Thursday, October 17, 2013

30 Days of Halloween - Day 16: Say Hello to Hellboy

I bet there are some epic costumes based on this guy at Halloween.  I first encountered Hellboy through the 2004 film.  I was ignorant of the graphic novel series.  I went and saw the movie because Ron Perlman's wisecracking one-liners in the previews tickled me and it just looked like a reasonably good monstrous time.  I went with low expectations and they were far exceeded.  I was surprised by how much the movie made me laugh and also with how Lovecraftian the monsters were.  The very simple theme of good monsters fighting bad monsters was totally enough to rope me in, but there were deeper and strongly theological strains as well:  hell, satan, freewill, sacrifice, and redemption.

After that I sought out the comics, saw the sequel (just as good as the first and in some respects better - though perhaps lighter on the theology) and two excellent animated follow-ups (with the same great actors for voices).  The graphic novels are in most respects even better than the films.  The darkly beautiful artwork and storytelling together showcase a very original vision from creator Mike Mignola.  He fuses together a host of blatant influences in a very pleasing way:  there's Lovecraftian cosmic horror and Chthulhu-like 'Old Ones'; usual suspects like witches and werewolves and ghosts; a constant sampling from global folklore for more exotic horrors like Japanese fanged floating heads, Irish goblins, Slavic monster-hags, and so on.  He also draws from ancient mythologies with appearances from the Greek goddess Hecate and the Egyptian god Anubis among others; and there are frog-men, ape-men, lizard-men, demons aplenty and, of course, the Devil (big D) himself.  The eras drawn on range from Victorian to World War II and onward, often giving the tales a steampunk vibe.  All of this is usually told in a hardboiled noir voice and laced with Hellboy's downbeat humour.
But Christian theology (Mignola grew up Catholic, I believe) is the main thread that ties all these together and develops the long-haul story arc.  Hellboy himself is a literal son of Satan, a demon who has chosen to rebel against that diabolical origin and side with the humans, always defying his Father Below, even at great personal cost.  He does so as part of a team of grotesque misfits who have also decided to use their monstrosity for good instead of evil.  Their loyalty and compassion for one another is often poignant.
The human 'father' who adopted him, Professor Broom, is a Catholic paranormal investigator and Hellboy seems to have adopted his adoptive father's faith (Hellboy always sports a rosary and shoots bullets filled with holy water).  I don't think Mignola professes to be a Christian, but it's fascinating that he engages these themes so directly, often involving elements of the Book of Revelation.  I'm looking forward to getting through all the volumes and the spin-offs so that I can someday try to write a reasonably wide-ranging theological engagement with the body of work.  One more piece in the Theology of Monsters mosaic!