“Don’t Tell Me What to Do”:

Looking at Hellboy Refusing Fate by Pushing Freewill

Hellboy is the intellectual demon child of comic book writer Mike Mignola. It’s been published by Dark Horse Comics off and on since 1993. Hellboy’s origin is simple, during WWII in 1944 an occultist by the name of Rasputin conjured Hellboy to bring about the end of the world and release the dragon Ogdru Jahad to do so. The dragon would destroy the world as humanity knows it and create a new hell on earth where demons and monsters reign. Unfortunately for Rasputin (who is a servant of the dragon), Hellboy was found by a man called Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced Broom) and raised as a son. Mignola uses this bit of exposition in his work to convince the reader that Hellboy is more man than demon. This uses the nature versus nurture discussion to validate Hellboy’s profession as a monster hunter.

But Hellboy’s destiny is brought up several times throughout nearly all of the Hellboy storylines. During these storylines, there is almost always some sort of supernatural being watching and judging him or many times trying to convince him to accept his role as the bringer of destruction. The first real hint at Hellboy’s mysterious presence on earth is revealed by Rasputin in “The Seed of Destruction” storyline. Here, the reader learns that Rasputin conjured Hellboy to bring about the end of the world. Rasputin looks at Hellboy as an unruly servant but this control he has over Hellboy is completely useless most likely due to the influence of Prof. Bruttenholm. At the end of this storyline in the final battle between Rasputin and Hellboy, he renounces his destiny and makes it known that he doesn’t want to know anything about what was meant for him to do.

Later in Mignola’s career, he brings the witch goddess Hecate (as famed by Shakespeare’s Macbeth in high schools the world over) into the Hellboy mythos. Unlike many other worldly attempts, Hecate tries to seduce Hellboy with charm and logic. She describes Hellboy’s life as killing his own species and family. Hellboy is then swallowed by Hecate (now embodied in a giant iron maiden snake) and there his horns grow as his destiny is being brought to his attention again. At this point, the other worldly court that watches Hellboy’s every move is seeing him revolt against his “nature” by stating, “It’s my goddamn life, and I’ll do what I want with it.” He then snaps his horns and fire crown (because he is the son of the king of hell, so naturally he has a crown of fire when his horns are grown) disappears as he once again refuses his place in the end of the world.

In the Hellboy collection of “The Chained Coffin and Others” the reader learns officially of Hellboy’s lineage. In The Chained Coffin story, the reader sees a woman by the name of Sarah Hughes. This woman, who would later be revealed as the descendent of Mordred (bastard son of King Arthur), sold her soul and married a demon named Azazael. Later, that woman would repent and return to society and have two children both of whom become priests. After this woman died they chained her coffin in an effort to keep the demon from claiming her body and soul. They failed. The demon kills them both and claims his property. The reader then learns that the woman has been pregnant with the demons power/child since she married him in her youth. The demons plan was to take her down into hell to give birth to his son. It is at that moment that the demon turns to the reader (who is also in POV of Hellboy receiving this vision) and says, “Your real child is within you still, waiting to be born. That child conceived on Walpurgis-Nacht all those years ago when you first asked for my power. My power is still inside of you. It has become a living thing. A son. My favorite son.”

It is a rather frightening scene. It also depicts that the demon has some sort of emotional investment in the woman. He talks of how she will always be that beautiful girl that kissed him and hung around his neck as he flew her around in the clouds. Mignola layers the Sarah Hughes character by these revelations. First, he starts be giving the reader the scene of a poor old woman that raised two pious children and is dying in fear of her immortal soul. Then the reader sees her past mistake of selling her soul, though it’s not revealed exactly why or what for. From there, the character profile twists again when as the demon discusses how she was before and she asks of he could make her that girl again. This twist in character exposition shows the readers a nearly irredeemable and opportunist kind of mother. The demon then casts a hook through the woman and drags her to hell. Where the reader can assume that Hellboy boy is born. The reason that this can be assumed is because when Hellboy is brought to earth he is not an infant but a toddler.

One of the angles that Mignola also takes in regards to Hellboy’s future role in the apocalypse is other monsters and people trying to murder Hellboy because of the possibility that he may enter into the fate that everyone thinks he will. In the Strange Places storyline, Hellboy is dragged to the bottom of the sea where a fish…monster…demon…thing is trying to kill Hellboy to keep him from pulling the world apart.  When Hellboy asks the Fish monster why, she responds by telling him that is nothing less the salvation of the world. This is not an unreasonable idea. And if it wasn’t for the fact that Hellboy is the main character, a reader could see why the threat of the bringer of the end of the world should be taken care of proactively. In the Wild Hunt storyline Hellboy endures an assassination attempt by English Nobles to keep him from obtaining the English throne (as readers would later learn of Sarah Hughes’ lineage to King Arthur and by extension Hellboy’s connection to King Arthur). Later on in the same storyline Hellboy is battling a monster in order help a friend on the verge of death. The battle is not going in Hellboy’s favor when a small winged demon offers to give Hellboy information that would win him the battle. In return for the information the demon states what he desires, “Promise that you will remember me when you come into kingdom.” Once again it seems that every demon is convinced that Hellboy will take his throne as a king in hell.

Further on in the same storyline Hellboy continues to emphasize that he is control of his own destiny and refuses to become Anung Un Rama (his real name from hell) which means “Beast of the Apocalypse”. But as he leaves the people that he was telling this he passes a mirror that reflects the version of him that he represses, Anung Un Rama. This reflection comes to life and a battle ensues. Mignola once again reinforces the idea of Hellboy’s internal battle with himself by giving readers a visual of this battle (which of course turns out to be a hallucination caused by his dark nature to try and force him to accept his role as a king and destroyer of the world and therefore it’s an internal battle). But it’s a battle that fanboys have been waiting to see. Hellboy will continue to gain its cult following and that following is desperately wanting to see something of Hellboy’s destiny come to fruition. Maybe to see him cause fate to go sideways and show that freewill is greater than the outlined plans of external forces or perhaps he accepts his destiny to show readers that in Mignola’s world characters are a slave to their nature and the end is coming.

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Nathan J. Harmon is a graduate of Missouri State University and teaches English in southwest Missouri

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