Over the weekend I read the ten issues of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell. It’s a masterpiece of comic storytelling. “Masterpiece” being no exaggeration.
I’ve been a Hellboy fan for… well… years. I certainly recall reading Seed of Destruction some time at the end of the 1990s and have read the first four trades repeatedly since then. I hadn’t read the later stories (collected in the hefty Library Editions) until recently and still haven’t got to any of the spin-off B.P.R.D. titles.
At the end of the sixth Library Edition – SPOILER – Hellboy prevents the Apocalypse by slaying Ogrhu Jahad, a Lovecraftian horror, but is killed in an act of spite at the very end. His death is unexpected and quite shocking.
Mignola writes and draws Hellboy in Hell, a series of haunting, dream-like stories set in Hell as it collapses. Hellboy is now one-eyed and wanders Odin-like through empty cities and citadels, interacting with the ghosts and demons who live there. I certainly had no idea when I started reading issue 10 that it WAS the end of the entire Hellboy saga.
The ending seems quite definite. In an interview with CBR in 2016, Mignola stated that he was finished with the Hellboy narrative (presumably) begun with Seed of Destruction.
When I am drawing it, the artist part of me does say, “You know what? I think I am done.” This story was originally plotted to be much longer. It was originally supposed to go on forever, then it was going to be four trade paperbacks. Then, it was going to be three trade paperbacks. But when I got to the end of “Hellboy in Hell” #8, there is this nice quiet moment of Hellboy sitting under a tree, smoking a cigarette, and my brain just went, “That looks like the end of the series.” As an artist, I was kind of going, “Yeah, I think I’ve done as good as I can with this thing.” If I was just writing the book and if some other schmo had to draw the thing, I would probably could have just written those next seven issues, which were are plotted out, and it would have been just fine. But the artist part of me was like, “You know what? We’ve done this. Visually speaking, we’ve done it. CBR
Issue 10 presents Hellboy from a distance. A demon relates how he witnessed the fall of Hell. He tells how Hellboy has snuffed out the light of the world, supported a revolt of slaves against the rulers of Hell and assassinated Satan. The demon recounts how he saw the titanic, burning form of Hellboy battling with and defeating gigantic beasts before destroying Pandemonium, the capitol of Hell. The demon was blinded when Hellboy snapped off his horns, renouncing his demonic nature. The demon’s grandmother tells him that it is the end.
After the predictions made about Hellboy’s destiny made from the earliest stories, it was going to be incredibly difficult for Mignola to realise the expectations – especially after the climactic battle in The Storm and The Fury, where Hellboy battles the Dragon, Ogrhu Jahad, at the same time as a resurrected Arthurian army struggles against the supernatural forces of the witch-queen, Nimue. Instead, Hellboy’s devastating role in Hell is increasingly told from a distance which, in many respects, makes it far more mythic.
The final two pages remind me of the ambiguous ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. After travelling across a bleak, empty vista, Hellboy arrives in an old English country house and enters. In one of the rooms are three glowing geometric shapes. Hellboy becomes engulfed by the light of these shapes. We see him as he was at the start of Seed of Destruction: a small demon-child. And there we leave him.
It’s an affecting, heartbreakingly poignant ending.
It’s a quiet goodbye.