The BPRD Field Guide – The Mythology of Hellboy #1

What you are about to read is an experiment.

This is an idea I’d initially had for a con panel a couple of years earlier. The idea – taking a closer look at the numerous real world myths and folklore that have inspired Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics over the years – started life as an idea for a convention panel. The plan was stymied from realizing, on further research, there was just too much material for a single panel – seriously, that’s over 20 years and four different series.

BPRDFieldGuidePrototype

But the idea stuck with me, and now has evolved into seeing how it will play in an article format, going trade by trade.

Which brings us to today’s feature – the debut collected volume for the entire universe, Seed of Destruction.

As influences go, this starting volume is pretty straightforward, owing to several ‘modern’ myths and Mignola including a point of reference for one of the less overt ones.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

I don't care what History Channel's claiming, there weren't any cyborg gorillas

I don’t care what History Channel’s claiming, there weren’t any remote-controlled gorillas

-The Nazi Occult

Okay, before you guys start writing comments, this does bear clarification – yes, Adolf Hitler was a believer in the occult, and yes, he did try to employ some of it in attempts to aid the Nazi war machine in World War II. At the same time, however, that particular aspect of the organization has also been the jumping off point for enough conspiracy theories and wild speculation that it almost dances the line into mythology all its own (two words – Nazi UFOs.)

In that light, it provided a good jumping off point for Mignola to give birth to his myth-battling hero – a group with one foot so solidly planted in the occult that it’s inspired any number of tales for the better part of the twentieth century.

Which, of course, leads to the other major player in Hellboy’s origins, himself a real world figure who turned modern myth:

So...maybe a couple of liberties were taken...

So…maybe a couple of liberties were taken…

-Grigori Rasputin

Like the Nazis, Rasputin is a point I’ll be coming back to more in later installments, because neither is limited to just this one story. In fact, Rasputin is probably one of the more prominently placed antagonists of the early Hellboy stories for several volumes. Again, like the Nazis, a somewhat fitting jumping off point as another example of a myth of the 20th century.

Once again like the Nazis, the biggest reason for the mythological status here is a combination of missing information and a liberal peppering of rumors and hearsay. In the case of Rasputin, this had started happening even while he was alive.

The peasant-born Rasputin came to prominence at the turn of the century, when he was well into adulthood. His studies as a monk as well as just his general way with people gained him attention and even some celebrity among the aristocratic class of Russia that was becoming fascinated with by mysticism and the occult.

It was around the time Tsar Nicholas appointed him to tend to his son, Alexei, that Rasputin started to evolve into a sort of modern myth care of the rumors born out of those who resented his newfound privileges and status. The infamous assassination attempt – in which the man proved himself so hard to kill that many suspected that he still survived for years – effectively sealed his fate as a figure for which popular culture would have no small amount of uses.

Where this story is concerned, Mignola only really employs the seemingly immortal aspect of the character at this point– presenting his defiance of death as being spared by the ultimate antagonists of the series, the Ogdru Jahad, to act as one of their agents on Earth with what mysticism he employs coming from them.

The Ogdru Jahad, meanwhile, round out the trifecta of early 20th century legends the series’ roots sprout from:

I can't shake the distinct impression that Lovecraft would probably feel all kinds of mixed about his part in this.

I can’t shake the impression that Lovecraft would probably feel all kinds of mixed about his part in this.

-H.P. Lovecraft

Okay, this one isn’t that hard to guess at at all. In fact, Lovecraft is one of three people Mignola dedicates the first trade to (the others being his wife and Jack Kirby).

It’s easy to see why – this first story in particular owes a great deal to Lovecraft’s work.

As one of the main antagonistic forces of the series, the Ogdru Jahad are a big component of that. Introduced as seven imprisoned beings of chaos that have tasked Rasputin with awakening them from their ancient prison, they echo much of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones – ancient cosmic monstrosities that once ruled the Earth and now wait for the chance to be released to take back what is theirs.

Not as prominent as the Jahad is the fact that much of the backstory to Seed of Destruction owes to classic Lovecraftian narrative. The bulk of the story revolves around Cavendish Hall – an old house on a cursed lake where the last survivors of the Cavendish line now live.

The family themselves fit very much in the vein of Lovecraft’s doomed protagonists – the men of the line all believing something exists up in the Arctic based on the information found on a scrap of parchment and going on their own doomed expeditions for it. The last of these eventually leading to two sons finding a lesser being born of the Jahad, Sadu-Hem, in whose presence they are driven mad and destroyed. For a further dash of Lovecraft, several of the expedition’s members live on in this story as half-human, half-froglike monstrosities, not unlike the fish-men of The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

That said, since we’re discussing them, let’s round out this story’s discussion:

They start out so cute... Then they get bigger.

They start out so cute…
Then they get bigger.

-Frogs:

This one’s also kind of an easy get, given it’s one Mignola points out in chapter notes himself. Which is understandable – in terms of culture and mythology, what frogs represent can vary wildly from culture to culture, ranging from Egyptians and Greeks associating them with fertility, to Christianity amassing them with witchcraft. For Mignola’s part, he credits the cultures where frogs are viewed as messengers of doom and destruction – in particular citing an old African tale in which a frog ultimately prevents humans from being able to return from their deaths. Particularly appropriate in this case, where the frog-men are used with the illusion of resurrecting the doomed members of the Cavendish expedition.

With the bulk of this volume being dedicated to just one story, it focuses much of the topics that get addressed. There is one final note, however, that comes care of one of the two short stories included in the end as promotional one-offs from before the series began properly. The other story focuses, again, on the more outlandish and bizarre side of the Nazis that has since become its own mythology within the larger real story of World War II. The first, however, goes back to a much older myth in the form of:

Walk like an Egyp-- ...oh...

Walk like an Egyp–
…oh…

-Anubis

There’s not much that can really be said for Anubis as this particular story goes. While investigating a series of towns that appear to have dried up, Hellboy encounters a dog that soon turns into a giant, half-dog, half-humanoid being. He identifies it as the Egyptian god of mummification, and it even responds to the name, but the story also leaves it a bit uncertain over whether the dog-person is literally meant to be Anubis or not. Not that Hellboy has much time to determine for himself whether it is or not – after all, as a promotional story, it’s only four pages long.

With that, the main points have pretty well all been tagged for this installment. With volume two, we’ll be able to get into some more varied topics to flesh out. In the meantime, hope to see you then and feel free to leave feedback/suggestions – it’s the only way I’ll ever learn!

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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Guyinthe3rdrow

This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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