Hellboy: Wake the Devil

How do you follow up an introduction as good as Seed of Destruction? If you’re Mike Mignola, you go bigger, bolder and deeper. While Wake the Devil is only one issue longer than its predecessor, it packs in a lot more character development and plot threads in its arc. It’s this story where Hellboy begins to realize its full potential as a book.

It starts with the titular devil, a man named Vladimir Giurescu who the B.P.R.D. believes is a vampire with connections to the Nazis. Meanwhile, Roderick Zinco meets the Nazis involved with Giurescu, the three living leaders of Hitler’s occult division. As Hellboy and company search for the vampire Giurescu, they discover there is more at work behind the evil machinations of the occult Nazis.

With the Third Reich long gone, Hellboy moves past the evils of a country’s nationalism to a more global threat: corporations. Roderick Zinco is a man who has connections and resources all throughout America and Europe. He pledges these services to The Master, Rasputin and his Nazi followers. And technology, instead of belief in the occult, becomes the new threat of the day.

Hellboy finds himself in his own personal vendetta with Zinco when their products end up not working for him. First it’s a faulty jetpack, then it’s a crappy radio. Later on he finds that even his trusty gun isn’t helpful. In the face of ancient monstrosities, technology proves ineffective. It’s the blade which Hellboy takes up to defeat his foes.

These moments provide some levity for a book as dark as Hellboy. It’s here where Hellboy first gets his sardonic voice. Mignola knows how to write lines dripping with sarcasm and indifference. Compared to John Byrne’s pulp mystery narration, this feels much closer to the voice of Hellboy.

And as a writer, Mignola makes some much need improvements, especially in the realm of dialogue. Besides adding humor, Mignola shows a lot more restraint with the written word. He knows that his drawings speak louder than words and he lets them do a lot of the heavy-lifting  when it comes to exposition and storytelling.

Mignola’s art remains the strongest element of the book. It’s a bit disappointing that this arc marks the transition into the more traditional white backgrounds. Still, Mignola’s art is so vibrant and vivid that the eye is drawn into the panels, making the background fall away. Mignola’s explosions and fires, in particular are drawn with an interesting flow that makes them magnificent.

It also doesn’t hurt that Mignola gets to draw a lot of great monsters here: serpents, ravens, a homunculus, a vampire, witches and more. It’s clear Mignola is most passionate about his monsters as they are given the most detail and care in each frame. Even Hellboy himself gets a wonderful sequence where the demon within himself is drawn out. You can tell Mignola is having a blast with each page in this arc.

Like Seed of Destruction, Hellboy is not left alone with this venture Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien each lead two other teams hunting for Giurescu. This leads to some great character moments for each character. Liz opens up about her past and her reason for returning to the B.P.R.D. after the events of Seed of Destruction.

The amount of plot threads here is dizzying. There’s the initial hook of the vampire Giurescu, which nicely ties into the occult Nazis. But the Nazi thread also builds into the rebirth of an old scientists and Ilsa’s quest to achieve immortality. Added on top of this is the tale of the two witches responsible for the two major evils of the book. Then there’s the history of the nearby town and the two other B.P.R.D. parties that explore nearby castles. As disconnected as these threads are, the book somehow resolves them all nicely in a memorable climax.

There’s also a final epilogue that teases what is to come. Rasputin was made immortal by the famous Slavic folklore figure: The Baba Yaga. After being killed in Seed of Destruction, Rasputin wanders the world as a spirit. He visits with Baba Yaga and she is missing one eye that was plucked out by Hellboy and she swears she will kill him.

As Hellboy’s sophomore outing, this story improves on a lot of what made the first arc a magnificent introduction. Tighter writing, a focus on more characters, and a more intricate plot makes for a more engaging and entertaining story. The blending of Slavic and European folklore also shows that Mignola is drawing from all corners of the world to shape his horror epic.

© 2016 James Blake Ewing