from the text. I also want to take a look at this in comparison with Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer character from Sandman: Season of Mists.
Okay, so to start, in the second volume of the Hellboy series, Wake the Devil, when Hellboy’s horns begin to grow (after he is swallowed by Hecate the Iron Snake), he says: “I choose door number three. It’s my goddamn life and I’ll do what I want with it.” These simple words are in their own ways very similar to the “Better to reign in Hell…” quote from Satan. What Hellboy implies is that he wants to exercise his free will, as he has been taught to “do right” by Professor Bruttenholm. This is where I find most of the similarities.
If I had more time, I’d find more textual spots and point them out. The scene in Wake the Devil that sparked the idea for me was the previously mentioned scene with the horns (also in the movie). The scene that cemented the idea for me though, was in the Conqueror Worm volume (number 5), when the little alien dude who helps Hellboy tells him that when Hellboy had been summoned to earth, he looked and saw free will in Hellboy’s eyes. Mignola is a little too blunt with that part, but it’s okay.
If in Heaven, Lucifer has a purpose as the archangel, and defies God by rebelling against his purpose and wanting God’s power himself, then his sin is pride. Pride in Paradise Lost is the original sin, it’s why we are “fallen beings”. In Hellboy, pride is not the operating sin, but in this case pride is flipped up-side down to be interpreted as free will. Hellboy’s free will triggers his pride that in turn makes him rebel against his purpose. Is his pride a sin in this case, and is it a bad thing? It’s open to debate.
Okay, so now let me bring in another example of Satan in comics: Lucifer (from the Vertigo series). In Sandman: Season of Mists, Lucifer, fed up with Hell, decides to walk. His justification is that he’s doing it to harm Morpheus, but I believe the reasoning runs a little deeper. If Lucifer in the series is the same fallen angel from the epic, then by running Hell he is fulfilling a purpose, and by closing it, and giving it away to whoever the hell wants it, he is again walking out on his duty as he does in Milton’s epic. This is emphasized by the way he has Morpheus cut off his wings as he leaves Hell.
Lucifer’s wings, Hellboy’s horns, they both represent the bond they have to their duties. By breaking them (or cutting), both characters are free to explore, they have mastered their free will. I think what’s important is the implication that Hell becomes the place of bondage to destiny, taking the role of Heaven in Paradise Lost. The fact that both of these writers are attempting to take that idea on is brilliant and in its own way quite original. Granted, Gaiman is a lot more blatant about it, but I think it’s the subtlety of the statement in Hellboy that makes it a fantastic series.
Eight books and a companion book later, I’m just getting into the potential of this idea. While I think there is a lot of room to explore it, I don’t think that’s what Mignola’s aim is. If it is, he’s not saying it. I think he should keep his mouth shut though, just in case he decides it’s not and proves me wrong.
Posted originally: 2008-07-22 06:57:40