Posted - August 26, 2011 | Updated : August 27, 2015
Hellboy : Wake The Devil
We're in for a treat. Behind Hellboy is the devil being referred to in the title. The skull guy in the foreground is incredibly interesting too; we'll get to him soon. But first . . .
After hearing unanimous praise for Alan Moore's work on Swamp Thing; after reading Tom Strong, Promethea and specially League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and after reading about him being very critical of much of the current work in comics, one of the questions I have asked, wistfully, during quiet, odd moments, was: What comics does Alan Moore read? I never really expected an answer to that; it was just nice to turn it around in my head. Unexpectedly, I now have an answer: Alan Moore reads Mignola, he likes Hellboy a lot. It is Moore who does the foreword to Wake The Devil. I particularly love his comparison of comicbooks to potions. He speaks of blending comics, of how . . .
"...we have to blend it artfully with how we see things now and with our visions for the future if we are to mix a brew as rich, transporting, and bewitching as the potions we remember from the vanished years."
And so the story begins with an approach to a lost castle in the edges of the Arctic Circle by the wealthy industrialist Zinco. Inside the castle, Zinco's life is threatened by a familiar group.
Yes, this was the very same group of Nazis that was there during the birth/summoning of Hellboy many years before.
They have been, as they put it, 'asleep on the ice', which I take to be suspended animation. The last few pages of Hellboy : Seed of Destruction, the first Hellboy trade paperback, showed this group coming awake in the castle - brought back by their nefarious machinery.
Zinco is welcomed into their ranks because of a story he tells about meeting the dead Rasputin also called the Master. It seems that Rasputin, who met his end in Seed of Destruction is still around and not without powers. Rasputin met Zinco in the beach of a private island that Zinco owns. There was no effort to explain or persuade on Rasputin's part, Zinco simply suddenly new of Rasputin's nihilistic plans and became a willing pawn. This seems to be a form of mental possession.
Next, we are taken to a wax museum in New York were a murder is committed by our group of villains - and for the first time, we glimpse this visage.
Before this panel is shown we are shown another which is a brilliant foreshadowing.
This panel, in turn, is based on a very popular likeness.
That is the face of Dracula.
Vampires. This is a vampire issue. Hellboy + Vampires. Whoo heee!
We are then taken to a briefing at the B.P.R.D., where it is revealed that the military-looking man is Vladimir Guirescu, he's been around since the time of Napoleon and ever since that time the evidence has been mounting of him being a vampire. So who finally beat him? This undead able to regenerate himself after fatal woundings? Hitler. That's right, Hitler has him killed at Dachau. Now I'm floored by this. What self respecting vampire allows himself to be killed by Hitler?
Now the next bit of news does something magic. It points us back a couple of pages to the wax museum where the murder happened. We are given this additional description about the museum:
"This afternoon, Dr. Hoffman ran some of his psychics through the museum storage room . . . All my people were upset by the atmosphere of the place. Several of them described a tall, "evil-looking" man in a Napoleonic uniform - this, of course, without any knowledge of the matters being discussed here. I believe that, until recently, Giurescu's body was kept in that room.
Brilliant isn't it? I breezed through that museum scene while reading, but this made me go back to it, this time with chills.
Back to another castle, Castle Giurescu, ancestral seat of the vampire. We are shown that the coffin and body of Guirescu is with Ilsa Haupstein - one of the Project Ragna Rok Nazis. She seems to have had a romantic past with Giurescu, and talks to his corpse saying that Hitler was afraid of his (Guirescu's) power. Not to defend Hitler, but if Guirescu is so powerful how come der Fuhrer managed to deliver him a package of whoop-ass? Moving on . . .
So far Mignola is able to summon mystery and raw terror, a very masterful showing so far. The mood is lightened a bit by Hellboy's misadventure.
The B.P.R.D. decides to investigate this whole Guirescu thing and divide into teams. Hellboy is sent out on his own. This team has cutting edge technology, so instead of jumping out of planes with parachutes they will be using jetpacks. Hellboy immediately voices an objection to the contraption, presumably from previous experience, but he is assured that they will be using the new and improved version. So away he goes. You have to click a handheld trigger for the things to work. Look how many clicks Hellboy is giving . . .
After a bit. . .
Jetpack exploding, Hellboy crashes right into Castle Giurescu, at the very front of Ilsa Haupstein. It is a measure of Hellboy's toughness that he survives this fall.
Shortly upon 'landing' he is set upon by Unmensch.
'Unmensch' means a truly vile or evil person. It's a bit of a fight, but Hellboy manages to take out this lunatic who keeps calling him 'Zirkus Affe' - Circus Ape.
At this point, there are flashback panels which take us back to 1944, right after Hellboy's summoning. Here, we are shown how Rasputin formed his core group out of the few Nazis who side with him after the Reich has shown dissatisfaction at his less than immediate solution to the war that is steadily being lost. The formation of the unholy alliance reminds one of Jesus calling forth his Apostles - the effect is extremely creepy.
In Hellboy Seed of Destruction, we are shown a scene from deep space - a vision of giant monoliths floating and being monitored by aliens. Now we go back to the same monoliths where a ritual is being held. A ritual of protection against the 'seven who are one' - a great and terrible evil. Then, just like that, we are back on Earth.
Hellboy hits Unmensch a bit too hard and they both go through the floor. Hellboy passes out for a bit then wakes up to see this
Talk about a panel saying volumes. That's Unmensch's mechanical arm and his blood on the floor. He still manages to limp off - that's pretty horrific. Hellboy follows the trail and sees this:
It seems that this grisly gentleman (the same from the cover) is eating what's left of Unmensch. The old man reveals that he is the father of Vladimir Giurescu and responsible for his becoming a vampire. How this came about was due to his discovery of a someone he refers to as 'her' then he shows Hellboy a book.
Lamia is a woman cursed by the gods to become a half serpent. She is infamous for devouring children and is said to be the daughter of Poseidon, the granddaughter of Poseidon or the daughter of Hecate, depending on the source. According to the old man, his only son, Vladimir, had died, drowned in a freezing river. But he could not accept his death so he brought him to Lamia - who brought him back to life as a Vampire.
Later on, Hellboy is attacked by several creatures that look like this.
And here we have a great quote from Mignola about what these creatures are.
"Witches of Thessaly : According to Greek Folklore, women with the power to "draw down the moon". to transform themselves into monsters, birds and animals. They were known to eat corpses and excrement, and possessed insatiable sexual appetites."
Known to eat corpses and excrement. This is the kind of grisly detail that I read Hellboy for.
All throughout this parade of horrors it is Hellboy that breaks the macabre moments by his clever down-to-earth retorts, backed by his fearlessness. And this is part of his attraction, he somehow starts to exemplify our desire to be fearless in front of such things.
Now we segue into a fascinating account from Rasputin. You will recall that Rasputin is historically the influential and eccentric monk who served Czar Nicholas I, last czar of Russia. He refers to himself here as a Siberian peasant but also mentions his discovery of a power inside himself. One of the things that the power gave him was the gift of healing hands. He mentions that he wondered why such power was given him. Then he tells of a meeting with Baba Yaga; and he mentions her chicken leg house. How strange.
Baba Yaga is a figure from Slavic folklore. Like Lamia, she eats children. She also goes around in a flying pestle, as in the panel above. Mignola also has a shot of her chicken leg house.
Inside the house can be seen skulls, presumably of all the children she ate.
Rasputin goes on to narrate that he gave half of his soul to Baba Yaga for safekeeping; she placed his soul in the roots of Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil, also known as the World Tree, is from Norse Mythology - if you're not a scholar of the mythologies that's fine; you can get the exact same knowledge from the pages of The Mighty Thor! Oh yeah!
Rasputin then begins to connect his tale with history. His inclusion among the Czar's court, his murder and apparent death. Apparent because he did not die. He is fated never to die by human hands. It was Abe Sapien who slayed him, but his spirit, ever persistent is still laying the groundwork for the coming of the Dragon and the end of the world. All this death and darkness stuff is giving Ilsa Haupstein an orgasm. She begs for a part in all of it. And she is given one. Her part is to get into this Iron Maiden.
An iron maiden is a torture device. A person is supposed to be placed inside to be pierced by spikes. A closeable opening allowed interrogation of the poor victim. Take heart though, it is said that this device is unlikely to have ever been used. Apparently these two crazies Rasputin and Haupstein don't know that. This particular iron maiden has been sent to Rasputin by Baba Yaga, the device is called the "terrible maiden of Joo" and is said to belong to Elizabeth Bathory. Elizabeth Bathory is a very interesting historical figure, said to be the most prolific female serial killer of all time, she is also called the "Blood Countess". She appears to have tortured/murdered several hundred young girls during her time. Her accomplices were tortured and then burned at the stake but her high rank preserved her from such a fate. Authorities bricked up four rooms in her castle where she was imprisoned, given food regularly, and found dead four years later. All these happened in the early 1600s in Eastern Europe during the Ottoman wars of expansion.
As to the 'why' of Ilsa being put into this terrible device. It's because she will meld herself with whatever mystical aspect there is in the Maiden of Joo and this hybrid creature will be the replacement for Hellboy. Hellboy, if you recall, was originally meant to summon the Dragon to Earth. A fate he has willfully rejected.
I did mention that there were several B.P.R.D. teams on the ground right? Liz Sherman's team finds a secret alchemist lab and this creature inside it.
Certain things add to the wow factor of this find. First, the lab has been undisturbed for hundreds of years so the creature has been here all this time. Second. I find the gnawed leg really adds a lot of creepiness. As to what it is, let's quote from the comic.
"It's a Homunculus . . . an artificial person made from blood and herbs, stewed in a jar and incubated in horse manure."
Dont' you just love this stuff?
It's going to be one weird thing after another really. Back in the castle in Norway, Zinco arrives with this package.
As stated, it is the head of Professor Herman von Klempt recovered by Zinco from South America on Karl's (Karl is the Nazi with the robot head) request. It seems the Professor was so out of it even the Nazis thought he was crazy. I was about to ask myself who would carve a swastika on his own forehead when I realized there were more pressing questions like what the hell is he doing headless? And what does Karl want with a dead guy?
Back at Castle Guirescu. We have a battle between Lamia and Hellboy. In this tale the Lamia is Hecate and not the daughter of Hecate as in some legends.
During the battle Hecate does her best to convince Hellboy that he's playing for the wrong team. He is no monster hunter but a monster himself - it is his fate. But our hero resists, he grew up among humans and will side with us. It really is a great twist of fate that Broom and the G.I.s found him back in 'Seed of Destruction'; it's made all the difference.
By the way, in the fight scene above, do you see the way power is rendered around Hecate? The black dots clumped together? Those are Kirby dots - invented by the master himself. Nice to see Mignola using them.
The whole thing ends with Hellboy blowing up Castle Giurescu.
It also ends with the death of Hecate due to exposure to the sun, which she cannot endure. That said, I think it was a mistake to bring Hecate/Lamia in as just another monster. She casts a pretty big shadow : Existing since antiquity, commanding the Witches of Thessaly and creating vampires. Presenting her as a defeatable monster destroys a lot of her mystery.
Remember Professor von Klempt? The floating head Zinco found in the jungle? Well, Karl has somehow brought him back to life. Here he is talking.
Looking past the evident resurrection, just check out what he's saying. He's got a dozen half-finished projects in the jungle for the creation of supermen? Who hides in the jungle and manages to resolve supply, logistics, and resource problems so thoroughly that they can have genetic projects in a jungle? I'd be happy if I could manage to build a thatch hut and eat regularly.
After the explosion at Castle Giurescu Hellboy has been knocked unconscious. He is recovered and ends up as Rasputin's prisoner and left bound to be preyed upon by the vampire Giurescu.
Meanwhile, Abe Sapien and Agent Clark are are tracking him down. They arrive at a town near Castle Giurescu and the place looks like this.
Clark explains everything with a phrase : "vampire town".
In a church, both Abe and Clark literally fall into a trap. A hole in the floor beneath which are lethal spikes. Clark falls victim to one of them, but notice, that, even while impaled, he manages to hold onto Abe's hand to save him.
At this point in the tale, I begin to waver regarding whether the 'Devil' referred to in the text is Giurescu or Hellboy himself. We are nearing a confrontation between Guirescu and Hellboy here. The buildup given to the vampire is enormous up to this point but when the actual fight happens he is vanquished fairly easily. As you can see here.
It's not really a death for the vampire. What's happened is that Giurescu has sacrificed himself in order to function as a bridge for Hecate's power to meld with the Iron Maiden/Ilsa amalgam Rasputin has created. This 'wakes' the Iron Maiden and brings Hellboy into confrontation with his erstwhile replacement.
As you can see, Hellboy is swallowed up by his opponent. What follows is not destruction but temptation as Hellboy is once again called forth by denizens of the darkness to take up his mantle of summoner to the Dragon. He is transformed; his horns full grown and is asked to accept his fate. This makes me wonder if Hellboy is the 'Devil' referred to in the title - they are evidently trying to wake up the darkness in him here. I read an article about the current goings-on in the Middle East, referred to as the 'Arab Spring', it is typified by uprisings against perceived despots all across that area of the world. As expected, there have been many mass gatherings and in each of them many placards and signs. One of those signs, I believe it was in Egypt, simply stated "I am a man". Just that simple line "I am a man"; the one who made it expected everybody to understand. And you know what? He's right. It simply means 'you can not tell me what to do with my own life - I am a man'. This too is what happens in this part of 'Wake The Devil'. This page explains it all wonderfully.
The last line is particularly powerful: "He gives birth to himself". Just like the Arabs are doing in front of their dictators - giving birth to themselves. 'I am a man, my life is my own to make'.
From this point on, our villains, surprisingly including Rasputin, start acting like the Three Stooges. Karl feels guilty for killing Leopold when Leopold tried to kill "floating head" Professor Klempt whom Karl calls "Evil scheming head". Rasputin arrives finding the resurrected head an uninvited member of his team and takes it out on Zinco, who retrieved von Klempt on Karl's request. Zinco is blinded by Rasputin and flies into a panic. In this madness, Zinco presses a self-destruct button which blows up the whole castle. What did I tell you? Three Stooges, no less.
So at this point, both the Nazi castle in Norway and the Guirescu castle have both been blown up.
The trade paperback has an additional epilogue attached. In this epilogue we have a very sorry looking Rasputin right after the castle blowup seeing all his plans go awry. The beauty of this epilogue, the magic that Mignola weaves in this part, is that we are subtly drawn to see things from Rasputin's viewpoint; almost to the point of feeling sorry for him and wishing him better luck next time. And that's amazing because he's a Nihilist who wants to destroy us.
And that's it for 'Wake The Devil', the second Hellboy trade paperback.