Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others

The Corpse

It begins with iron and flame. In the rolling hills of Ireland, Hellboy is solicited by a family to find out what is wrong with their child. Turns out their child is actually a goblin, which Hellboy finds out by pinching it with a fire iron. To regain the child, Hellboy takes on a quest to bury a corpse. A giant boar monster shows up at the burial ground. Hellboy beats the boar, buries the corpse and returns the child all before sunrise. Not a bad night.

This story is most notable for its introduction of Grom. Grom is the giant boar monster who, after being defeated, turns into a short boar monster. He will eventually become known as Gruagach and is one of Hellboy’s biggest antagonists. Hellboy sure knows how to make enemies.

What’s wonderful about Grom/Gruagach is his character design. It’s obvious Mike Mignola delights in drawing such a monster. From the greenish-gray skin to the glowing yellow eyes, Grom is a menacing, unsettling presence. His forearms are braced and his horns are surprisingly small given his size. And, to top it all off, he has a snazzy little belt. It’s a simple, elegant design that makes for an interesting baddie.

The Iron Shoes

This is a quick little tale of a not so quick goblin. The reason why is the goblin wears iron shoes. While great for stomping, if one misses, it’s easy for one’s foe to pick you up and cart you off to the nearest church for a good old fashioned disintegration.

While this story isn’t particularly noteworthy, it does feature a recurring element of the Hellboy comics: the fall. Hellboy spends a lot of time falling. Falling from the sky, falling through the roof, falling through the floor. And this story features this act.

What is so wonderful about the fall is that it represents the lack of control and agency that Hellboy often has. He’s often acted upon instead of being the one to do the acting. Sometimes, things resolve without his intervention, sometimes he mucks up the works through his falling. It’s also a great bit of recurring foreshadowing to Hellboy’s inevitable journey to the lowest of places.

The Baba Yaga

What a fun little tale. Returning to Slavic folklore, The Baba Yaga haunts a graveyard, counting the fingers on the corpses. One, two, three. She floats atop a chalice looking object through the night of all nights. Hellboy lays in wait, springing upon her and shooting her in the eye. Thus we get the backstory of how the vendetta began.

In the aftermath, the creatures of the woods and wilds talk of what has happened. Baba Yaga’s mystical chicken-foot house has disappeared. The blood of the Baba Yaga is witnessed by many. Surely she must be dead. But no, rumblings begin that she is not dead, simply absent. The legend is still alive. Waiting. Waiting for Wake the Devil.

A Christmas Underground

The grounds of an old house contains a graveyard. Once the daughter Annie wandered through this graveyard at night. She disappears one day, never to be found…until Hellboy arrives. Beneath the graves, he finds a richly furnished set of rooms. Annie is now wed and feasts with the skeletons of her dead family members. Hellboy brands her with a cross and, while it burns her, she exchanges her wedding band for a rosary.

Here’s a perverse Christmas story. A feast with dead family members with a hostess that wanders among the dead instead of clinging to the living. Brought into this darkness is the light of the cross. It’s touch produces flame. It replaces the bond of mortal marriage with the greater bond to the Christian bridegroom: Christ. I wonder what Hellboy’s Easters are like.

The Chained Coffin

Hearkening back to John Byrne’s narration in Seed of Destruction, The Chained Coffin is structured around a letter Hellboy writes to Abe. Hellboy returns to the place he first appeared. He dreams of the priest and nun whose spirits were present at his entrance to earth. The two were involved with the burial of a wicked woman who bound herself to a demon, a demon that returns for her soul.

This is the best story of the lot, a great bit of backstory wrapped up in its own compelling narrative. The collision of the forces of the divine and demonic results in some fantastic moments. It’s also clear that Mignola had a blast drawing this story. Besides the gorgeous gothic vistas, he gets to drawn a ginormous demon and you can see the passion and delight in each line.  The story also hints at a big bit of information about Hellboy’s past.

The Wolves of Saint August

A young priest name Chris gets more than he bargains for when he visits a town with a dilapidated church. He’s told to leave the town for his own good. When he refuses, he’s killed by a wolf. Hellboy and Kate go to investigate and discover an old curse at work.

First things first, this issue is printed on black paper and it looks gorgeous. It makes the whole mood a lot darker and plays well with Mignola’s use of frames. Also, this is the first time since Seed of Destruction where Hellboy has a more personal and direct to connection to both the victim and the monster in the story. It’s always a delight to see more of Kate as her more academic leaning plays well off Hellboy’s generally devil-may-care attitude.

Almost Colossus

A brief followup to the events of Wake the Devil, Almost Colossus focuses on the events that transpired as a result of Liz’s act in Wake the Devil. She lit a spark in a homunculus that brought it to life and the B.P.R.D. believes that in the process she transfered part of her soul to the creature. Hellboy and Kate go adventuring again to find the homunculus and recover Liz’s lost power.

It’s great to see Kate and Hellboy team up again. It’s also nice to have personal stakes involved in the monster hunt of the week. It’s also the first time the series focuses on a creature that is born out of science, not folklore. This leads to a fascinating perversion of science and the rise of a self-proclaimed god. It’s a great takedown of the sinister underbelly of science in the modern era, a religion for the modern man.

© 2016 James Blake Ewing