So by now, I'm sure that you've all rushed out to see Hellboy II: The Golden Army and become enamored with Guillermo Del Toro's imagery (if not his writing). But you may have left the theater wondering, what's the story with Hellboy anyway? That's where we come in. Under the jump, a brief history of Hellboy in comics and the real world.
Depending on who you listen to - us or the "real" world - Hellboy is either a demon summoned to Earth by Nazis towards the end of World War II, or the creation of comic artist Mike Mignola, drawing upon the twin influences of H.P. Lovecraft and Jack Kirby. Either way, when he first appeared in a special preview comic published for 1993's San Diego Comic-Con (co-written at the time by X-Men and Fantastic Four artist John Byrne; Byrne also co-wrote the first series, 1994's Seed of Destruction, before leaving the character to Mignola), he was already fighting demons and working for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), a covert agency (but, unlike the movie version, not a Government agency) keeping the world safe from all manner of beasts and monsters most people don't know about.
The various Hellboy mini-series - Seed of Destruction, Wake The Devil, The Right Hand of Doom (a title taken from a Robert E. Howard story, and just one of the stories centering on the prophecies about Hellboy's role in the end of the world), Box of Evil and Conqueror Worm - were successful enough for Mignola to spin other comics off exploring the Hellboy Universe without its eponymous hero; to date, there have been BPRD, Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnston series, each of which became more important when Mignola decided to switch up Hellboy's status quo in 2002.
Concerned that Hellboy's personal mythology - that, as "Anung un Rama," he was destined to be responsible for an oncoming apocalypse whether a willing participant or otherwise (explained at the climax from the first movie, which pulls plot points from the first three mini-series) - was overwhelming both the character and the stories, Mignola finished Conqueror Worm by having Hellboy resign from BPRD and try to find out more about his origins - something that, according to Mignola, will bring him back to his creative origins:
Hellboy is going in a radically different direction... [T]he character of Hellboy is changing so radically now that-well, I shouldn't say that his character is changing so much-in that, he's becoming more involved in the folklore world and because he is in that folklore world, he has less to do, day in and day out, with human affairs all the time. He's pretty much slipping off the face of the Earth... Hellboy doesn't really know that much more about ‘where he's from' but I think the big change is that he's stopped the denial; he's no longer denying what he is-his head isn't in the sand anymore. He's not really actively pursuing questions like ‘where do I come from' but he's more open to seeing what's going to happen. Darkness Calls starts Hellboy onto a path where he is literally walking to a crossroads and kind of standing their saying, "Okay, which way do I go?" Once he puts himself in that position-forces kind of take over and he begins this whole new cycle of his life which will go through English and Russian folklore; it's going to be unlike anything I've done in Hellboy so far.
Around this time, Mignola also made the decision to stop drawing the Hellboy series - something done as much through necessity as choice, to hear him describe the reasons:
I've gotten slower as I've gotten older. I've gotten a lot more obsessive about my design-I ran into a lot of trouble with the last two mini-series because I had become so obsessive and I was re-drawing pages; plus, with all the things going on, trying to run the other comics, dealing with the films and stuff like that-it became very clear that I wouldn't be able to do a Hellboy story of any length and I wanted to do this gigantic arc of a Hellboy story.
It became a question of "do I do this with another artist" or "is this story just never going to get told"-it literally never would've gotten done. There was no way I could do a story this size and I didn't want to compromise; I didn't want to do a smaller story. I wanted to do this story the way it needed to be done.
The new "regular" artist for the character (Other artists will come and go as needed; Richard Corben and P. Craig Russell have both worked on the character since Mignola left the artist chair) is Englishman Duncan Fegredo (whose earlier work includes the wonderful Enigma for DC Comics), who was relatively happy to be asked:
So Scott [Allie, Hellboy editor] called, said "…Hellboy" and I freaked out a little… quite a lot actually.
Fegredo's first series was Darkness Calls, the start of Mignola's English/Russian folklore sequence which is expected to last four series and answer, once and for all, what Hellboy's place on Earth really is. Possibly.
Me, I think it's enough just to be a giant red joe with a massive right hand, big gun and pretty good sense of humor about all of this stuff.