No great hero is ever gone for good. Even after King Arthur suffered deadly wounds in his battle against Mordred, he only retreated to the magical island Avalon, from where he would someday return to help his people in their time of greatest need. Now the same fate has befallen one of modern America’s most iconic heroes, Hellboy (and not just because Hellboy is a descendant of Arthur capable of wielding Excalibur). Although the character seemed to have finally reached his reward at the end of the Hellboy in Hell comic, December’s issue of the new Dark Horse miniseries B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know ended with Hellboy’s old Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense friends Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien discovering his body on Earth, good as new and ready for one last apocalyptic rumble with the forces of Hell. Having once talked to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola about saying farewell to Hellboy, EW caught up with the artist again to discuss the character’s return.
“The truth is, I knew he was coming back,” Mignola tells EW. “It’s something I’ve been keeping a lid on for a long time. As long as we’ve been talking about wrapping up the B.P.R.D. series, we’ve talked about how we needed to get the band back together and get back to the classic characters.”
Although many fans were surprised by Hellboy’s return, Mignola and his fellow B.P.R.D. creators (including The Devil You Know writer Scott Allie and former longtime B.P.R.D. writer John Arcudi) had planted a few clues over the years. Far from being a publicity stunt to drum up excitement for Neil Marshall’s coming Hellboy film, the character’s return was hinted at as far back as the 2010 miniseries B.P.R.D.: King of Fear, in which the fire-powered Liz Sherman saw an apocalyptic vision of the future. In that vision, Liz saw photos — one of a mutated Abe, and another of Hellboy. In a two-page sequence memorably illustrated by Mignola (in a comic otherwise drawn by longtime B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis), a vision of Hellboy from the future told Liz to use her powers without fear. Now that Abe’s mutation has taken place and Hellboy has returned to Earth, it looks like Liz’s apocalypse has finally come true.
“We put it in there that somewhere in the future Hellboy would be back,” Mignola says. “But nobody picked up on it, which is great because we wanted a tease where people would just wonder, ‘does that mean something?’ As we wrap this up, we wanted to make sure that anything we teased, we’re paying off. Especially these funny little teases that seemed not to mean anything at the time — well, maybe they did mean something! Between Scott Allie and I, we’ve been orchestrating this thing for a long time.”
Mignola also says that there were even indications in Hellboy in Hell that Hellboy’s story would last longer than the series itself: “In the very beginning, like the first couple pages, Edward Grey and Baba Yaga are saying he has these couple last things left to do. He does some of them by the end of Hellboy in Hell, but if you do the math there’s one or two things that he still didn’t do. I always knew, ‘well s–t, the poor bastard has a few things he can’t get out of doing.'”
Mignola is staying mum about what exactly Hellboy has to do now that he’s back on Earth. Previous issues of The Devil You Know indicate a coming apocalyptic confrontation with the devil Varvara, who is trying to transform Earth into a demonic paradise capable of replacing the now-empty and desecrated Hell. All Mignola will say is that things won’t be easy for his signature character.
“I did end Hellboy in Hell on that nice quiet ‘oh now you’re in retirement’ note … except for that other thing he has to do,” Mignola says. “I feel bad about it, and I hope he had a good time on that couch where I left him. I hope he enjoyed the rest, but there’s a few things you still need to do, and it’s gonna be s—-y.” Adopting a more apologetic tone, Mignola says, “I read too much Michael Moorcock in high school, that’s what it is. I have that ‘doomed hero’ thing. He’s still got to take a beating.”
Hellboy is a doomed hero for a doomed Earth. No matter the outcome of his battle with Varvara and her demons, his world has been wracked by so much devastation (a demon destroying Nebraska, a plague of frog monsters everywhere, a dragon destroying London, and much more) that it’s clear things will never go back to “normal.” As our own world is beset by threats of nuclear annihilation and ever-more-intense climate disasters, Hellboy really seems like a hero for our time.
“There was never any politics involved and I don’t think I have a particularly negative worldview, but for whatever reason the idea from the very beginning of Hellboy has been ‘okay, humanity’s done enough,'” Mignola says. “This is why I like writing [Hellboy’s oldest enemy, the Russian mystic] Rasputin, because from my point of view Rasputin’s job has always been to look at the world and say ‘well that’s gone as far as it can, let’s give the insects a chance.’ Given the current state of things, I’m kind of going, ‘yeah I think I was right.’”
B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know #6 hits comic stores on May 9. Above, check out two different covers for the issue, one by artist Sebastián Fiumara and Max Fiumara, with the other by Mignola.