I wasn’t going to write this tonight but I haven’t written in a while and my ego is bothering me. This is going to be less of a thorough analysis of the films or comics (which I haven’t read many of) and more along the lines of a brief summation of why Hellboy is to me a fresh escape from cliché comic tropes. But before I get into the meatier stuff, I’d like to quickly commend the artists of Hellboy especially of the original comics. I personally am not fond of the glossy look most comic art has now. It’s not distracting, but I much prefer the gothic minimalism of the Hellboy comics. Now that I added that to this essay because I didn’t know where else to put it, we can get on to more important aspects of men wearing tights.
Firstly, Hellboy doesn’t have a secret identity; he just is Hellboy. He didn’t get his powers in an accident, and throughout the film we don’t see him sneaking off to done on primary colored tights. He was born with what makes him the character he is, rather than being a product of circumstance. I suppose to some extent you could say he is similar to Superman in this respect, because they both are born with their abilities. Though Superman’s powers comes from being a Kryptonian living close to a Yellow Sun on a world with relatively low gravity; when Hellboy’s powers are far-more limited and asides from knowing magical languages and being fire proof are limited to either super strength and healing factor which is a standard superhero trait, and his Right Hand of Doom which is his identifying strength.
We see that because he didn’t get his powers in an accident, he doesn’t have qualms about moral responsibility that also is common in comic books. He’s hated by the people he saves the lives of and is confined by the agency he workds for; honestly I don’t blame him for feeling he doesn’t owe anyone anything. Batman does what he does for the common good yes, but he also has a deep-seated need to avenge his parents which also makes his actions in a way selfish or self-gratifying in-regard to his ego. Superman couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t use the powers of a God that were at his disposal. Most superheroes have powers, psychological traits or circumstances that make “fighting the good fight” essentially not even a choice for them. It’s paradoxically enough the sense of choice that confines them to their ethical responsibilities. Hellboy however was more or less forced into his line of work and would be happy eating Baby Ruth’s all night and watching TV. He has a certain Proletarian everyman quality you don’t find in many comic characters – at-least not in the main heroes.
It’s refreshing that he doesn’t feel ethical qualms about what to do with his life and feels that it’s simply his duty to play the part that’s been decided for him because that’s essentially the attitude that would most-likely benefit most people if they accept the lot in life they’ve chosen. That is, once you’ve decided to go the conventional route of working a nine-to-five job and have a house with a picket fence, a wife, a dog, and all the rest, ethics isn’t really a factor in day-to-day life as it is in literature. However, dealing with the existential dilemma brought up in the Myth of Sisyphus is a very relevant issue for such people as it is to a lesser degree for all of us. And though I don’t think that the solution is to be happy with the punishment – especially one of eternal torture – the Gods have given us, there is a certain acceptance of fate and one’s circumstances and character that is healthy and refreshing. As-long as it isn’t used as rationalization or justification for unethical acts. Hellboy knows that he’s around people who are smarter than him and in many ways better than him; but he does his job and as long as he does that, fulfilling his role and kicking ass, than no one can slight him.
Also he has the rejected “freak” aspect of being different and unique that really only the X-men handles. Or to be general, he suffers from his powers or has negative aspects of them when all the original superheroes didn’t have any downside except the sacrifices of a particular type of virtuous action. Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, Captain America, all of these heroes in no way suffer or are deemed “other” or alien – even if they actually are aliens – due-to their powers. In-fact, it’s often the villain who is disfigured in an accident or by birth and is hideous, or suffers downsides from his powers. This almost supports a Nazi-esque notion of the virtuous being typically beautiful and blessed in all regards (particularly superficially) by nature and the wretched being disfigured. Now of course genetics has a role to play in virtue, character and ability, but to simplify and make superficial as the Nazis and other simple-minded Right-wingers do is inaccurate and anti-intellectual and propagandistic. For example, Two Face, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze – the versions where he requires a certain chemical compound or equipment to survive – are all examples of villains who don’t start with malicious intent but either have to perform conventionally immoral deeds out of material necessity or are made into villains by the degradation of their character by external forces; but of course Christians and Sartreans who propose “radical freedom” as if Man were a vacuum will quarrel with me on this. But to summarize this portion, it is nice to see a hero who suffers for his abilities in some ways like a philosophical genius who also suffers psychological maladies that are in his case the same cause of his brilliance.
And to further the “freak” point; the X-men are an entire school (or rather the main X-men attend this school with other mutants which are potential X-men) of mutants who form essentially a small society of outcasts. Hellboy has Abe, Liz and Johann but ultimately he’s alone. Especially since in many if not most of the comics he seems to be handling things outside of the BPRD. Then of course he’s usually in-and-out of magical demographics either living amongst humans or in their own magical communities, but even then in some ways he’s apart because he’s Hellboy and people seem to know who he is and identifies him as the harbinger of Armageddon or something along those lines just as everyone identified Harry Potter as “the Boy Who Lived.” Once again I haven’t read many Hellboy comics so I might be mistaken on this but this is what I’ve gathered from the comics I’ve read and skimmed. Ultimately Hellboy seems to a synthesis in this regard between X-men and the Thing from the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four of course are one of the most accepted groups of heroes inside the Marvel Universe right-alongside Captain America; though the Thing feels cursed because of his appearance. Hellboy has this appearance issue that he cannot escape, and the aspect of being rejected out of fear and hatred of those who view him as demonic or simply “other” very-similar to the X-men.
The main fault in Hellboy from my knowledge is the lack of a great rogues gallery the likes of Batman, Superman or to a smaller extent the X-men. Joker, Two-face, Brainiac, Darkseid, Lex Luthor, Mr. Mxyzptlk, General Zod, and these are just the ones off the top of my head. Rasputin has the whole “remake the world to make it perfect” motive that is more-or-less Darkseid’s; and there are Nazis from what I gather, which is fun for a generic villain , but it seems to me that what’s lacking is a roster of baddies that represent something. General Zod is the archetype dictator for example. So is Darkseid, but he wants to destroy existence to make one where the very possibility of free thought or will is impossible; when Zod seems to be the Conservative who believes that a strong Government and national character is necessary for a free and prosperous society. But once again this is an area I’m lacking-in in Hellboy lore, so if I’m terribly mistaken I’m terribly sorry H.B. fan boys.
But that does lead me to the most interesting H.B. villain I know of, namely the antagonist from H.B. II. Prince Nuala – excuse the misspelling if such is the case – like Magneto is a villain that one can easily empathize with if not side with at-least to some extent. Human beings for example are polluting and destroying the environment on a catastrophic scale, and if other sentient beings existed asides from us it would be completely within their rights to defend themselves. Magneto I feel is somewhat justified in his actions, the problem however is that he harms average humans for the anti-mutant crimes of large Governments and Corporate power, much like Zod in the Superman story I reviewed recently.
However, humans positing vehemently anti-Mutant views and do believe they should be second-class citizens should expect no mercy or tolerance in a time of conflict and intolerance. If you want to take away my right to be free and prosper for smoking pot or loving someone of the same gender, don’t feel you’ve been slighted unfairly when I take away your right to go to Church or shoot your gun. If someone is in favor of an unfree society, besides the powerful that make such a thing happen in the economic (material) and the political (legislative) sense they are the ones who must suffer first for their ignorance though their fundamentalism is not fundamentally their fault. We must work with them when we can, but we must recognize that they are on-large an enemy of freedom and prosperity, and that when they fight back or resist change we must not allow their weakness to be a strength by failing to act to their hatred and ignorance solely because they are weak. Just because a fly is harmless doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be swat when it bites. Freedom of speech is precious but explicit attempts to curtail the quality of life or liberties of others must be nipped swiftly in the butt unless we wish to return to the position we have today with Representative Democracies acting in-spite of the public interest and defaming individual liberty out of the greed of corporations or the psychological need for power and obedience in a State structure governed by Conservative psychology.
Prince Nuala should ultimately if he wishes to stay on the ethical road threaten the world’s leaders to regulate all of their industries – though they should simply be State or worker controlled – and drastically retail human reproduction and use of resources. The population would need to be drastically reduced but one great thing about people not living as long as they’d like is populations can drop quite shortly. If humans do not comply however of course force would be justified when they threaten the lives of other sentient entities. Pom Poko is another excellent film that brings up these question and in further detail for they don’t make the Environmental a clichéd villain with little-more than a few lines for his cause; but that’s a film I plan on being thorough with at another time for that very reason.
Hellboy doesn’t have money, or immense power, a watch tower or a giant school that houses his “otherness.” In-fact he seems to be more of a captive than a refuge in many respects. He doesn’t need to hide his secret identity from anyone; others say that he has to hide his very existence from the outside world, much like Men in Black. He just does what he does because it’s his job and not out of some deep-seated psychological torment or guilt of not using his powers for a good cause. He just kills monsters because what else could he do, work at a McDonald’s drive-through? Hellboy is hated by those he protects and kept captive by the agency he works with. Hellboy shows the potential to be ethical out of an unethical situation, such an unethical situation being the main factors of our lives. We all are born, live with and die with immense injustices but rather than complying to it or giving into hatred, greed or Hedonism – which is the main difference between most villains and most heroes; most villains say to themselves, “Look what I’ve gone through, I deserve compensation.” When most heroes say, “Look at what I have, how can I use it to help those who need it?” – we must use what we are born with, in-regards to greatness many of the qualities that make us stand out and be ostracized, to do what little good we can in the roles that fate has confined us into, much like the station of Paranormal Detective rather than meaningless roller of rocks.