The Hellish History of Hellboy

Image result for hellboy movie poster david harbourIn 1991, comic book writer and artist Mike Mignola created a concept drawing of a demonic creature, that he called Hellboy, for a pamphlet for the Great Salt Lake Comic-Con. Although it bore little resemblance to the current incarnation that many fans now know and love, nevertheless it was the beginning of one of the most unique and distinctive looking comic book superheroes in the last 30 years.

Then his first full-color appearance was on the cover of “Dime Press” #4, an Italian Fanzine, in March 1993. Finally in August of 1993, Mignola published a short black-and-white comic book story for Dark Horse Comics in “San Diego Comic-Con Comics” #2, featuring the character as a paranormal detective, along with his characteristic red skin, in “John Byrne’s Next Men” #21.

Hellboy’s first story arc was the mini-series “Seed of Destruction” in March 1994, which featured his origin story and the first appearance of the B.P.R.D. (the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), along with characters Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, which was conceived of and illustrated by Mike Mignola and scripted by John Byrne. Supposedly Hellboy was primarily based on Mignola’s father, a gruff, working-class man, who always came home with many injuries, but just shrugged them off with his dry humor.

In 1944, the original founders of the bureau began with three members of the British Paranormal Society, a group of highly educated paranormal investigators including Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and a special unit of the United States army, infiltrated a small island off the Scottish coast known as Tarmagant Island, interrupting the Nazis “Project Ragnarok.” As part of that experiment, the evil sorcerer Grigori Rasputin opened a portal and inadvertently summoned a baby demon, later to be found by Prof. Broom, who named him “Hellboy” and officially adopted him in 1946.

Hellboy’s true name is Anung Un Rama, which means “upon his brow is set a crown of flame,” he has cloven hooves and his right hand, known as the “Right Hand of Doom,” is made of stone that was given to him by his father, the demon Azzael. Originally supposed to bring about the end of the world and the Ogdru Jahad.

Featuring Mignola’s simplistic, yet hauntingly surreal-style, Hellboy became a long-running series which lasted until 2011, when Hellboy supposedly died at the end of “Hellboy: The Fury.” With that, the story of Hellboy seemed to have come to an end until in 2016, Mignola released the 10-issue mini-series “Hellboy in Hell,” in which Hellboy wandered through the afterlife, having adventures and fighting demons, but also coming to terms with the end and to let go of his old life.

Hellboy would go on to appear in many mini-series, one-shots and crossovers, as well as returning to the B.P.R.D. comic books in the 1950’s retro-series. Since his appearance the character has appeared in two live-action movies starring Ron Perlman, two animated movies and three video games, as well as a new upcoming reboot in 2019 starring David Harbour from the “Stranger Things” Netflix series.

Comic Review – Stranger Things #1

Image result for stranger things #1 comicFans of the NETFLIX original series “Stranger Things” get a new insight into the experience of the character of Will Byers, who was mysteriously transported into the Upside Down by the demonic creature, which would be known as ‘the Demogorgon.’ The latest 4-issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics is written by award-winning comics veteran Jody Houser (Valiant Comics’ “Faith”), with pencils by Italian artist, Stefano Martino, inks by Keith Champagne (IDW’s “Ghostbusters”) and colors by Lauren Affe ( “Buzz Kill” Image).

The comic series picks up right after the first 10 minutes of the first episode “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers.” Although throughout the first season of the show we merely get glimpses of Will’s time in the alternate-version of his world, which is similar in almost every way, except for the ever-present darkness and the rotten, poisonous atmosphere. As he realizes that he is no longer home, his journey is compared to his adventures with his friends in their Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in which he plays the wizard, Will the Wise, as he wanders the dark forest of “Mirkwood.” But just as in his D&D adventures, the party of adventurers have been separated, and as he knows, splitting the party can have disastrous consequences!

Although the first issue is somewhat shorter than expected, at only 20-pages, it does add much more to the story of Will’s dilemma in the Upside Down, as the show focuses mainly on the powerful, young girl Eleven, with whom he encounters briefly. But the first issue ends on a heart-pounding cliffhanger, as Will tries to seek the safety in the alternate version of his bedroom, while the terrifying ‘Demogorgon’ is stalking him! I’m looking forward to this limited series, which is a must for any “Stranger Things” fan, as well as a good jumping off point for new fans too. The series also comes in a standard cover and three variant covers, including a photo cover that features scenes from the show, as well as some very surreal art covers by various talent. The first issue also includes a two-page preview of the new “Mystery Science Theater 300 the Comic.”

 

Comic Review – Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Cover

In 1988, comedian Joel Hodgson was approached about creating an original local television show for station KTMA in Minneapolis. The result was a unique twist on the classic “horror host” movie program, where the host mocked the movie while it was playing rather than just presenting skits before and after the commercial breaks. The show was dubbed Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the next decade would see it picked up for cable distribution by three networks and syndicated.

MST3K (as it is called for short) has one of the most prestigious reputations of any cult television show in history.  It won a Peabody Award in 1993 and inspired a feature-length film in 1996. More recently, Hodgson attempted to crowdfund a new season of the show on Kickstarter, going on to shatter the record for money raised for a television series. This prompted Netflix to pick up the distribution rights to the new series, introducing MST3K to a new generation.

The show has a surprisingly extensive mythology involving generations of mad scientists attempting to take over the world by abducting hapless working-class schlubs and forcing them to watch bad movies. All of this is just window-dressing for the basic concept of the show – three funny people (some of whom happen to be robots) watching the worst movies ever made and making fun of them. The new MST3K series on Netflix has revised the concept somewhat, with mad scientist Kinga Forrester and her assistant Max (played by geek royalty Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt) now more concerned with becoming Internet Famous than achieving World Domination, but the core idea is still the same.

So what the heck does that have to do with comic books?

Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the show, MST3K has now been adapted into a graphic novel format by Joel Hodgson himself and a team of writers and artists. How this is accomplished is more easily explained with pictures than words. Luckily, Dark Horse Comics, in their wisdom, has made these preview pages explaining the concept available for us to share with you. Aren’t you lucky?!

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Page 1

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Page 2

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Page 3

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Page 4

TL;DR? Jonah Heston (the current human host of the show) and his robot friends are put into a public domain comic book and are soon sarcastically working their way through the plot of Johnny Jason: Teen Detective #2, with Tom Servo (everyone’s favorite robot who looks like a gumball machine) placed in the role of Johnny Jason. It’s all annoyingly wholesome, or would be if the robots didn’t keep putting words in the mouth of various supporting characters, such as a cop randomly noting, “This is off-topic, but I just gave my gun to a hobo.”

The writing perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of the show and Teen Titans artist Todd Nauck does a great job capturing the cast in the opening “host segement.” Likewise, Mike Manly masterfully alters the original Johnny Jason comic art to work the MST3K characters into the story. How well all this works will depend upon how much you like referential humor and parody. In other words, if you’re a fan of the original show, you’ll probably enjoy this comic after adjusting you brain to how to read it. If you aren’t… well you definitely won’t.

If you’re a comic fan who isn’t sure if you might be a fan of this sort of thing… well, much as I like the comic, I’d definitely encourage you to check the show out first, just as a point of reference. (You can watch several episodes for free on MST3K.com – I personally recommend The Killer Shrews). That being said, while this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the high-concept and execution make it worth checking out, even if you aren’t already a fan of the show.

8/10

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 releases on September 12, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1

Frank Miller’s 300 was something of a revelation when it first came out in 1998. Based in equal parts on the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus and the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, it told the tale of The Battle of Thermopylae from the perspective of King Leonidas of Sparta. Though Leonidas and the Greek forces were defeated by the invading Persian army, their stand helped inspire the various Greek city-states to unite as one in a larger force. This would lead to the war that ultimately halted Persia’s attempts to conquer Greece. For that reason, The Battle of Thermopylae is held alongside The Alamo as one of the greatest last stands in military history.

300 is widely considered to be Frank Miller’s greatest work. It won the 1999 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, with Miller being honored as Best Writer & Artist and colorist Lynn Varley winning Best Colorist. The book was later successfully adapted into a 2006 film directed by Zack Snyder, fueling his rise to fame.

Despite being a critical and commercial success, 300 did not go uncriticized. Many took Miller to task for the story being historically inaccurate in certain respects, such as depicting The Spartans as homophobic or going into battle essentially naked. Writer David Brin specifically criticized Miller’s ignoring the greater historical context of Thermopylae and how The Spartan’s involvement in the battle was driven by their shame at having sat-out The Battle of Marathon a decade earlier, due to it occurring during the holy festival of Carnea, in which martial combat was forbidden.

This bears consideration when one reads this first chapter of Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander – the five-issue follow-up to 300. The title and cover are a bit misleading, with Xerxes – the villain of 300 – not making any appearance in this book apart from being seen on the cover. Rather than focusing on a single battle, Miller is now exploring the long history of Persian/Greek conflicts, starting with the first attempts of Darius (father of Xerxes) to invade Greece and ending, eventually, with the rise of Alexander The Great.

This first chapter is devoted to The Battle of Marathon and seems to have been written purely in rebuttal to Brin’s criticism in specific and complaints of Miller’s failure to profile the contributions of the Greek city-states besides Sparta in general. The focus here is on the Athenians, as they lead the charge against The Persian Army, driving them back to their ships.


Xerxes #1 Page 4-5 Xerxes #1 Page 6-7


Xerxes #1 Page 8-9 Xerxes #1 Page 10-11

(Click To View The Full Image In Another Window.)

Those who enjoyed 300 will find more of the same intense action here. All issues of historical accuracy aside, Miller can block a fight sequence better than most and the battles here are as gloriously over the top as you would expect. The fact that our heroes are now the playwright Aeskylos and a young Themistokles, years before he would go on to become a great Athenian general and politician does not stop them from unleashing Hades upon the Persians, Unfortunately, Miller’s tendency towards unnecessary homophobic remarks continues, though it may be more historically accurate for The Athenians to be making jokes about how The Spartans can’t join the battle because of a fertility festival, because that is the only time Spartan men share beds with women.

A larger problem is that Miller’s glory days as an artist are behind him and it is clear now why his most recent efforts have seen him focusing on writing with other artists illustrating his stories. While Miller’s work here is far stronger than his most recent works at DC Comics, it’s a far cry from the level of quality we saw in 300, with Miller’s tendency toward cartoonish exaggeration not serving the story well. The colors by Alex Sinclair don’t help matters, putting a vibrant coat on artwork that was always at its best when kept half in shadow. One wonders if age is starting to make the old master’s hand falter but he’s too proud to admit it.

Ultimately, there’s little reason to pick up Xerxes #1 unless you’re a fan of Frank Miller and the original 300 looking for more of the same. There’s nothing new here, beyond Miller showing that The Athenians were more than capable of winning a war without The Spartans’ assistance. It’s good for what it is but it’s ultimately an unnecessary prequel.

5/10

Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1 releases April 4, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1

Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1 Cover

Doctor James Robinson had always been a dreamer who looked to the stars for inspiration. An astronomer by inclination and a physicist by training, his theories regarding a cosmic energy called para-radiation got the attention of an American government that needed an edge in the atomic arms race and they thought Robinson’s theory of a para-zone that could be tapped for infinite energy was an avenue well worth exploring. With their financial backing, Dr. Robinson was able to prove his theories correct and soon had the money he needed to move his wife and son out of their crumbling tenement apartment and into a proper home… but it wasn’t enough.

This being an age of heroes and with a war going on, James Robinson did what any patriotic red-blooded American man would do – throw on a costume and get ready to start punching Nazis. He found further fame and thrills as the mystery-man Doctor Star… but he would go on to lose far more than he gained.

I suspect it is impossible for me to give Doctor Star & The World of Lost Tomorrows #1 a fair and unbiased review. While this mini-series is a spin-off of Jeff Lemire’s acclaimed Black Hammer series, which pays tribute to the superheroes of The Golden Age of Comics (i.e the late 1930s to mid 1950s), it is also a tribute to a very special and specific comic series – the 1994-2001 Starman series by DC Comics. This series happens to be a personal favorite of mine and the source of my nickname, for those who care to know.

For those who haven’t been exposed to it, let me sum up – Starman came about because writer James Robinson (note that name!) had an idea for establishing a common mythology between all of the previously unconnected superheroes that DC Comics had created that used the codename Starman. This included a scientist from the 1940s, an alien warrior from the 1970s and a cosmic prince from a one-off story tied into Crisis On Infinite Earths.  At a time when the comic industry in general was abandoning its tights-and-capes history in favor of superheroes with big muscles, bigger guns and tiny feet, Starman embraced its lineage. It subverted the values of The Dark Age, presenting a sneering, tattooed hipster hero in the form of Jack Knight – son of the first Starman, scientist Ted Knight – while deconstructing and ultimately reassembling the classic values of traditional comics as Jack went from a reluctant hero to an honestly good person.

Thankfully, while the tribute to Robinson’s work is clear enough (even ignoring the main character’s name), Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1 stands just as well as a story on its own terms. Lemire’s script does a fantastic job of establishing the character of Dr. James Robinson and the setting for the benefit of those who haven’t read Black Hammer. The artwork by Max Fiumara (with colors by Dave Stewart) proves a perfect partner to Lemire’s writing, capturing the pulp-fiction aesthetic of the tale. If you enjoy tales of weird science or retro-superheroes as much as I do, this series is a must read!

10/10

Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1 releases March 7, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.