Making The Case For A Hellboy Cinematic Universe
Ever since Marvel’s The Avengers hit theaters back in 2012, Hollywood has wholly embraced the idea of shared cinematic universes. The MCU’s hot streak has taken the blockbuster business by storm. Not every attempt by other studios has been a grand slam, but it’s evident that audiences are willing to invest themselves in long form cinematic storytelling. Marvel, Star Wars and DC might be the top dogs, but there are other rich worlds waiting to be unearthed and brought to life on the big screen. Chief among them? Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.
Most of us discovered Hellboy through Guillermo Del Toro’s excellent 2004 film adaptation. The 2008 sequel Hellboy: The Golden Army was an even more superb outing. Both films embodied the heart and visually distinct look that made the comics so compelling. Unfortunately, Del Toro’s planned third installment never came to fruition. The 2019 reboot didn’t do Mignola’s work justice, and missed the mark with critics and audiences alike. Despite the film’s failure, development on yet another attempt has gone full steam ahead: Hellboy: The Crooked Man is set to hit theaters next year, and it’s looking to adapt one of Big Red’s more unsettling tales.
Hellboy boasts a 30 year run of incredibly well written stories. In fact, it’s arguably the most concise and carefully constructed comic book universe out there. Mignola and his creative partners have crafted a mythology that begs to be fleshed out on the big screen. It’s a world full of rich imagery, originality, and enormous heart. Here, I’d like to break down why a Hellboy cinematic universe is not only an exciting prospect, but one that would serve as an entirely unique new franchise.
A Complicated Hero
Hellboy’s appearance makes him instantly distinguishable from other comic book heroes. He’s tall, red skinned, and gruff looking with two filed down horns upon his forehead. He’s discovered by the United States army after being summoned to Earth via a ritual during WWII, and taken in by the kind hearted Professor Bruttonholm. It’s during his childhood that he’s imbued with his caretaker’s good hearted characteristics. He begins a career as a paranormal investigator for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (or BPRD for short). For a time, Hellboy’s past remains a mystery, even to him. He grows to become a genuinely good man who keeps the world safe from paranormal threats, but he eventually discovers there’s more to his story than he’d care to know.
Born as Anung un Rama (or “and upon his brow is set a crown aflame”), Hellboy learns of his destiny to one day destroy the world. Not only that, but he’s the last living heir to King Arthur through his mother’s bloodline, making him the rightful king of England. It’s here that we’re given a glimpse into the character’s complicated psychology. As time wears on, he’s forced to wrestle with his destiny. He fears what he could become and how his fate could impact the people he loves. Despite his apocalyptic destiny, Hellboy’s greatest desire is to be a normal human being. Interestingly, it often seems that Hellboy himself is the most human of anyone around him. Crafting a universe with a character this fascinating at the center is a win for both filmmakers and audiences alike.
A Cohesive Narrative
Hellboy is unique in the realm of long running comic book lines in that it actually ends. Yes, his story does conclude, but it’s a welcome rarity within the medium. Since its inception, creator Mike Mignola has been involved with mostly everything relating to the character and his world, including spinoffs and short stories. The result is something that maintains airtight continuity and a singular voice, despite other contributing writers and artists. More than naything, it begs the reader to keep the pages turning.
Hellboy’s stories range from being smaller and more intimate tales of self discovery all the way up to bombastic, world ending battles. The Lovecraft inspired mythology feels wholly unique, but Mignola also incorporates elements of real world folklore. Inspirations range from Babylonian, Egyptian, Irish, Russian, English, Scottish and more. To cover every last piece of real world mythology seen in Hellboy would require a book all its own. There’s potential for audiences worldwide to experience pieces of their culture in one of the character’s many weird and wondrous adventures.
A Stellar Supporting Cast
Hellboy isn’t the only unique creature in Mike Mignola’s world. His work boasts an enormous number of characters brimming with intrigue and personality. There’s a great number of them deserving of a proper introduction in film and television. Audiences might already be familiar with the amphibious Abe Sapien or pyrokinesis pro Liz Sherman, but there are a horde of other individuals worthy of love. What began as a tale of a lone red demon now encompasses a wealth of incredible characters and titles, stretching across multiple storylines. The best part? The reader isn’t required to pick up every last issue of every comic book title in Mignola’s world. If one wants to only read Hellboy or one of the many spinoffs, they can. This method might serve as a nice breather for those fatigued by shared universes. You may not have to absorb every piece of content, but you’ll be rewarded if you do.
The world of Hellboy is one that’s both mature and ridiculously fun, never running short on lovable characters or meaningful stories. There’s the BPRD line that delves into the backstory of Hellboy’s caretaker and the agency he works for. Abe Sapien gets a story where he undergoes an existential crisis, coming to terms with his new physical form. Witchfinder follows Victorian era cult investigator Sir Edward Grey in a series that pays homage to gothic horror. Lobster Johnson (who appeared in the 2019 film) is a title that functions as a love letter to pulp heroes of the 30s and 40s. There’s also the Nazi-battling, mech suit wielding Sledgehammer 44 and the excellent monster tale Frankenstein Underground, all worth reading and adapting in some form. Overall, it’s a fantastic playground for anyone looking for character driven modern horror.
Hellboy: The Crooked Man is currently set for a 2024 release. –Danny O’Brien