One of the notable curiosities about the ‘Mignolaverse’ is that it kicks off in 1994, seemingly, as a team hero series of the by then thoroughly worked-over X-Men gifted-children type but, without ever taking that convention very seriously, soon abandons it, splitting Hellboy’s story off from the Bureau’s, or its from his, whereafter they’re maintained as essentially separate series. The B.P.R.D. carries on, of course, in something like the original team vein, with the hero angle considerably diminished and a heavy dose of X-Files to round out what it lacks in the way of X-Men substance. And Hellboy, title and character together, is plunged in what ends up being clearly another direction altogether, borrowing apparently from Gaiman and who knows what other long list of sources.
For me it’s an interesting question whether Mignola meant to have it this way all along, or at least meant to leave himself the opening for it, or whether conversely he maybe didn’t really know, when he started, what he was going to have to do with his characters to keep himself interested in the project over time. Clues are there that he must have had more in mind than, I don’t know, Alpha Flight with ghosts. Hellboy’s singular backstory and its prominence in the opening is the strongest clue, but I can’t help thinking that Mignola is kind of telling us right out of the gate, in many little ways with each new installment, that this storyline is weak and he knows it and knows we know it, and that nobody need be surprised if it doesn’t get far in this form.
One of the things I might try to play with here further is the idea of that basic built-in irony, and the question of its being variously foregrounded or backgrounded or what have you. Unhappily, I’m not very well equipped to do so. For one thing, I’ve never read much in or about the sources apparently important to Mignola — e.g., Lovecraft and all other fright lit and pulp, not to mention the vast canon of the mainstream superhero comics. What I bring to it is very catch-as-catch-can. So we’ll have to see if this goes anywhere.
Another thing I’m turning over in mind now, though, is the notion, newly and possibly very belatedly coming to me tonight, that Hellboy is a kind of answer to Superman the ur-comics-hero, and that it’s this that Mignola has, before long, to unhitch him from his too appealing companions to have a chance to work out — whether because it was his plan all along or because it became, at some point after he’d started, the unavoidable demand of the character.