If you haven’t guessed already, it’s time for Andy’s obligatory Hellboy post given all the week we’ve been discussing the bad ass devil spawn superhero thanks in large part to the new movie out in theaters now.
Yesterday on the podcast we discussed said movie as well as the original mini series that started the whole Hellboy franchise, Seed of Destruction. It was during the reread of Seed that it again struck me how little we get to know Professor Broom, who is supposed to be pretty much Hellboy’s Dad and one of the most important people in his life. That he’s pretty much killed off in the first 10 pages or so makes his time as a mentor and guide for us as the audience almost Obi-Wan Kenobi laughable.
I mean at least old Ben chopped Walrus Man’s arm off and shut off the Death Star’s tractor beam before exiting stage right at the end of Vader’s lightsaber. Broom just relays the fact that he saw something in the deep freeze of the Arctic before becoming Kermit food.
That always bothered me, to the point where I’ve always wanted to read a story from Hellboy’s past when Broom was in his prime to see if there was more to his character than an old guy behind a desk. So when I was tasked to write a read pile on Hellboy, I saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one rock and actively sought out one such story from the Hellboy mythology. For some reason, I settled on BPRD 1948 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Max Fiumara.
Maybe it was the mushroom cloud cover of the trade paperback that first attracted me as I won’t lie, I’m a sucker for those atom bomb stories. But regardless, I started down a path in today’s read pile and let’s see whether it was filled with horrors and high suspense.
A couple years after the inter-dimensional rift that brought Hellboy into our world, the BPRD, a paramilitary organization set up to internationally investigate and combat the strange and supernatural, is still like Hellboy in its infancy.
Professor Bruttenholm aka Broom is still getting the organization up and running as it’s chief investigator and guiding hand especially now that they have relocated to the US and set up shop in Connecticut. They have already started collecting their menagerie of monsters to compliment Hellboy, and Broom has a particularly difficult time with a solider named Anders, who has been possessed with the spirits of vampires. Most of the rest of the squad don’t trust him despite his immensely competent fighting ability, and his anti social behavior really doesn’t help much.
However, Broom doesn’t have much time to focus on Anders as he’s called to the heart of the New Mexico desert to investigate reports of strange monstrous animals that appeared after a failed test flight of a rocket powered by atom bomb explosions. The project is headed by Dr. Anna Rieu, who is convinced atom bombs can be used to propel rockets into orbit thus saving the planet from nuclear Armageddon by developing a peaceful way to utilize this new technology. The appearance of these monsters threatens to derail all that, and Broom sees it as a personal mission to ensure that doesn’t happen (that and the fact that Dr. Rieu is very beautiful, and the old Professor is quite smitten with her).
However, once Broom starts hypothesizing that the atomic explosions in this part of the desert known for being a nexus in Native American folklore are opening up rifts to magical realms and letting otherworldly monsters, that things start to go wrong. He recommends that Dr. Rieu’s project should be shut down due to it being too dangerous. which doesn’t earn him any brownie points. But the kicker comes when Dr. Rieu finds out about Broom’s kid, Hellboy, and the notion that he’s raising a demon to do God knows what to the planet, she turns away in disgust, leaving Broom heartbroken.
There are also subplots about Andres fighting the monsters in the desert and getting his platoon killed through his reckless behavior, and Hellboy having difficult fighting in even as kid, as those close to him treat him differently because of his appearance.
Things I Liked:
Well, one thing that stands out in this book is the fact that pretty much the BPRD is made up of monsters and outcasts, whether that’s figuratively or literally. I mean the obvious ones are characters such as Hellboy and Anders both of which possess supernatural abilites. But I was more impressed by the handling of Professor Broom, as a character that although looks normal and is in fact highly respected in the scientific community, is actually an outcast as well, doomed to be set apart from the rest of humanity through his invovlement with the BPRD. He’s depicted as a very lonely man, who even when given a chance to interact with an attractive woman, can’t seem to catch a break, as his shadowy misunderstood background tends to follow him everywhere.
It’s almost a living embodiment of the old Nietcheze saying “when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you”. Broom has seen too much, experienced too much, and he will never be able to deal with normally with the rest of humanity again as a result. His path is now one of solitary resignment in which the only ones that will be able to understand him are those monsters and creatures in which are placed within his care.
Like a ringmaster at a circus sideshow, these are his people now, and it’s striking to see the drama unfold in this story, as he finally starts to make the realization that the choices he made in fighting the forces of evil have a cost. That cost will be the inability to live a normal life ever again, and that’s a pretty sobering characterization.
The other part of this book I loved where the weird and sometimes downright disturbing monsters which play such a huge role as the antagonists. Max Fiumara does do an excellent job of relaying the horror that some of these grotesque perversions of nature would have on normal people as well as their deadly precision in terms of killing. It helps underscore why eventually the BPRD started enlisting more and more supernaturally powered entities like Anders, Liz Sherman, or Abe Sapien to deal with these threats, as it’s abundantly clear in this book that the best way to combat monsters is with monsters.
Yeah, that skull bird thing made of worms…yeah…that’s pure nightmare fuel.
Things I Didn’t Like:
Despite all I’ve said about the characterization above, I can honestly say I really didn’t like this book at all. Yeah, I know, if I didn’t like this book, why did I spend so much time talking about the characters? It was because, I felt like I had to say something nice, given the fact that I’m about to trash it 6 ways to Sunday now. But yeah, now it’s time to lay into what I’m finding are 2 fundamental problems with nearly all of the Hellboy books I’ve read:
1) Mignola gets artists to draw Hellboy books that mirror his style but are never as good as he is.
You’ve heard of the old adage imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Boy o boy, does it seem like Mignola likes to get flattered!
At first, when I started to notice this with Abe Sapien books and such, I said to myself: “Mike sure is a stickler for consistency in his universe“. But then I started to think, wow, if Mignola doesn’t exactly write these books and doesn’t really draw this book, then what does he actually do? I’m not saying this to bash Mr. Mignola. I genuinely like his work a lot and I’m sure it’s his guiding hand and overall vision that continues to drive the massive success of the Hellboy franchise. But sincerely, it’s starting to get a little on my nerves.
And then there’s Max Fiumara, who is unfortunately the artist on this. I’m not going to say his art is bad. His art is a billion times better than anything I can draw. But again he’s being asked whether directly or indirectly to ape Mignola’s style and well…he’s not Mignola. And that’s rather sad. Maybe he jumped at the chance of working with Mignola, maybe this was what he wanted to do, but I’m not sure as an artist I would have been excited to be the one who drew the Hellboy book only to have most causal comic readers be like:
“Oh…I thought this was going to be Mignola art. I mean the cover is Mignola. Oh…umm…it looks like Mignola I guess.” as they choke back the disappointment.
Yeah that wouldn’t be my bag.
2) Even when you are not reading the Hellboy book proper, you still need an uncomfortably large amount of backstory and knowledge of Hellboy stories just to enjoy what should be a self contained tale.
I mean I’ve stayed specifically away from the Hellboy series proper because I felt like I need a compass, 4 road maps, and a Sherpa guide to navigate the complex backstory inherent in those books. That’s why I’ve read things like Lobster Johnson or Abe Sapien so I can just enjoy the Gothic horror and supernatural goings on of those stories with only twinges of feeling lost because I don’t know enough about the history of the BPRD. After all, they are more supplemental characters anyways so their backstory isn’t any where near as complex.
I thought this BPRD book was going to be similar, because it wasn’t really about Hellboy. This was more about Professor Broom, who I knew, so I thought it was a good opportunity to fill in the blanks and maybe make that continuity heavy Hellboy universe a little less daunting.
But then that Anders character showed up, and I had no idea who the hell he was! And knowing who he was is important to understanding major parts of the story! And that’s made pretty clear within the first, I dunno, 2 pages of the book!?! Way to demoralize me right from the start. Then I found out that 1948 is actually the final part of a longer story arc that started in BPRD 1946. Yet, there was no indication of that on cover or in the explanation…god damn it.
Yes, maybe I should have done my homework a bit better and read 1946/1947 first, but I just wanted to read a book about atom bombs and weird monsters. I didn’t need all this frustrating extra story line baggage! Gaaaaahhh!
Okay, so now that I’ve said my peace, I’m not sure I can go back in to pointing out fun facts on this particular book. So instead I’m going to switch gears for this section to talk about a portion of the Hellboy franchise I really love.
That would be the Hellboy animated movies in particular Hellboy: Sword of Storms. This was the first of the two animated films that were produced by Starz Media’s Film Roman and Revolution Studios somewhat existing in the same shared Hellboy universe as the original live action films. In fact, most of the actors from those films show up to do the voices including Ron Pearlman as Hellboy, Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, and Doug Jones as Abe (I know…I know…Doug Jones only did the voice for Abe in Hellboy: the Golden Army).
It was originally released in 2006 on DVD and then later premiered that same year on Cartoon Network. As a result of it’s airing on Cartoon Network, it was actually nominated for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More) at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards, which is a pretty great feather in its cap. Given it’s strong success, it was followed by a second animated straight-to-DVD film, Hellboy: Blood and Iron, in 2007.
However, my favorite part about this movie and its sequel is the fact that they were co-produced, co-written, and directed by Tad Stones, the creator of one of my all time favorite Disney properties in the fantastic superhero parody series, Darkwing Duck. You can definitely see his influence as well, as Hellboy is often used as comedic punching bag for many of the monsters in this series, taking a beating yet keeps on ticking, similar to the terror that flaps in the night. Plus, the witty banter and overall fun factor is definitely seen throughout which I credit directly to Mr. Stones creative input.
I mean the movie starts with a cold open of sorts in which Hellboy is battling Mayan zombies who worship a giant undead bat. It’s definitely a zany non sequitur way of getting us in to the action, especially given the rest of the film deals with Japanese ghost and demon mythology, but for me it sets a fantastic tone, which I heavily enjoyed for not only this movie, but it’s sequel.
I have often said on the podcast that I’m a pretty big fan of the original Hellboy movie, what with it’s Indiana Jones style runarounds, but I’m going on record saying that I’m an even bigger fan of these cartoons. If you haven’t watched them yet, I definitely suggest giving them a try. For me, they are simply delightful and really deliver Hellboy in a very simple, utterly charming Saturday morning cartoon style package!
I don’t think I have to spend a ton of time rehashing this, do I?
I really wanted to like this book. I was pretty stoked to read up on some history of the BPRD and touch upon some of the aspects of this universe that didn’t directly deal with Hellboy in hopes of better understanding the character as he exists in the comics.
But in the end, I was completely let down. Despite some decent characterization of Broom and a young Hellboy on the few pages he showed up on, I was thoroughly let down by the rest of the book. The art frustrated me as I mentioned, the call backs to other books I hadn’t read frustrated me, and in the end, it just soured me to the entire experience. I even read this book twice in hopes that I had missed something important or if I would have got something more out of it with a closer reading. Nope, it still was pretty disappointing.
Maybe instead of reading it twice I should have read BPRD 1946 and 1947 instead and seen if I would have gotten more out of it, but honestly, I don’t have time for that. Again, I feel more than a bit burnt by another Hellboy book, and for me that’s not cool. Maybe this whole universe just isn’t my bag…