This one’s so big, it has a table of contents!
In 2004, I saw a few ads for a movie called Hellboy. I was vaguely aware of the comic, and knew the comic was the creation of Mike Mignola, whose spare, minimalist art style I’d been a fan of ever since I’d read Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure way back in 1991. I hadn’t actually read the Hellboy comic, though (despite being a huge X-Files fan throughout the nineties). What really drew me to the movie was the mixture of humor, horror, and a hint of the Lovecraftian in the trailers.
The movie won me over with the first title card, a “quotation” from De Vermis Mysteriis, a fictional book of dark magical lore invented by Psycho author Robert Bloch and incorporated by Lovecraft into his so-called Cthulhu Mythos. Soon, I was buying the Mezco figures based on the film, and then, when Mezco announced they’d scored the rights to make figures based on the comic, I quickly caught up on the trade paperbacks.
The world of Hellboy in the comics and that in the movies are significantly different. In the comics, Hellboy and Liz have more of a big brother-little sister relationship, Abe Sapien isn’t psychic, and Johann Kraus and Hellboy have never even met (Johann joined after Hellboy quit the B.P.R.D.). Also, in the comics the B.P.R.D. is a completely public organization, and the whole world knows about the existence of the supernatural.
Many of the best Hellboy comic stories are fairly straight adaptations of fairy tales and legends, such as “The Corpse” and “Heads,” or incorporate elements of folklore and mythology, such as “”The Chained Coffin” and “Darkness Calls.” It’s notable, however, that two of my personal favorite trades–Wake the Devil and Conqueror Worm–offer an incredibly entertaining hodgepodge of elements, from Nazi occultism to WWII–era mech tech to Universal Monsters-style cinematic horror to Lovecraftian space creatures to more traditional folklore and mythology.
For a list of some of my favorite Hellboy comics, novels and other books available out there, check out the recommended reading at the end of this article.
In late 2005, after a year-long wait, the first figures from Mezco’s much-anticipated Hellboy comic line hit stores. The first wave consisted of a shirtless Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Lobster Johnson, and the Kriegaffe. An entire year passed before Wave 2 finally hit, which featured Johann Kraus, Roger, the alien from Conqueror Worm, and a Hellboy with a jetpack. There were also five exclusives: a blue translucent “Ghost of Lobster Johnson,” a Hellboy with a cloth trenchcoat available through Mezco Direct, a battle-damaged Hellboy with a torn coat available through Figures.com, a second trenchcoated Hellboy via Mezco Direct that came with six Japanese vampire heads, and for SDCC 2007, Abe Sapien. There were also a few 18″ figures of Hellboy.
Sadly, despite the high quality of the figures, two waves were all we got from Mezco’s comic line. For whatever reason, while the movie-based figures for the first film had sold like hotcakes at retail, the comic-based figures didn’t. The Hellboys and the shortpacked Kriegaffes and Aliens sold quickly, but I recall seeing Liz Sherman, Lobster Johnson, Roger, and Johann figures on the shelves for years after release.
In retrospect, I think Mezco made some obvious errors with the line. First off, it’s inexcusable that they never released a Hellboy with a trenchcoat at retail. Hellboy’s trenchcoat is a part of his iconic look, and by limiting that version to exclusives, Mezco severely hurt their chances of pulling in the more casual consumer to the line. There should have been a trenchcoated Hellboy in both waves, period. (I also wish they’d done one with a plastic coat, but that’s really not the issue here.)
Second, Abe should have been in the second wave instead of the Alien. The second wave needed a headliner, and while the jetpack-wearing Hellboy was a cool variant, it couldn’t serve as the wave’s anchor. As for the Alien, why the heck was such an obscure character in the line at all? I would rather have gotten a Liz Sherman body with a Kate Corrigan head than such an obscure, random character. And there are any number of more interesting Hellboy characters to choose from: Rasputin, Ilsa Haupstein, even a Frog Monster (which I really, really wanted). I suppose Mezco was wary of doing a Rasputin or a Frog Monster because they’d done a Rasputin and the frog monster-like Sammael in the movie line, but I think they underestimated the characters’ appeal–plus everyone loves monsters. Especially frog monsters.
(Mezco made a similar mistake with their Goon line, throwing in the utterly obscure, rather lame character of Joey the Ball rather than Buzzard–the line only lasted a single wave due to poor sales, but if they’d made Buzzard instead of Joey, it would have been more or less a complete line as far as many collectors were concerned.)
Finally, the year-long wait between the announcement of the line and the first wave, then the year-long wait between the first and second waves, turned off a lot of collectors and prevented the line from building any real momentum.
And so we’re left with a handful of figures that, nonetheless, are some of my favorite action figures of all time. I own them all except for the Ghost of Lobster Johnson (which I did have but traded–I’ve never much cared for translucent figures) and a couple of the 18″ figures.
My pride and joy. The one pictured is from the first Mezco Direct exclusive release. It has a few differences from the later version released with the Japanese heads: the paint work is a bit more subtle, with less slop, a more subtle tone of red on the skin, a very well-executed wash, and some very nice texturing on the skin. The chest balljoint is also extremely stiff and is more or less useless, but that never bothered me much.
After the incredible movie Trenchcoat Hellboy, it took me a while to get used to the idea of a Hellboy with a cloth coat, but I’ve long since made peace with the idea. To me it’s great to simply own a comic-based Hellboy wearing a trenchcoat.
The sculpt, by toy industry veteran Dave Cortes (who sculpted the entire line), does a great job of capturing Mignola’s blocky, minimalist art style. However, it’s worth noting that the figure seems more based on Mignola’s art circa Wake the Devil, when he was still using a significant amount of detail definition and semi-realistic proportions. I think this was probably the right move for a line like this, particularly given the articulation. In order to capture Mignola’s style these days, which has become even more minimalist and exaggerated, would have required making McFarlanesque statues.
I love lots of little things about this figure, from the ball jointed Right Hand of Doom to Hellboy’s goofy giant gun. It’s not perfect, of course–I wish his left arm could move lower and closer to his side, for example–but this is my favorite Hellboy action figure.
Again, this Hellboy was only available online from Mezco Direct. He also came with the head of Herman von Klempt, which differed from the retail version available with the Kriegaffe in that he had a swastika on his forehead as in the comics (the swastika was removed from the retail version to avoid potential controversy).
The infamous shirtless Hellboy. I like this figure, particularly since I was able to get it with the “gritted teeth” look, but man, it would have been a bittersweet purchase if I hadn’t known the exclusive trenchcoat version was coming.
In the pic, Hellboy’s holding the sword that came with the battle-damaged Hellboy movie figure.
I almost didn’t pick up this figure, as I assumed I’d be happy enough with the trenchcoated version and the shirtless one. I usually hate battle-damaged figures, frankly. But as soon as I had this figure in my hands, I was glad I’d broken down and bought him.
What I quickly realized is that Hellboy takes a brutal beating in pretty much every story, and so a battle-damaged version is practically as iconic as a clean one. The battle damage was very well done, particularly the application of the dark, dripping blood. I think this figure allows for some great poses and has the most “character” of any version.
The figure came in two versions: one with a gritted teeth head, and one with an opened mouth. The opened-mouth head was also available for the shirtless Hellboy, and I’ve always been careful to avoid it–I think it looks awful. It just makes his head look like some sort of creepy puppet.
I considered skipping this figure, as it wasn’t a variant I was particularly interested in, but two things swayed me: the alternate head and the alternate “open” hand. I realized I could swap those if I wanted on to my other Hellboy figures, particularly the open hand.
Once I had the figure in hand, it actually won me over on its own merits. The great sculpt on the jacket proves we were robbed by not getting a comic Hellboy with a plastic coat. I do wish the jetpack had been attached via the shoulder straps (which are part of the jacket sculpt) and was removable, however; it would have allowed for a great alternate “regular” Hellboy.
These things came with the 2006 Hellboy SDCC exclusive. They’re from the short story “Heads,” which can be found in Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom. The sculpts are good, but the little stands of varying heights are the touch that made these worth buying an extra Hellboy figure for.
While I’m happy we got a Liz figure–it would have been a crime not to get a figure of each of the big three–she’s my least favorite. While I’ve come to realize that sculpting her in the general B.P.R.D. get-up was probably the right way to go (rather than something more casual but less visually interesting), her head sculpt is off. It’s too smooth and curved, and the paint on the head–with the heavy eyeshadow–makes her look like a Goth junkie.
However, I do like the removable B.P.R.D. backpack and the flame attachments. She also came with a tiny flaming cigarette, which I lost about a week after getting her.
Thank God Mezco pushed out this 2007 SDCC exclusive. It would have been a federal crime not to get Abe before the line limped to its unfortunate demise. I reviewed Abe for OAFE at the time, and I stand by my assessment of the figure then–I don’t like the hinged hands and lack of any sort of side-to-side articulation in the arms, the tiny feet are annoying, and I just don’t get why he doesn’t have a gun hand.
That said, the sculpting and paint work on Abe are marvelous, definitely up there with the best of the line. The removable flak jacket is brand-new and not a re-use from Roger, by the way.
While I said above I thought the Alien was a bad pick for the second wave, I do think Roger and Johann were perfect. Roger replaced Hellboy as the B.P.R.D.’s tank after HB quit the Bureau.
The figure is, again, well-sculpted, particularly the head. I love that the little “gas cap” on his chest can open and close.
Admittedly, “Lobster Johnson” sounds like a particularly ugly genital disorder, but it’s also the name of one of the most beloved minor characters in the Hellboy universe. LJ is sort of the Boba Fett of Mignola’s world, a mysterious character with a cool outfit and a badass demeanor who pops up here and there for brief cameos (at least until he started getting his own books). Incidentally, if you’re wondering why such a minor character made it into the first wave of Hellboy figures, it’s because he was specifically requested by Mr. Mignola himself.
LJ is well-served by Mezco; Cortes was particularly successful at capturing Mignola’s distinct way of drawing the character’s head and hands. Of course, he has the glowing orange lobster claw on his left palm. My only qualms with the figure are its rather floppy joints, particularly the upper torso joint.
One thing I should mention right off the bat: as produced by Mezco, Johann’s head was coated with a translucent paint that made his head look a lot more opaque than mine does here. However, in the comics his head is usually completely clear, and so with the use of a little acetone, I removed the opaque paint from the head.
While his sculpt is great, the best part of Johann’s figure is his alternate hands. He has one set of “normal” hands and a set that feature ectoplasm reaching out; one is shaped like a hand and the other–which I actually didn’t notice until just a week ago, if you can believe it–features a sculpted version of Johann’s human face.
I discussed my opinions on including the Alien in the line above, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great action figure. Cortes again captured Mignola’s unique depiction of alien technology, and his impressive assortment of alien gadgets make him a fun, if rather unwarranted, addition to the line.
Kriegaffe (w/ Herman von Klempt)
On the very day Mezco announced on their forums that they’d scored the HB comic license, I posted a request for a Kriegaffe figure with a von Klempt pack-in. I’m sure Mez & Co. were already planning on making him by then, but I like to think my suggestion helped anyway.
What can I say about this figure? It’s my second-favorite after trenchcoat Hellboy. It’s huge, incredibly well-sculpted, and badass. One of the coolest aspects of the figure is the way Mezco worked the ball joint hinges present in Mignola’s original character design into the figure itself.
This is not a complete list of all the trade collections and so forth–you can get that by hitting Wikipedia if you’re interested. These are just a few of my personal favorites.
Hellboy: Wake the Devil
Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others
Hellboy: Conqueror Worm
Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others
B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
B.P.R.D.: A Plague of Frogs
B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls