HELLBOY is back in 2019, and he’s got a whole new face! David Harbour, who rose to fame in STRANGER THINGS, plays the demon-turned-paranormal investigator in a new movie directed by THE DESCENT and GAME OF THRONES director Neil Jordan.
We know the new HELLBOY will be slightly different from the previous films. For instance, the character’s creator, Mike Mignola, wrote the script. That means the new movie is probably going to cut pretty close to the character’s comics origins.
The red-skinned anti-hero is a complicated character to follow in comics. He’s never been the star of one single long-running title. Instead, he’s at the center of a whole bunch of mini-series. The reading order can seem confusing at first. Let’s unpack Hellboy’s comics history.
The Independent ’90s
Turn the wayback machine to the late 1980s. Comic books were at a tipping point. The Dark Knight and Watchmen helped bring new attention to comics in the mid-80s. In 1989, Tim Burton’s BATMAN started a new era for comic book movies. At Marvel, creators like Todd MacFarlane, Jim Lee, and Rob Leifeld were driving huge sales. But they didn’t own their work, causing tension. “Creator-owned” became a big industry concept. That’s where Hellboy was born.
After a couple of minor stories, Hellboy debuted for real with the story ‘Seed of Destruction,’ in 1994. This story was a primary inspiration for the original 2004 movie HELLBOY. It introduced the comic’s main characters and told of Hellboy’s origin. He’s a demon summoned to Earth by the Russian psychic Rasputin as part of a Nazi doomsday plot that ultimately failed.
Hellboy was taken in by Trevor Bruttenholm, an academic and leader of the Bureau for Psychic Research and Defense, or B.P.R.D. This organization appears in all the Hellboy films, and Bruttenholm was played in the first two movies by the late John Hurt. Ian McShane plays the character in 2019’s HELLBOY.
The Wild Hunt
The new movie directed by Neil Marshall pulls from three later comic book story arcs. The sources are Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury — all written by Mignola and illustrated by Duncan Fegredo. These were published over several years, from Spring 2007 to Summer 2011.
Right now, it seems like The Wild Hunt, which is based in part on Irish and English folklore, including tales of King Arthur, is the most important source. That story features a witch and self-styled “Blood Queen,” Nimue, who took her powers from Merlin. That character is played by Milla Jovovich in the film — and the script for HELLBOY once had the subtitle “Rise of the Blood Queen.”
There are so many little Hellboy stories, which take place across many comic book titles, that Dark Horse Comics recently released a complete timeline for the various comic books.
“Beginning with the publication of Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #1 in 1994, the world encapsulating Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense has expanded to more than 70 volumes of unique stories. From ancient dragons to sea witches, demons in Hell and countless mythical monsters, Hellboy’s adventures have grown for 25 years and counting.”
Pretty much every story in the character’s comics timeline has been reissued in trade paperback and/or omnibus form. (And they’re all available digitally, too.) There’s plenty of time to read the important stories before HELLBOY blasts back onto the big screen this coming spring.