Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Hellboy, Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction

Review Hellboy Volume One Seed of Destruction Mike Mignola John Byrne Dark Horse Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriters: Mike Mignola, John Byrne
Artist: Mike Mignola
Collects: Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #1-4 (1994)
Published: Dark Horse, 1994; $17.95

Seed of Destruction begins with an idea that’s interesting enough: as the Second World War comes to a close, the Nazis attempt to summon the powers of Hell to turn the tide in their favor. Unfortunately for the Third Reich, their success works to their enemies’ advantage, with the demonic baby they conjure up – soon to be dubbed “Hellboy” – falling into the hands of the Allies.

From this point, writer/artist Mike Mignola fast-forwards the story half a century into the future. It’s almost too bad, because I think the adventures of baby/child/adolescent Hellboy could have been pretty interesting. The title character, along with teammates Abe Sapien (a merman) and Liz Sherman (a pyrokinetic), is now an agent of the U.S. government who investigates paranormal activity. A series of strange events involving one of the Americans who originally discovered him leads Hellboy and his team to an old Victorian house – here, he confronts the wizard responsible for bringing him into the mortal plane in the first place.

This book was my first Hellboy comic book experience and, having heard so many good things about the series, I expected to enjoy it quite a bit. However, several things prevented that from happening. First, there’s a sort of “hurry up and wait” pacing to the book that just feels a bit off. I would have liked to learn more about Hellboy and his world after the exciting opening sequence, but instead the character rushes straight into the clutches of the bad guy, spending a full half of the book as a helpless captive. Most of the story consists of the wizard rambling on about his past and his master plan to destroy all of creation, with Hellboy taking on the equally clichéd “You’ll never get away with this!” role. Very little time is spent with Abe or Liz (who is actually unconscious for most of the book), which is disappointing because both seem like characters with a lot of potential.

The main draw of Seed of Destruction is the artwork, which is fantastic. It’s dark and moody, but in a fun, almost campy sort of way, and the Lovecraftian monsters that the wizard spends most of the book trying to awaken are especially eye-grabbing. My guess is that Mignola, who didn’t have much experience writing comics before Hellboy, came up with the plot and asked John Byrne (who receives credit for co-writing the book) to help with the script. Although the central ideas are interesting, the result is still an ill-paced, overly verbose comic that runs at least one issue too long. I suppose I’ll give the second book a try, but only on the basis of all the praise that’s been heaped on this series over the years; my hope is that with Mignola penning the subsequent volumes by himself, the end product will be a lot less average.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


  1. I've never read a Hellboy comic or seen the movies(although my mother of all people speaks very highly of them), but this actually sounds like something I'd be kind of interested in picking up one day, even though it only received a middle of the road score from you Marc. This wizard sounds like one of those old 60's villains who would tell you their entire evil plot and then stand around laughing ominously until he winds up defeated. I love villains like that! I'll probably hold off on picking this up(unless I can find it cheap)until I see what you have to say about the next volume.

  2. Very interesting review Marc, I haven't seen the Hellboy movie or read much about him either but I always thought he was a weird character but written right he could be interesting. Sucks that this wasn't as good as it could've been from your review but I'll be eagerly awaiting your review of the second book.

  3. I've never read a Hellboy comic. I do enjoy the movies, but I'm not sure if that has more to do with Guillermo Del Toro than the Hellboy himself. :-P

  4. Unlike the people who have previously commented, I have read many Hellboy comics and I have also seen the movies, and I think the book is better than you give it credit for. If you read later graphic novels of Hellboy, you will see that Mike Mingolia is a short story graphic novel writer which could explain the "sort of 'hurry up and wait' pace of the book." When you say that he [hellboy] is helpless for half the book, the book is really short so it is actually less than allot of characters, but you were mainly right, otherwise this was a very good review.

  5. X-Man: I think I would have enjoyed the villain a little more if he'd been the kind of slightly silly, "bwahaha" villain you described. As it was, the wizard was really a pretty dark figure. What I didn't mention in this post is that there are a few short stories printed at the end of this book that DO have some villains sort of like that, and I enjoyed those more than "Seed of Destruction" proper.

    John: The movies have the same thing going for them that this first Hellboy series did, which is the visual element. Take that away from both and they become a lot more average in my opinion. But like I said, maybe later Hellboy stories will be better.

    Jozeph: I understand that you only have room to do so much in a four-issue comic series, but at the same time, decent pacing is something that even a ten-page story can (and should) have. That just wasn't the case here; it's almost like this was originally going to be a 3-issue series that they decided to extend by an issue to include a bunch of extra dialogue that didn't really drive the plot forward. The climax occurred about halfway through the book, and that just made the rest of it really boring to me.