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Peeing in Your Shower: Hellboy, Satan and Free Will pt. 1

Written by Keb Ellis on Tuesday, July 15 2008 and posted in Features
Today, I open with a famous quotation: “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.” – As said by Satan on line 263 from Book 1 of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost A bit of background for those who aren’t familiar: Paradise Lost is Milton’s most famous epic poem about the fall of man in [...]

12744.jpg the Garden of Eden. It’s all kinds of Christian philosophy and blank verse and all that jazz. It’s studied a lot, and I’ve studied it quite a few times. There are all sorts of readings in the range of misogynist literature to Puritan propaganda and even the rise of Liberal Capitalism in the late 17th century. The latter is where I’m focusing my topic, sort of. Last year in a class that focused on politicsin the literature of the Restoration, I’d read Paradise Lost and looked specifically at the character of Satan.

In the poem, Satan is the embodiment of free will. I think this is the most intriguing fact about his character, he does what he wants. He is meant to be the very first rebel, and what I find so fascinating is the way Milton works this idea of free will into the way we have been living our lives since the Enlightenment. Normally, we don’t think of it that way, but it’s not hard to understand through the Enlightenment ethos why the Romantic poets regarded Satan as the epic’s hero.

Now, what does this have to do with comics? Off the top of my head, not much. The only real instance where we see a Miltonian Satan figure is in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (Season of Mists, but I’ll talk about that later). No, you wouldn’t think Paradise Lost when you see a commercial for this summer’s big blockbuster Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.

It’s not the movie itself, because I haven’t seen it, but the Hellboy legacy, the character, the mythos and everything about the way he acts that is very Satanic, at least in terms of Milton’s Satan.

When I’d first seen the movie, the connection didn’t kick in. When I’d read the first book, I didn’t see it. When I’d read the second book, Wake the Devil, I saw it instantly. Hellboy’s destiny is to trigger the apocalypse, with his Right Hand of Doom. I’m not sure if Mignola is aware of it, and I’m sure in some way he is, but when Hellboy breaks his horns and rejects his destiny, he is ultimately doing what Lucifer does in Paradise Lost.

In order to really understand the connection and brilliance on Mignola’s part, one must consider where Hellboy comes from: Hell (duh…). What is Hell? It is the Kingdom of those who fell from Heaven; the demons. Okay, I’m not entirely sure if Miltonian Hell is where Hellboy is from, but I’m going to assume that it is. I have to in order to make my point.

If Hellboy is indeed a child of Hell, Satan’s kingdom, then he is effectively doing what Satan does in Paradise Lost to the point where roles get reversed. Instead of Satan rebelling against Heaven, Hellboy rebels against Hell, therefore Hell becomes the kingdom where destiny is imposed and everyone is part of a grand plan. That would mean Earth becomes Hell and Hellboy eventually takes Satan’s original role. It’s an idea that I’d like to explore in higher detail and in concurrence with the Hell we see in Sandman.

But I’m out of space for this week, so next week I’ll be looking into this premise in more detail.


Posted originally: 2008-07-15 05:20:48

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