Review - Hellboy: The First 20 Years

On March 22, 1994, Mike Mignola and John Byrne and Barbara Kesel teamed up for Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #1, the first comic dedicated to Hellboy. Dark Horse Comics published the four-issue miniseries which was met both reader and critical claim. In fact, it won two Eisners: one for "Best Graphic Album: Reprint" and one for "Best Writer/Artist" for Mignola. Readers familiar with the miniseries recognized many elements of the plot in the first Hellboy movie, brought to life quite convincingly by Ron Pearlman. Well, it's been twenty years since that first issue and, with March 22 declared Hellboy Day by Dark Horse Comics, it's only fitting that the publisher proudly release Hellboy: The First 20 Years.

To call Hellboy: The First 20 Years an art book would do something of a disservice to Mignola and Hellboy himself. In reality, the book is more of a "this is your life" retrospective on the character and universe, both of which have gone on to have a tremendous impact on comics in general. Mignola deserves credit for creating and maintaining a rather large universe of characters that readers have come to know and love. The affection Mignola has for his characters is on full display in Hellboy: The First 20 Years, with some his favorite pieces on display for all to admire and enjoy. There's a solid mix of sketches, pages and character renderings that really impress upon the reader the level of beauty found in characters with otherwise monstrous appearances.

Longtime fans of the property will definitely get the most out of Hellboy: The First 20 Years, as it offers them a chance to revisit some old favorites. That isn't to say that only die-hard fans should pick up the book; on the contrary, it would make a welcome addition to anyone's library, whether they're a comic book fan or fan of art in general. Mignola has always imbued characters in the Hellboy universe with a Victorian sensibility, maybe even making steampunk cool before it was cool. That atmosphere is further emboldened by and large by Dave Stewart, a colorist who has done more than his fair share of Hellboy books. The eight-time Eisner Award winning colorist always manages to make the macabre feel a little more proper than it has any right to, capitalizing on shadows and a darker palette for effect.

One of the biggest impacts of Hellboy: The First 20 Years is that the reader can really see just how forlorn and lonely Hellboy really is. Sure, he's outgoing, brash and bold, finding comfort in other members of the B.P.R.D. (some of whom look even stranger than he does). The thing about Hellboy though is that he has a dormant ability to bring about the end of the universe and is truly one of a kind. A lot of the art in Hellboy: The First 20 Years really hammer this point home, as there are quite a few shots of Hellboy looking off into the distance, somewhat crestfallen and almost as if he's come to the same realization about his capabilities on more than one occasion. Hellboy isn't really one to fit in right away (and he doesn't really care to) and seeing his history in the book is a confirmation of this notion.

Hellboy: The First 20 Years is ultimately as much a celebration of the Hellboy universe as it is of Mignola. The character has persevered despite not being a "traditional" comic book hero, thriving on paranormal storylines, sometimes gargantuan beasts and the bureaucracy of being a quasi-government agent. All of that strangeness is on display in Hellboy: The First 20 Years, showcasing highlights from the first twenty years of the universe at Dark Horse. Hellboy has always been something of an outsider, both in the storylines and when compared to other comic books, so the fact that he's been around twenty years in the ever-changing landscape that is comics is a testament to the character's popularity. It should be considered essential for all the die-hard fans of Hellboy, but would also make a great addition to just about anyone's library to be honest.

Hellboy: The First 20 Years is available now with interiors below.