From massive monster battles to complex character drama, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe has Gothic horror for everyone.
SPOILER ALERT: Minor spoilers for Hellboy and B.P.R.D. ahead.
When Mike Mignola left DC Comics to strike out on his own in the early ’90s, he had horror comics on the brain. He had the early concept for a sort of paranormal Justice League, with the early con-sketches of a character he called “Hellboy” at the forefront. As the concept developed and was picked up by Dark Horse Comics in 1993, it’s doubtful that Mignola had any idea of the scope or influence his new story would have. The meticulously crafted mythology Mignola builds in the first issues of Hellboy would later explode into a massive comic universe of its own. The departure of everyone’s favorite half-demon from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) spawned a series focused on the remaining cast. This new B.P.R.D. series would, in turn, become the fuel for even more independent series involving the characters of the Hellboy Universe and the world they inhabit. From long-form series like B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth and Lobster Johnson to mini-series such as “Koschei the Deathless” and “Frankenstein Underground,” the Mignolaverse is rife with unique stories to jump into.
A key element to why the Hellboy Universe is so praised is how consistent the quality of each series is. Mignola and the folks at Dark Horse over the years have brought together a team of top-notch writers, artists, colorists, and letterers that have carried the Hellboy vision forward in dozens of narratives. The talents of John Arcudi, Joshua Dysart, Duncan Fegredo, Max & Sebastian Fiumara, Dave Stewart, and countess others contribute to Mignola’s massive shared vision. The cohesiveness of this universe is something that arose organically, which is why each story has its own personality while still keeping with the central Hellboy plot. There isn’t anything in the 25 years of stories that feels rushed or shoehorned. Every development comes along organically.
Another feat of the Hellboy Universe is just how easy it is to get into for first-time readers. While all are obviously connected, each story stands on its own. Someone could jump right into the beginning of Hellboy, or happen upon the first volume of Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder. While having knowledge of the events of this entire world does add to the reading experience, each saga reads perfectly on its own.
While all of the series in the Hellboy Universe fall under its unique brand of Gothic/Lovecraftian creature horror, each one also has its own individual style. While Hellboy itself is a slow-moving road story that verges on romantic myth, its companion stories are often more complex. B.P.R.D. is a tense character drama that focuses on its cast’s individual and collective struggles between apocalyptic battles. Lobster Johnson is a pulpy love letter to pre-code comics of the 1930s and ’40s. Witchfinder is an old-fashioned detective tale with 19th-century supernatural bends and hints of political intrigue. The abundance of styles ensures that anyone jumping into this universe for the first time will find something to enjoy.
Arguably the most notable aspect of this comic universe 25 years in the making is that it all comes to an end. The events that were kicked off with Professor Bruttenholm’s discovery of an infant Hellboy in “Seed of Destruction” culminate in the finale that is B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know. One of the most intimidating obstacles faced by newcomers to comics is where to jump in when it comes to mainstream comic universes. While the decades upon decades of superhero runs and crossover events are easy to parse for veterans, the never-ending cycle of reboots and restarts is dizzying for those who don’t know what they’re getting into. The Hellboy Universe’s stories all head in the same direction, whether they take place parallel to Hellboy’s journey or long before it. Regardless of where a new reader starts, they can be assured they’re heading towards a definite end and not an endless cycle of collectible issues.
Mike Mignola and Co.’s creation of the Hellboy Universe is a crowning achievement of long-form storytelling. The organic way its many original stories and characters contribute to the same strange vision is unparalleled in any medium. While the main Hellboy story may be over, there are still plenty of mini-series arriving from the minds of Mignola and his collaborators. Whether starting at the beginning in “Seed of Destruction” or in the middle of nowhere with Sledghammer 44, there is always one hell of a time to be had in this universe.