Hellboy Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola & John Byrne (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Carter Eldreth: 

Carter Eldreth is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a degree in literature with the intent to go to law school. His home is Bristol, Tennessee, and his hobbies include reading, writing, and video games. In the future, Carter intends on becoming an attorney, with the ultimate goal of becoming a judge

HELLBOY VOL ONEHellboy Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola is a collection of the first four issues of the now long running Hellboy series, which detail the various adventures of the titular Hellboy, a demon summoned in the twilight of World War II turned paranormal investigator. This book opens by recounting Hellboy’s origin story, and then quickly develops into a horror mystery as Hellboy and his compatriots from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) investigate the circumstances behind the death of Hellboy’s adoptive father. Seed of Destruction is an easy book for me to recommend, because despite some narrative blunders, the art of the book creates a wonderfully unsettling atmosphere that makes the book distinctly unforgettable.

The book begins by detailing how Hellboy entered into the world. In the closing days of World War II, a team of Nazi specialists tasked with creating a doomsday weapon formulated a plan to summon a powerful demon into the world, which they believed could be used to turn the tide and win the war for Germany. While their plan was successful in a sense, it wasn’t in the way they anticipated. A demon was in fact summoned, but he was essentially a child, and he did not appear in front of the Nazis who desired his presence, but rather in the midst of a group of American scientists and soldiers, who took him in and gave him the name Hellboy. From this opening portion, when Hellboy appears to be barely more than an infant, the story moves approximately 50 years later to Hellboy visiting his adopted father, Trevor Bruttenholm, one of the scientists he first appeared to. He has recently returned from an expedition to the far north, but is experiencing extreme memory issues. The two are attacked by a monstrous frog creature, which results in the death of Mr. Bruttenholm. This prompts Hellboy to investigate the mysterious circumstances that led up Mr. Bruttenholm’s return, particularly his expedition.

While the story of Seed of Destruction is certainly passable, and at some points shows glimmers of literary brilliance, it struggles to a certain degree with pacing. The first three issues of this volume are very slow and methodical, which works wonders to serve the overall atmosphere that Hellboy is so adept at creating, but that slowness is completely thrown out in issue four, which feels like a headlong dash to an unsatisfying deus ex machina resolution. Furthermore, at the risk of sounding more negative than I mean to be, the book’s narrative tends to be incredibly wordy, especially near the beginning, where expositional text dominates half of the pages. One of the greatest strengths of comics as a medium is being able to make up for less “telling” by using more “showing,” and Mignola seems to not utilize this strength to its fullest potential here.

While the story perhaps makes a few blunders, the art of Hellboy most certainly does not. All of the art employs strong, flat colors set against dark, typically monochromatic backgrounds. This simple artistic choice gives each panel a strong sense of stillness, while making each element stand out, ensuring that the reader’s eyes never lose track of what’s going on. This stillness of the art serves to further the atmosphere of horror and unease in Cavendish manor, which ultimately serves to make Hellboy’s story all the more compelling. The best moments in Seed of Destruction are those pages where there are few words and Mignola allows the illustrations to take center stage, giving the art and the atmosphere it creates the opportunity to tell their own story of darkness and fear. It should also be noted that the Lovecraftian imagery that becomes more central as the story progresses is also remarkably well done, and it serves to legitimize and solidify a concept that is somewhat difficult to fully comprehend without proper visuals.

Hellboy Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction is an intensely atmospheric and beautiful comic, but is ultimately held back by some narrative missteps near the end, as well as an unfortunate level of wordiness, which together serve to lower the rating to three-and-a-half stars. Despite the narrative shortcomings of Hellboy Vol. 1, the sheer strength of the artwork is more than enough to carry the comic, especially if one goes in with somewhat lowered expectations for the story’s resolution. In other words, I still highly recommend this book, because ultimately, what I remember of Hellboy Vol. 1 won’t be the rushed ending, or the paragraphs of exposition, it will be the beautifully haunting image of a bright red demon in the shadows of a dead house, and that I will remember for a very long time indeed.


  • 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.