I first encountered Mike Mignola during my brief adolescent interest in comics in the early '90s (basically from the mid-40s of Wolverine to the first 10 issues of X-Men - a span of maybe six months). The two Mignola-drawn comics I read were a graphic novel titled Wolverine: the Jungle Adventure and the eighth issue of X-Force. I was instantly drawn to Mignola's spare, bare-lines style, so different from the cluttered crosshatching of Lee and Liefeld (I remember being glad Mignola was subbing for Liefeld on X-Force #8 at a time when people actually liked Liefeld). But it was The Jungle Adventure that really converted me to the cult of Mignola. Written by Walt Simonson, the story - in which Wolverine travels to the Savage Land, goes native and even takes on a lover, and faces a familiar foe - is a lot better than its slightly childish title sounds.
I lost interest in comics and Mignola and I went our separate ways. It was an amicable split. All throughout the '90s, while Mignola was introducing Hellboy and developing his mythos, I focused on playing Magic: the Gathering and reading J.R.R. Tolkien. I became a full-fledged fantasy geek for almost 10 years. Despite my fondness for both Mignola's art and supernatural-themed material like The X-Files, I remained sadly ignorant of Hellboy until - horror of horrors! - I saw the movie.
I enjoyed the hell out of the movie and soon went back and read the comics, where I fell in love with Mignola's art once again. For those unfamiliar with either the comic or the movie, Hellboy is a demon who appeared in a ball of fire in an old church in 1945, having been summoned by Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) at the behest of the Nazis. Unfortunately for Der Furher, Rasputin's aim is off and Hellboy materializes about twenty miles to the left in front of a group of Allied soldiers led by Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced "Broom"). Bruttenholm, who heads the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) adopts the child, naming it "Hellboy" (the reason for this name is unexplained in the comic, but the film's explanation is both charming and believable). Hellboy grows to adult size in about seven years and joins the BPRD as its star agent.
Originally conceived as a goofy convention sketch, Mignola took his Hellboy idea to Dark Horse Comics, who - after making its name publishing licensed comics such as Aliens, Predator and the like - were just kicking off their short-lived "Legends" imprint of creator-owned comics. Originally, Hellboy was just a way for Mignola to draw lots of monster-fighting-monster action. The early Hellboy comics featured some classic comic book camp, including Nazis, severed heads in jars, vampires and weird science. But alongside these stories were the folktale adaptations that would become many readers' favorite tales, such as the award-winning "The Corpse" and other stories such as "The Wolves of Saint August," "Heads," and the more recent Makoma or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorers' Club on August 16, 1993. Several of the folktales adapted into Hellboy comics (including "Wolves," "Heads," and "The Penanggalan") can be found in Bernhardt Hurwood's 1972 book Passport to the Supernatural, which Mignola has mentioned in interviews as a source.
As noted by yo go re in his review of the movie Hellboy, Hb had only one figure prior to Mezco's recent offerings:
a 2000 figure by Graphitti Designs, now best known for the Clerks Inaction Figures. The Graphitti figure was all right for its time, but it was a very basic figure, without much detail or articulation, and it had an awful "coat," really no more than a rag. The figure did resemble Mignola's art (except perhaps for the chin), but it was disappointing. I won't go so far as to call it a "steaming hunk of ass" as yo did - it has its charms - but it wasn't perfect.
Mezco's 2004 line of movie-based Hellboy toys was fairly successful, and within a few months they had inked a deal to create a line of comic-based toys. They announced the line in September 2004, and fans rejoiced - and then waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, in November 2005, the first wave of figures hit the shelves, featuring Lobster Johnson, Liz Sherman, Mecha Ape with von Klempt and Hellboy - minus his signature coat. Fans who wanted Hellboy wearing his trademark coat had to order the exclusive figure from Mezco's online store.
The decision to make the trenchcoat version an exclusive - and to make said trenchcoat from cloth, as opposed to the soft plastic used for the popular movie Hellboy figure - was controversial. Add the recent announcement that wave two of the figures won't hit stores until September '06 and many Hellboy fans are left a tad frustrated - this fan included.
To say I was anticipating this figure is to engage in what is commonly referred to as understatement. Usually I enjoy the period of anticipation between a figure's announcement and buying it, but Hellboy dragged on a little too long for my taste. I think Mezco may just have announced the line too early, though the year-long wait between waves may suggest otherwise.
But such issues aside, there is the question of the figure itself (you knew I'd get to it eventually, didn't you?). The main subject of this review is the Mezco Direct Hellboy exclusive figure, which features Hb's trademark trenchcoat. The coat was originally supposed to be included on the regular retail figure, but came back too late from tooling, so the only way to get the trademark Hb was to order either the MezD exclusive or the Figures.com battle-damaged exclusive (both are still available, though quantities are dwindling - particularly the MezD exclusive).
If three exclusives weren't enough, Hellboy's face came in three flavors: a closed-mouth "normal" face, a "gritting-teeth" face, and an open-mouthed "yelling" face. The retail version was produced with equal quantities of all three faces; the battle-damaged variant came in the yelling and gritting faces; and the MezD exclusive, thankfully, came only with the "normal" face. I think the "yelling" face is the least attractive; they had to stretch the head in order to make the expression work, and the result looks a little unnatural. But the "gritting teeth" expression is trademark Hellboy, and I chose it for my other two variants.
The packaging is first-rate. It was designed with input from Mignola, who also provided original art for each figure's package (colored by Mignola's frequent collaborator Dave Stewart). The graphics are colorful and pleasing, and clamshell packaging is always welcome.
The line is in an approximate 7" scale. The comic figures are a bit larger than the movie-based figures, but they are in scale with Mezco's Goon line and their upcoming "Afterlife" zombie line.
The Hellboy line was sculpted by Dave Cortes, whose work includes some of OAFE's favorite figures, including Marv from NECA's Sin City movie line, Treebeard, the 13" rotocast Hulk figure and brown costume Wolverine. Cortes is so good, maverick sculptors the Four Horsemen recently threatened to break Cortes's fingers.
Mike Mignola has a very distinctive art style, and like most artists, his style has changed over the years. In 1994, when the first Hellboy comics were published, Mignola had developed his trademark bold lines, heavy blacks, and generally lack of clutter, but his style still bore some vestiges of the classic Marvel/DC style (see the upcoming Gotham by Gaslight Batman for an example of a figure based on Mignola's art circa 1989). Nowadays, Mignola's art sometimes borders on the iconic, with very little detailing and a heavy emphasis on layout, structure, visual pacing, and color. Check out the unfinished pages at the back of the most recent Hellboy trade paperback, Strange Places, and you'll see how adept Mignola has become at telling a story without dialogue.
The continuing abstraction of Mignola's art left Mezco with some interesting design issues.
Sculpting Hellboy as Mignola draws him now offers challenges similar to making figures of two-dimensional characters such as the Simpsons. For example, Mignola almost always draws Hellboy's face from the same slight angle these days, similar to how we always see the same angle of Homer Simpson's face. To do this style any real justice, Mezco would have had to make McFarlane-like statues, and company owner Mez appears to have no interest in that;
so they sought a happy medium instead.
Cortes found a style that captures the blockiness of Mignola's style while fleshing out the character in three dimensions. He has captured every detail perfectly, from the straps on Hellboy's boots to the cracks on the Right Hand of Doom. But what really sets the sculpt apart are the textural details; Hellboy's skin has a rough feel, and there are cuts and scrapes all along its surface. This is a Hellboy that has been through a lot of fights. I really can't say enough about the sculpt. This is some of the finest sculpting I have ever seen on an action figure, and Cortes truly found the right balance between Mignola's style and a more realistic touch.
Of course, a great sculpt is worthless without a good paint job, and Mezco excels here. Unlike the Graphitti figure, Mezco gets the right shade of red, with a very light wash to bring out the skin detailing. There's a little bleeding around the hair, but it's very slight. I should mention that the blood on the Figures.com exclusive is also very well done, and has a much more natural look than most "bloody" variants.
Next up is the articulation. Hellboy has balljoints at the neck, shoulders, upper chest, right hand, and thighs; peg joints at the biceps, forearms, and upper thighs, and three pegs on the tail; and pin joints at the elbows, knees, and left wrist. This is one area where the figure isn't perfect; the upper chest joint is difficult to move and, according to some members of Mezco's forums, tends to break. But it's not the most necessary joint, so that's no real problem. More annoying are the balljointed shoulders; on all three of my Hellboys, the left arm can't go down more than a 45-degree angle to the torso, meaning that the poses with the left hand are somewhat limited. This seems to be due to the nature of the ball-joint, which isn't actually a "ball" but more of an oval shape, persumably to help maintain Hellboy's hunched shoulders. Also, due to the weight of the Right Hand of Doom, Hellboy has trouble holding his right arm up at the elbow, but again, it's a minor issue. All of this adds up to a very satisfying toy-like feel for the action figure.
Finally, the accessories. I'm going to count the trenchcoat as an accessory, since technically it's removable (if you pop off the Right Hand of Doom).
It's regrettable that Mezco didn't (or at least hasn't so far) seen fit to offer a sculpted coat like the movie figure, but the cloth coat allows them to preserve articulation. As cloth coats go, this is well done. It looks better than the coat that came with the Extended Features movie figure (though that's probably because, as a comic-based figure, there's less realism at stake than with a movie-based sculpt - the coat on the movie figure looks a little too big, but the coat on the comic figure looks fine because there's no "real world" version to compare it to). The coat even has the BPRD patch and the clover-leaf that Mignola used to draw on the sleeve. Ultimately, I think the coat looks very good. I would have preferred a sculpted coat, but I'm satisfied with this alternative.
Hellboy's other accessories include his removable utility belt, a horseshoe, a walkie-talkie (from Wake the Devil), and his usual huge pistol. All are well-done (especially the belt), but the MezDirect Hellboy comes with something extra: Herman von Klempt, the Nazi-mad-scientist-head-in-a-jar.
Von Klempt was packaged with the retail version of Kriegaffe #10, but without the swastika Mignola always drew on his forehead. This was probably a smart decision on Mezco's part, given the recent controversy over Plan-B Toys's Totenkopf figure. The exclusive von Klempt has the swastika, and the figure also comes with the requisite gun, horseshoe, belt and walkie-talkie.
Good comic-based Hellboy figures were a long time coming. Fortunately, they were worth the wait. This figure puts Graphitti's figure to shame and raises Mezco's already-high bar on their recent action figure products. They have just announced that one of their summer exclusive figures will be a comic-based Hellboy packaged with the Japanese flying heads from the classic Hb story "Heads," so convention-goers and Club Mez members will have another shot at a (presumably) trenchcoated Hb.
Coats and capes: cloth or plastic? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.