Hellboy has become a virtual household name, with several films, animated shows, several spin-off series, and dozens of novels and graphic novel collections set in the Hellboy universe and the stories housed in this collection started it all.
This trade paperback collects the four issues of Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, along with the first two Hellboy shorts, originally published in San Diego Comic Con Comics #2 and Comics Buyer’s Guide #1070, along with a gallery of pin-ups and some early concept sketches (Hellboy has evolved quite a bit, Abe Sapien looks pretty much identical to Minola’s original drawing of him, interestingly enough).
Note: This review features plot spoilers — read at your own risk. I’ll briefly provide an overview of the four main sections of the book (these were originally individual comics, so they hang together pretty well as individual sub-stories, meshing together to create this overall story arc.)
Part One: Begins in 1944 with a combined US-British operation to counter a group of Nazi occultists led by Rasputin, who end up summoning Hellboy to Earth from…well, wherever he came from. It doesn’t work as planned because Hellboy’s a nice guy, but it sets up a great set of villains who we’ll see more from later. Fast forward fifty years and Hellboy’s adopted father has just returned from an Arctic expedition where they encountered a strange Lovecraftian temple. Cue weird, strong, powerful froglike humanoid who kills Hellboy’s father and beats the stuffing out of Helboy.
Part Two: Hellboy and his two companions from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) – the eversexy pyrokinetic Liz Sherman and fishman-with-a-mysterious-origin Abe Sapien – investigate Cavendish Hall, a strange old house with an eerie past that’s a nexus point for more Lovecraftian horrors and occult mischief. Liz gets kidnapped by frogs and Hellboy encounters Rasputin who’s a powerful sorcerer attempting to summon some unspeakable entities to Earth.
Part Three: Hellboy and Abe, separately, encounter all kinds of strange critters who attempt to kill them in the watery basements and crypts beneath Cavendish Hall. Hellboy also learns more about what’s going on from Rasputin because, like all good villains, he loves to monologue and reveal backstory when the hero appears to be down for the count. We begin to get an inkling of just how bad things would turn out if Rasputin succeeds in summoning the beasties – which he plans to do using Liz Sherman as a living battery to fuel his spell.
Part Four: Our heroes, through sheer grit and determination, manage to stop Rasputin’s plan at the last second. Titanic battle. Good stuff. Plus some foreshadowing at the end that we haven’t seen the last of the old Nazi occultists.
If there’s a weakness in this collection, it’s that while it’s a rollicking good story in its own right, much of the story’s richness, details, and backstory can really only be appreciated in hindsight once the reader has read additional Hellboy collections. This is certainly a collection that rewards re-reading once the reader has a few more Hellboy stories under his belt.
The art is a bit stylized, so it might not be to everyone’s taste – particularly those you want “photo-realistic art – but I like it a lot. Plotting is tight and characterization comes out slowly but surely through the collection. Mignola has a real gift for crafting memorable dialogue, villains, and bizarre happenings.
I highly recommend checking out this collection. If it whets your appetite for more Hellboy stories, there’s a lot more out there. I give Hellboy, Volume 1: Seed of Destruction 5 stars out of 5.
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers