imply that somehow the Force has been asleep or not present during the events of the previous six films, which puzzles me.  What’s most interesting is that this new film is no longer being referred to as Episode VII.  I am all for dropping the numbers — I prefer subtitles over numbered sequels, and at a certain point the high sequel numbers just get silly.  But it means the new “main” trilogy won’t be distinguished from the spin-off films that are also being worked on.  That is likely Disney’s intent, as they wouldn’t want those spin-off films to be seen as any less important than the “main” films.  (Though I suppose it’s also very possible that the film will still be identified as Episode VII in its opening crawl.  We should remember that, for the Original Trilogy, the episode numbers weren’t really used in the advertising of the films, including their logo designs and posters.  They were only identified as Episode IV, Episode V, and Episode VI in their opening crawls.  It was only with the prequels that the episode number became so prominently incorporated into the titles and logo designs of the films.  Hmmm.  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out with Episode VII.  I do very much like the idea that J.J. Abrams and his team are returning to the approach used by the Original Trilogy when it comes to the episode numbers.)

Speaking of Star Wars, this is fun: five minor actors from the original Star Wars trilogy who you didn’t realize were in everything you liked.

Who doesn’t love spending a little time reading about The Shawshank Redemption?

I wasn’t at all interested in NBC’s live telecasts of Peter Pan or The Sound of Music.  But A Few Good Men?  I’m in!!  Boy I hope this happens, and with a great cast.  You want me on that wall.  You NEED me on that wall!!

This is cool: as an alternative to the hideously ugly U.S.S. Enterprise re-design from J.J. Abrams’ films, here is a very cool looking, fan-designed, souped-up version of the Big-E that hews very closely to the ship’s original design from the Original Series.  Matt Jefferies’ design from the sixties ain’t broken, friends.

This is a great, fun interview clip with Benedict Cumberbatch.  Behold his perfect Jar Jar … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part I: Seed of Destruction

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I was a fan of Mike Mignola’s Marvel and DC work when, in 1994, he launched a new creator-owned comic for Dark Horse Comics with the four-issue mini-series Hellboy: Seed of Destruction.  I’m not sure what drove me to pick up that first issue.  Likely it was my previous enjoyment of Mr. Mignola’s mainstream super-hero work.  It probably also didn’t hurt that Hellboy’s actual first appearance wasn’t in Seed of Destruction #1, but in a cameo in John Byrne’s Next Men #21.  I was a monstrous fan of Mr. Byrne’s magnificent Next Men series, and that might have been what sealed the deal for me with regards to Hellboy.

I enjoyed the first mini-series, and eagerly followed Hellboy for many years that followed.  Mr. Mignola released about one mini-series a year, plus a variety of short stories and a few spin-offs.  After about a decade, Mr. Mignola’s productivity began to decrease (at least in terms of actual comic books published — he was still involved in a variety of projects) and new Hellboy stories became fewer and father between.  Around 2004 was an important turning point for the series.  Mr. Mignola brought in a small group of writers and artists to assist with some spin-off titles, most notably a series of B.P.R.D. mini-series (exploring the supporting cast at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and, eventually, to draw the main Hellboy mini-series.  At first I was extremely worried, and not at all eager to see these other writers and artists dilute the quality of the Hellboy stories.  But something magical happened.  Bringing in these talented collaborators allowed Hellboy to flourish, and what had been a sporadic series of mini-series grew to become a whole line of books (albeit one that, thank goodness, has remained small and tightly-knit, avoiding the common mistake that comic-book companies and creators make of overexposing their characters and diluting what had once been a special, unique product).

Today, twenty years into the Hellboy saga, there are often two-to-four Hellboy-related books published every month, and they are all amazing.  Over the years, Mr. Mignola and his team have published a wealth of mini-series focusing on many different characters and corners of the Hellboy universe.  Mr. Mignola and his collaborators have created an extraordinary fantasy universe, and because we don’t have to wait for Mr. Mignola too write and draw every single thing himself, we’ve been treated to lots of different stories that have explored numerous facets of this universe and its characters, their past and present.  Mr. Mignola has kept a very close handle on things and has been centrally involved with all of the new comics, giving the many different mini-series an impressively cohesive … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011 — Part Two!

Welcome back to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011!  Click here for part one.  (And click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.)

5.  Moon Knight I really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev, and their relaunch of Moon Knight has been pretty terrific so far.  I love the new conceit that the slightly unhinged Marc Spector is now hearing the voices of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in his head.  The result is some great comedy as the three super-heroes banter back and forth in Moon Knight’s head.  (Comic banter is a Bendis specialty!)  Seeing Echo back in a lead role is just icing on the cake.  I never thought Moon Knight could be at all interesting, but I guess the character was just the right sort of tabula rasa for an exciting reinvention.  I hope this is the start of a long run for Mr. Bendis and Mr. Maleev on the character.

4.  RASL I wish Jeff Smith’s sci-fi opus would come out a little more frequently, but I can’t really fault creator/writer/artist/self-publisher Smith, seeing as how he’s pretty much doing everything himself on this comic.  It’s just that the series is so good!  I want more!!  This adventure/love story is just grounded enough in real scientific theories to anchor all of the fun flights of fancy involving parallel universes, lizard-men, and weird-looking little girls.  Jeff Smith’s art is perfection — with a cartoony stylization that is endearing, but also an extraordinary amount of detail to give all of the settings and characters a distinct, “real world” feel.  It feels like things are really starting to come together with the story, which is very exciting.  The wait between issues is BRUTAL!!  If you’re a comic book fan but you’re not reading this self-published gem, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.

3.  Criminal: The Last of the Innocent The work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do together just keeps getting better and better and better.  I love all of their projects, but the crime-comic Criminal has always been my favorite, and The Last of the Innocent might be the very best installment since the first story-line, “Coward.”  In this dark tale, we meet young man Riley Richards, who is married to a beautiful, wealthy woman.  But he’s tremendously unhappy, and when he returns home and reconnects with his old goof-ball friend and the blonde girl-next-door he used to have a crush on, he realizes that he just might have chosen the wrong girl.  … [continued]

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Oh Crap! The Continuing Adventures of Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense

October 27th, 2008
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Since the big red guy first appeared in John Byrne’s Next Men #21 back in 1993 (and I am proud to say that I read that issue when it came out!), I have been hooked on Hellboy.  The creation of writer-artist Mike Mignola, Hellboy is, on its simplest level, about a monster who keeps the world safe from all the other monsters.  But there’s so much more to it than that!  To borrow some text from the back of the recent Hellboy Companion, “since 1994, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has been one of the most evocative comics on the stands, slowly revealing a bizarre world of Victorian occult societies, prehistoric gods, arcane Nazi experiments, and layer upon layer of enigmas.”  Yeah!  Beautifully illustrated, very literate and a heck of a lot of fun, Mignola’s various Hellboy limited series that have been released over the years are some of the best American comic books out there.

For those of you who may have discovered Hellboy through Guillermo del Toro’s two recent films, there are so many great comics out there for you to enjoy.  Seed of Destruction is the first miniseries, and while one can see that Mignola is still feeling things out, this is a great introduction to the world of Hellboy.  The first movie drew a lot of its inspiration from this tale.  But Hellboy really starts to become the Hellboy that I know and love in the next bunch of (superior) stories.  First there’s Wake the Devil, in which a murder in a wax museum leads Hellboy to vampires, Nazis, and possibly the end of the world.  Then there’s The Right Hand of Doom, which is probably my favorite Hellboy collection.  This volume actually contains a ton of terrific short stories (most notably the classic “Pancakes,” about young Hellboy in 1947 eating breakfast), and two tales that are absolutely to the Hellboy saga: “The Right hand of Doom” and “Box Full of Evil,” both of which shed a lot of light on questions of Hellboy’s origin and ultimate destiny (storylines also hinted at in del Toro’s two movies — in particular the scene with the Angel of Death in Hellboy 2).  All that back-story rushes front and center in The Conquerer Worm, which to me is one of Mignola’s masterpieces.  A remnant from the Nazi space program causes trouble in present day, as a space capsule launched back in 1939, containing something very, very bad, makes its return to Earth.  This series also introduces one of the great characters in the Hellboy world, the enigmatic World War II hero Lobster Johnson, whose full story remains untold (although we’ve gotten a LOT more information lately).… [continued]

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Golden Sequel

July 15th, 2008
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I always like my super-hero/fantasy flicks to have a touch of melancholy. (Probably why I enjoy Superman Returns so much, as I’ve written about previously on this site.) One of the things I really appreciated about the Lord of the Rings movies, and the original books, was that touch of sadness in how, even in victory, magic was slowly leaving the world.

That’s a theme explored, also to great effect, in Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. The idea of a monster who hunts down and kills other monsters is a not just a great “hook” — it’s also a notion with a great deal of inherent drama and conflict for the story-teller interested in exploring that. Thankfully, director Guillermo del Toro certainly is.

Hellboy 2 tells the story of the fairy-tail Prince Nuada, furious at the way all of the magical creatures have lost their stewardship of the world to mankind, and our pollution and our strip malls and our parking lots. As in the best of adventure tails, this villain isn’t a bwa-ha-ha moustache-twirling bad-guy — he’s a compelling character with a legitimate point of view. This captures the audience’s interest in the story, and also provokes some tough “am I really on the right side?” questions for our hero Hellboy.

As in the first film, the title character is magnificently embodied by Ron Perlman. I really have never seen a comic book character so perfectly captured on the screen as Perlman’s Hellboy. His big red demon-punching, cigar-chomping, cat-loving paranormal investigator is truly a unique creation. Mike Mignola, the creator and writer-illustrator of the Hellboy comics gets a huge amount of credit for that, but it is Perlman who brings the lovable guy to big-screen life.

What else is good about the movie? The fish-man Abe Sapien gets a lot more screen-time than in the first flick, which is great. Selma Blair is terrific as the pyroteknic Liz Sherman — tough and extremely adorable. One of the mainstays of the comic who was absent from the first flick, the gaseous medium Johann Krauss, is introduced here. Of all the characters, his is the most changed from his comic-book counterpart — or, at least, the way I always pictured the character. He’s a lot more aggressive and by-the-book here (in contrast to the impulsive Hellboy). But, despite those changes, I really loved the character in the film. The “clickety-clack” constant motion of his costume (a sort of hazmat-looking containment suit for his ghostly form) really brings the character to life, as does the bizarre voice given him by Seth MacFarlane (whose vocal stylings you might recognize from almost every character on Family Guy).

And the creature effects — WOW. … [continued]

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With Great Power…

I love comic books. And that means that I grew up with a great love of super-hero stories. These days its true that many of my favorite comic books have little to do with super-heroes (looking through my “to-read” pile I see titles like David Lapham’s Young Liars, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower adaptation, Jeff Smith’s new boot RASL, Mike Mignola’s BPRD and Abe Sapien, Ed Brubaker’s Criminal, Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, to name just a few.) But there is still something about a great super-hero yarn that really excites me. (For instance, I’ve been reading and throughly enjoying Ed Brubaker’s run on Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis’ work on Avengers and Secret Invasion, and Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men.)

That love of a good super-hero tale extends to movies. While working on these new Iron Man cartoons, and thinking about the movies still ahead this summer (Hellboy II, The Dark Knight, and The Incredible Hulk), I’ve been thinking about what makes a great super-hero movie.

Here are my five favorite super-hero movies of all time:

5. Unbreakable — Back when I loved M. Night Shyamalan, he made this fantastic little tale about a man (Bruce Willis) who discovers that he cannot be injured. There are no costumes, no witticisms, none of the silly trappings that have come to be associated with super-heroes and super-hero movies. Just a compelling story with some terrific under-played acting from a great cast (Bruce Willis has never been better than he is here as the sad, empty man who discovers that he is different), and some really interesting scene composition, shot set-ups, and editing choices from director Shyamalan.

4. Hellboy — Adapted from a series of mini-series written and gorgeously illustrated by Mike Mignola, Hellboy follows the adventures of a paranormal investigator who is actually a demon from Hell himself. Who loves pancakes. The comic is a wonderfully bizarre, textured mix of fairy tales, folklore and some good old-fashioned monster-fighting action. The film, directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, and the man tapped to direct the upcoming two films based on The Hobbit) is a remarkable realization of Mignola’s comic. The splendid, consistently under-rated Ron Perlman is brilliant as Hellboy, bringing enormous depth and warmth to the character despite all the red rubber makeup.

3. Spider-Man 2 — Like Hellboy, Spider-Man 2 is another film whose greatest strength is the way it is able to distill the essence of a beloved (albeit much more widely-known) comic book character into a compelling film all its own. Tobey Maguire was born to play the stiff, dorky Peter Parker who one day discovers that with great power comes great responsibility. … [continued]