SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers below for "Hellboy In Hell" #2, on sale now.
Mike Mignola's Hellboy has been Hellbound – or maybe we should say homeward bound – for a while. But now that the Dark Horse "Hellboy In Hell" series is well underway, there's more to talk about with the big red guy than ever before.
This week, CBR is back with a regular looking inside the series with the cartoonist and creator as "Hellboy In Hell" #2 hits some of the biggest mythological elements of Hellboy's entire career. His birth, his birthright and his army have all been teased over the years Mignola has drawn the character, but on Wednesday, fans got to see those ideas in new, expansive detail.
Below, Mignola explains to CBR how the issue broke down as the most important early stop on HB's tour of Hell, why this is as close he'll come to doing something Dickensian in the series, what secrets still lie behind the face of Hellboy's father and how he'll be keeping things short and sweet after this first arc.
CBR News: The thing that I thought of when I started reading this issue was a practice Frank Sinatra ascribed to where you're always supposed to open your set with three numbers the audience already knows. It warms them up for the show to follow. In "Hellboy In Hell," your version of that warmup seems to be coming out the gate with some depictions of kind of classical, Biblical Hell. Did you "play the hits" a bit here to get those ideas on stage and out of the way early?
Mike Mignola: Not really. This was more about the fact that Pandemonium was mentioned once before in "Hellboy." We saw it in one of the books that Duncan did, and I felt that we had to address it. It is part of this idea that we're acknowledging things from Hellboy's past, so we weren't trying to tap into Biblical stuff. It was tapping into Hellboy mythology stuff that we'd mentioned and getting it behind us. So I guess it's kind of like what you're saying. I did want to get certain things out of the way so we could get on with other stuff. But it just felt like if he's on some kind of a tour, this would be a good first stop. And it would be the thing where the audience had the most familiarity and would most go, "Oh shit! What's going to happen when he goes there?" kind of thing. Address the elephant in the room sort of.
With Pandemonium, I loved the detail where the broken statues that make up the major monuments all wore their own crowns. This is one of your occasional visual signatures, but I wondered what your thinking is on the design here? Is this a way of showing that in Hell, any of these types can aspire to be King?
My idea of Hell royalty would be that first batch of angels that fell when Satan fell – his original gang. These are the guys who to me would be personified in these statues with the crowns. It's not like anybody can go there and say, "I'm dead. I'm bad. Put a statue of me up!" This is one of those societies where you have to be born into it. They're not big on new money. [Laughter] And that also, I think, makes for a very inbred, decadent, out-of-touch-with-the-people society.
Hellboy reach's the throne room his father has left for him in the start of the issue, and it made me want to back and try and figure out what we've actually nailed down about "dad" up to this point. Have you really revealed a lot of salient facts about Hellboy's father?
I'm trying to think. I think other than the Hellboy origin story that was originally done in "The Chained Coffin" where you saw Hellboy's father really early on, we didn't see him for a really long time. In Duncan's work on "The Wild Hunt," we got to see Hellboy's mother, and in a little flashback there we named Hellboy's father. So we don't know much. We know his name [Azzael], and we know that he kind of grabbed Hellboy's mother out of her coffin. Other than that, we don't know much, but we will find out more.
A lot of this was setting the feel of Hell and calling back to previous moments. When it comes to the crown, the sword and the ring left for Hellboy, should we see those as items with bigger story significance to come, or are they just set dressing in a way?
Again, it's my way of dealing with all these things that have been mentioned before. Somewhere in Duncan's books, the demon Astaroth said, "You're going to go to Pandemonium, and you're going to take these things. These things are waiting for you." So I wanted to make sure we saw Hellboy, saw those objects and saw that he didn't take them. I wanted to say, "He was right. Those things are there. But he was wrong about Hellboy." I felt it was nice. If it was mentioned, let's go see them. It's part of the tour. I can't say definitively that we'll never see those objects again, but things are definitely moving in a different direction for Hellboy.
You've said that you didn't start with a plan to have Hellboy have some grand destiny, but that grew out of the telling. If you plot him out on that Joseph Campbell hero's journey, I think we've seen several times where he's denied his fate. But isn't the next step usually a character accepting their fate? Is the whole point of Hellboy that he never takes that next step?
That's where things get real blurry because there are certain things that he denies, yet there are certain things he does have to do. He does some things that he doesn't necessarily want to. By denying them, it just means that he might not take one route to get to an end. With certain things, if you don't go through one, it just means you'll end up walking through a different one to do the same thing. I'm not even sure that there's a specific thing Hellboy would do if he picked up that crown and that sword. Maybe that's my problem as a writer. I'm going, "If he did that, I don't know what the hell he would do with that stuff!" [Laughs] But I just find him much more interesting being a guy who says, "I'm not going to do this stuff. I'm going to go my own way."
It's very strange now. It was strange enough when he was on earth and said, "I'm just going to deny everything and go for a walk." Here, he really has nothing to do. And that's part of the struggle for me – to keep it that way to a certain extent. I want to keep him in a place where you can say, "You're dead. There's nothing for you to do now." I don't want to turn this into a big epic where he's got a gigantic purpose. I want him to be so cut lose from these other things, so I can do little stories where he just wanders into a place, meets a guy and then they have an adventure. Then he meets somebody else, and they have a little adventure. What I want to avoid is having every person who shows up going, "Oh! You're Hellboy! You've got to do this and that." I like the idea that people don't know who he is or at least don't attach any significance to who he is. It's a trick to cut him loose from all that baggage. I'm trying.
We've got to talk about Satan because when I saw him I really went, "Awwwww." We're never supposed to feel bad for Satan, but I did here. He's just sitting in a basement, and no one will come to kill him. It's sad. What was your conception of including him but not letting him be a major presence in the story?
I really feel like Satan is pretty ill-defined, but I do feel like I've mentioned him previously in "Hellboy." Again in "Wild Hunt," we said that Satan's been down there for 2,000 years. I figure the whole Jesus thing probably was enough for him. [Laughs] He just went downstairs and took a nap after that. Since then, other guys have been running the show. I don't know if he's just sleeping or waiting for something to happen, but when we set up the fact that Hellboy has come to Hell and all the major demons have fled, nobody really bothered to tell Satan they were leaving. It's kind of like an empty house except for one guy sleeping in the basement, and nobody said to him, "We're making a run for it." Also, they all have somewhere else to go, but this is his house. So there's really no place for him to run to. And I do kind of feel bad for him!
We get a callback to Dickens in the story. "You will be visited by three ghosts." It seems that that idea is just a great story structure – to show someone three facets of their own life.
Yeah. I didn't adhere to Dickens in that we had the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. I certainly didn't want anybody else yacking about Hellboy's future. But I did think it was fun as an artist to use this structure and use three different spirits. You can make it a little more subtle when one spirit changes to another spirit. Is it three different guys, or is it one spirit who changes into three incarnations. Visually, that was fun.
I don't remember what came first – that Christmas Carol gag, the three spirits or the puppet show? It was probably the puppet show. I think I'd come up with the idea of doing a "Christmas Carol" puppet show, and then it was a matter of saying, "Let me futz the guide into three different personas." And really there are three different things for him to see. Those things tend to pile up on each other.
What I'm really happy about – well, I'm not happy that the book took so long to get done, but because it was originally supposed to come out in August, it was nice when I told Dark Horse "Don't just put it back a month. Put it back a whole bunch of months to December!" My first thought wasn't tying the release to "A Christmas Carol." My first thought was, "Put it really far back so I won't have deadlines breathing down my neck." But that ended up happening anyway. [Laughter] It worked out well in the end, though.
The tour overall takes us to see the army Hellboy is meant to lead and then his actual birth. The army has been mentioned for a long time, and the idea of him being given the right Hand of Doom has as well. You've talked about discovering the story as you went. How much of this specific imagery did you have from way earlier, and how much did you break out while doing the script?
Everything that's in this issue is something that I had. Other than the part where they discuss the soul, which I had to come up with on the fly, the origin of Hellboy and what the army is I've known for a long time. It's the kind of stuff where when you do a story that mentions this stuff in general, I don't want to stop the action and explain, "The arm is blah blah blah." It doesn't help the story to stop things and have some guy give a bunch of details.
This story's structure being between a tour and an explanation gives you an opportunity to hit the nail on the head and get it out of the way. I'd like to think that this is the end of the discussion around this army. I've trotted it out, mentioned it a few times, and now we've seen it and can move on. I also just like the idea of the fish getting banged into soldiers. That's a nice thing to do. And at this point, people expected something big, some of the answers. It's my return to the book. He's going to Hell. They want some answers to stuff there. There are a whole lot of questions coming up, so I wanted to answer as many of the old questions as I could to make way for a whole new set of problems and questions.
What can we say at this point about next issue? We know we've got an important player skulking around a bit here. What does that hold for the rest of this arc?
That's the demon Astaroth who we saw first in "Box Full of Evil." I don't think I'm giving too much away with the teaser for the next issue that says, "Family Ties" with Astaroth who last figured into Duncan's "Wild Hunt" story where he'd whisper over Hellboy's shoulder. He's been nudging Hellboy along quite a bit – the one demon who shows up to tell Hellboy, "This is what you're going to do. I know what your father wanted for you." So it's time to have it out with him.
How are you breaking down the series as a whole in terms of arcs or mini series or what have you?
It's not going to be mini series. The first four issues are monthly, and they make the first arc. There's a certain kind of ending with issue #4 which I just finished. Then issue #5 will come out I'm not sure when – it depends on when I start it and finish it! But from here on out, there will only be one-issue stories or two-issue stories. If it's a two-issue story, those two issues will come out monthly. But my goal is to do as many self-contained stories as I can. Though, I do keep coming up with two-issue ones. Still, I don't plan on anything longer than that.
Why is that? Why do you love the short format so much? Does it just help you get more ideas out quicker?
I can polish it a little more. I can see both sides of it. To me, four issues gets a bit unwieldy. It takes too long, and there's too much space between the beginning, middle and end. If I do one issue, I can see both sides of the story and work them towards the middle if that makes any sense. It's just easier to wrap my brain around a smaller thing. At the same time, the beauty of doing the small things is that while they seem to stand alone, they do fit together into a great piece. So I've roughly structured at least the first three trade paperbacks worth of material. They're standalone stories, but they stack together in a specific way that gives the sense of an ongoing story.
"Hellboy In Hell" #2 is in stores now from Dark Horse.