fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsHellboy in Hell (Vol. 1): The Descent by Mike Mignola

I’m a huge fan of Hellboy. I love all the books and both movies. I think the character is funny and endearing and perfect in every way. I really like Mike Mignola’s art, too. So it was with great pleasure that I read Hellboy in Hell: The Descent, which is the first Hellboy book in many years both written and drawn by Mike Mignola. Though he’s continued to write many if not most of the Hellboy tales, he has not written all of them, and a good number of them are drawn by artists imitating his style. But in this latest volume, Mignola returns to his creation, with the masterful Dave Stewart adding colors and Clem Robbins acting as letterer.

This volume of Hellboy starts with a very brief, one-paragraph summary of the Hellboy story, ending with a one-sentence explanation of why Hellboy is in hell: “Shortly thereafter he fought a dragon and was killed.” I won’t give any spoilers about what happened before “shortly thereafter,” but I do want to suggest that if you are interested in Arthurian Legend and have never read Hellboy, you might want to read this series from the beginning. However, if you don’t want to start at the beginning, this volume makes for an excellent starting point, since in it, we find out about Hellboy’s origin.

Hellboy in Hell 1As the story opens, Hellboy is falling into the Abyss, or the outer edge of hell, and once there, he must deal with his past. Mignola has an appropriate scene for revealing the structure of this comic book: Hellboy, in another part of the Abyss, witnesses a strange, street puppet show performing A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Hellboy will also face his past, present, and future with some guides. However, he has one primary guide throughout most of the story, and this guide takes him to Pandemonium, the heart of hell, the Citadel of the Fly, where Hellboy is shown the throne and crown (which eerily floats in flames), both of which he has refused. His guide suggestively tells him: “Your father’s sword . . . His ring of office . . . All rightfully yours to take.” But Hellboy refuses them again. He also is given the opportunity to kill Satan who has been sleeping for 2,000 years. And Hellboy decides to . . .

This collection of five individual comics is episodic in nature, but in a good way: Hellboy finally has explained to him how he got his strange hand; he meets his two elder, and very angry, brothers; and he witnesses a man who has sold his soul for gold. As always, Mignola smoothly incorporates literary allusions, from Dickens to Shakespeare’s MacBeth and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Though Lovecraft is not cited, Lovecraftian creatures seem to be the inspiration for some of the creatures we see in Hell. The story about selling the soul for money, of course, is a well-known story, but Mignola puts his own twist on it, and by having Hellboy meet one man right before his soul is claimed, we get to see our main character interrupt the action and disturb in his own odd way the expected outcome.

It’s been a year or so since I’ve reread the first Hellboy book, so I hesitate to make too bold of a claim: I think this book is not quite as good as that first one, but it might be that I’m merely overly familiar with Hellboy now, and as a result, he’s unavoidably lost a certain amount of novelty. Still, this new trade collection is very good, and it offers one more way to enter the world of Hellboy. I would suggest starting with this book, the first Hellboy ever, or even the movies. At the very least, though, start somewhere: You don’t want to go through life without enjoying Hellboy, one of the best modern creations in the world of comics. In a field of art where the most popular characters are still ones that were created between 1938 and 1968, Hellboy, created in 1993, is still a rare exception.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.