Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I’m still kind of amazed that there’s been such a renaissance of indie comics this last decade. I remember when Image and Dark Horse started to make their pushes to pick up more of the market. Other comic book companies had tried before, but very few had been able to sustain themselves for long. I’d like to think that all of these independent ideas have really refined and reshaped what we’re looking to get out of a comic book. Suddenly, people aren’t content with just ongoing superhero dramas (well, okay, we still love that but we want it done better than it was being done, anyway). People wanted more.

There’s sort of a high standard these days for comic books, isn’t there? I mean, okay, there’s plenty of just random comics out there that don’t try to be anything they aren’t. But a lot of the then minor/now major companies started to whip out books that had it all: a gripping, action packed-story, a fairly consistent universe, great art, felt new and different and presented well-crafted pacing for storytelling and panel layout.
It’s sort of like indie film really. Indie films have greatly influenced what the general public want to see in Hollywood films. They wanted more substance, to feel more engaged. Most Hollywood films try to capture that feel these days. Comics are no different. Marvel and DC have begun to thrive on--I think--a lot of the things that have made some of the lesser known comics more successful.

Hellboy was, without question, one of the first big victories for this movement. Sure, there’s been Hellboy comic book crossovers and all that business, but Hellboy was designed to exist in his OWN comic as his OWN character. And the world he lives in is built around that character. It’s a strange blend of gothic fairy tale fantasy and modern military action. That’s a lot of what I think makes Hellboy such a great comic. It’s blazingly unapologetic. Not just the character (who is, by nature, unapologetic) but the fact that it’s writers just embrace the quirky strangeness that IS Hellboy’s world.

It’s this cross-section of underground Nazi scientists, fairy tale monsters and old-school pulpy action adventure. And I’m not even saying how or why that all works together, but it’s sort of like when you read Hellboy you don’t question it. It’s just COOL. It seamlessly blends together being funny, being dark and gritty and being action-packed in this way that makes Hellboy a very distinct comic in its own way. He wouldn’t fit in well in a cameo in Batman or X-Men or even a Dr. Strange comic for that matter (if they ever made that anymore. Which they don’t. Which is aggravating). He works best in his own world.

I know the Avengers has become a really exciting deal. But I still think part of what everyone has started to do right with individual comics is try to make sure that they have a very distinct feel. Yes, it’s interesting to see Batman and Superman interact, but what makes those comics work best is to get a sense that when you’re reading their comics you're getting more of a sense that this is THEIR comic, separate from all others. Crossovers are fun, but substance is what makes comic books great. And I think the indie movement has facilitated that. We want to make the themes for a Captain America movie feel different than the themes for an Iron Man or a Hulk movie. And I think comic and screenplay writers take that a lot more seriously now and do their job well.

But Hellboy was one of the first to really make that work. And the character has been making it work for twenty years now, which is an awesome and commendable feat. Just sayin’.