Christopher Golden, Hellboy: The Lost Army
(Dark Horse, 1997)
Christopher Golden, Hellboy: The Bones of Giants
(Dark Horse, 2001)
By now, sixteen years after his initial debut, Hellboy is most likely familiar to most GMR readers. Just in case he isn't, here's a quick recap: in 1993, Dark Horse Comics released the first issue of a new creator-owned series, Hellboy by Mike Mignola (with a script by John Byrne). The premise is that paranormal investigations conducted by the Nazis during World War II brought a young, demon-looking creature into our world. He was quickly saved by the Allies and brought up by the Americans. He apparently ages very slowly or has stopped aging now that his body is of a mature adult age, and in the years since his 'creation', he has been working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), hunting down demons and other intrusions from the paranormal worlds and generally keeping the world safe from the demonic.
So successful has Hellboy been as a comic (with numerous mini-series and one-shots) that the franchise has branched into other media. There have been two movies starring Hellboy and his BPRD comrades (reviewed here). There have also been two novels by horror writer Christopher Golden.
The first of these novels, The Lost Army, was published by Dark Horse in 1997. In it, we find Hellboy in 1986 wrapping up a BPRD mission and about to head out on another one in England, when he is suddenly re-assigned to a solo mission in northern Africa, on the border of Libya at the same time that the American bombing of Libya is going on. In the desert there, Hellboy meets up with his old flame Anastasia Bransfield, who is part of a group looking for a missing archaeological team that includes a distant member of the British royal family. Because the location is also where the Egyptian army of Cymbeses disappeared thousands of years ago, Hellboy has been brought in. The archaeology team (or, rather, their remains) are soon found in a nearby oasis, and Hellboy and Anastasia have to work fast to discover exactly what is going on before they are removed from the area by over zealous American troops trying to protect them from the impending war with Libya. In true Hellboy style, paranormal events soon transpire and there is a lot of death and destruction before all is done.
Four years later, The Bones of Giants was published, marking Hellboy's second adventure in the solely written word, again written by Christopher Golden and illustrated by Mike Mignola. This time around, the remains of a giant have been found on the beach of a Scandinavian lake, holding a large hammer. Hellboy and fellow BPRD agent Abe Sapien are called in to check it out. While viewing the skeleton, Hellboy picks up Mjolnir (which, of course, it is) and finds his large stone hand bonded to the weapon of the mighty Norse god Thor. Hellboy begins having visions out of Norse mythology and, as the back-cover blurb puts it, "knows that whatever is coming next won't be pleasant."
I must admit that I did not hold out much hope for these novels when I volunteered to review them. Most media tie-in novels have a habit of being short on characterization and high on action. While the latter is always much appreciated, the former is vital for an interesting novel. If the main characters don't go through any change in the course of the story, the book quickly becomes boring. Christopher Golden, however, does an excellent job of making Hellboy and his comrades leap off the page, giving even better characterization than what one finds in the excellent comic series. I was pleasantly surprised by how well written these novels were. Reading them after having seen the two Hellboy movies, I found that my idea of Hellboy's mannerisms was greatly influenced by Ron Perlman's take on the character. But it is either a testimony to Golden's character building or Perlman's acting (most likely a combination of both) that the two mesh so well. In Golden's capable hands, Hellboy came to life in these pages. Perhaps it is no surprise that these are the only two Hellboy novels that are currently considered canonical, even though ten or so more have been written. Don't let the fact that these are media tie-ins stop you from going out and reading them. If you enjoy Hellboy, they are a great addition to the Hellboy canon. If you're new to Hellboy, they are a great way to start an acquaintance with the occult detective.
[Matthew Scott Winslow]