Hellboy - Seed of Destruction. An editor's explanation where exactly the flaws of this story are.
»I’d be the first to admit that I have no shortage of faults. But if I had to pick one, the one that’s gotten me into the most trouble over the years it would be that I sometimes get angry. And when I get angry I sometimes do stupid things.« (Hellboy Omnibus Vol 1., Seed of Destruction, page 21 / 22)
What’s Hellboy - Seed of Destruction about?
Synopsis from Amazon:
The story jumps from Hellboy's mysterious World War II origin to his 1994 confrontation with the man who summoned him to earth, and the earliest signs of the plague of frogs. Avoiding his supposed fate as the herald of the end of the world, Hellboy continues with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, fighting alongside Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, and drafting Roger Homunculus into his own ill-fated service with the B.P.R.D.
Hellboy: First Impression
I loved the beginning of the story. Yes, once again it’s the Nazis who stir things up.
»They say the Germans are some kind of spook squad. That the krauts are here to perform some form of spell or something. Summon monsters. Raise the dead. Yeah, right.«
Even the POV character, a military officer who never had to deal with anything paranormal, did not believe in the things that were about to come. We see ourselves in the narrator because we are as skeptical as he is. Except, that we have the advantage of knowing something paranormal will happen – or we wouldn’t be reading a story with some form of a strong devil-like creature on the cover. (Narrative drive: Dramatic Irony = the reader know more than one or more characters in the story.)
As much as I liked the beginning, I thought there’s a lot of exposition in the first story.
I can tolerate the exposition for letting the Hellboy series start with showing how Hellboy came into the world, BUT we have two large pieces of exposition after that:
- Trevor Bruttenholm ›Broom‹, Hellboy’s adoptive dad, tells him about the expedition he undertook by going far north.
- The villain, the sorcerer, explains Hellboy so much backstory and reveals his plans that we lose touch to the scene – the hero (Hellboy) at the mercy of the villain (sorcerer). We are transported into the past and experience the sorcerer’s quest to find the power of the seven demons.
Even though we learn a lot about the quest in the past (be it the sorcerer’s or Broom’s), we do not see a big storyline for the main protagonist: Hellboy. We empathize with him because he reveals one of his flaws to us (getting angry and doing stupid things then). A flaw, many people can identify with. But looking only at Hellboy’s storyline in the present, we have him in the office of his adoptive dad, fighting the frog, meeting the old lady at the Cavendish house and then the final battle already starts with Liz’s kidnapping. There’s nothing more to the story.
Besides a lack of a storyline that wasn’t set as much in the present as it was set in the past, I didn’t like the use of deus ex machina.
We know that Hellboy does not seem to be strong enough to fight the frog creatures. But through coincidence, he finds a concussion grenade in his belt from the Roland Hills cemetery job six years ago.
But there was no mention of that job before. No indication at all that he carried something else in his pants or coat except his gun ›the Torch of Liberty‹. So it’s not believable that Hellboy just remembers: ›Oh, look what I’ve found in my pocket.‹
Note: Please remember I'm looking at this story only from a reader's perspective who has not read the entire Hellboy story collection and who knows about the job in Roland Hills cemetery. And even then, referring to sth. that is so long ago and that's found just in the perfect moment is a little far fetched.
In a fantasy story, the reader agrees to disband his disbelief and accept certain things that would not be possible in the normal world. But never mistake the reader’s readiness to believe certain things with being allowed to make things up to give your hero an easy escape route.
The sidekick saves the day. Really?
The second thing I did not like was the sidekick saving the day. I mentioned in my analysis of Why I hate Saturn that you can’t have the sidekick rescue the hero right out of the hero at the mercy of the villain scene. It’s a big no.
Just read the novel Private Ryan by Tom Clancy and you will see how unsatisfying it is to see the hero at the mercy of the villain and the sidekick comes to save him. We want the hero to overpower or outwit the villain by releasing his gift.
In Hellboy, Abe was controlled by the old man Cavendish and shot the spear through the sorcerer. Now it doesn’t seem that far fetched anymore that being possessed by a ghost would not be possible in this story, but we wanted Hellboy to defeat the sorcerer. Not Abe.
Luckily, there’s another scene with Hellboy battling the Sorcerer, but this scene is quickly over and Hellboy wins by overpowering the villain. It almost seems to be too simple. At first, the sorcerer was so powerful and then Hellboy just beats him to death without much effort.
If the reader experiences doubts about the truthfulness and realism of the story, he’s out of the fiction dream. It’s a writer’s job to weave the dream so tight, that the reader is sucked into the world and stays there.
Hellboy ›Seed of Destruction‹ didn’t hook me, but I’m curious to see what the other stories will be like.
1. What’s the global genre of Hellboy – Seed of Destruction?
Even though the series in all it’s unique stories might have a different overall global genre, I’m looking at the first story now: Seed of Destruction.
To find out what the global genre is, we have to know what’s at stake in the story.
The story begins with forces of war, talk of raising the dead, a boy from hell steps into the world and soon there’s the first death: the death of Broom, Hellboy’s adoptive father. From there on we have lots of fight scenes.
So it’s safe to assume that Hellboy – Seed of Destruction turns around the values of Life and Death.
Genres that move along the value spectrum of life and death are Action, Horror, and Thriller.
Even though we could consider the sorcerer to be a monster, he’s still reasonable. He does not only kill for the joy of killing, but he also has a higher agenda. And he wants Hellboy to join him.
And Seed of Destruction is not solely an action story. Of course, it seems to be one with all the fight sequences and the many deaths, but I would even go so far as to say that this story is a thriller.
Action & Thriller: The difference
What distinguishes the thriller from an action story is that action stories are about survival.
Thrillers are about the need for safety. And the world will not be safe once the sorcerer frees those demons.
And there’s also the fate worse than death at play. If Hellboy would have agreed to help the sorcerer, he would feel damned for the rest of his life. So the possibility of damnation is a very strong indication that it’s a thriller and not an action story. In a pure action story, damnation is merely mentioned, a consequence, that is not really considered.
But the most important reason why I say it’s a thriller is that Hellboy is the thing the villain is after. Hellboy is the sorcerer’s MacGuffin. Therefore, the hero becomes the victim at the big core event scene. Straight from the beginning of the story we see how the sorcerer is using Broom to get to Hellboy. He wants Hellboy to help him summon the Jahad demons.
So I conclude by saying the global genre of ›Seed of Destruction‹ is Thriller – Serial Killer (the sorcerer murders many people to fulfill his quest).
Is there an internal content genre?
I might come up with one once I’ve read all the Hellboy stories, but in Seed of Destruction there’s none.
2. What are the obligatory scenes and conventions of the global genre?
- An Inciting Crime Indicative of a Master Villain.
Hellboy’s stepdad is killed by a giant frog creature.
- A Speech in Praise of the Villain:
Hellboy has many talismans and charms in his pockets, but none works against the sorcerer. So he concludes by saying that he must be too powerful because they can’t work against him.
- The Hero/Protagonist Becomes the Victim:
Sorcerer wants to harness Hellboy’s power to summon the demons. He wants Hellboy to stand by his side to command the power he wants to unleash.
- Hero at the Mercy of the Villain Scene:
The frog thing sucks the life out of Hellboy while the sorcerer starts summoning the demons.
- False Ending: There must be two endings:
Abe shoots a spear through the sorcerer and Liz is so strong, she creates an inferno. For a moment they think they’ve beaten the sorcerer, but he returns. And Hellboy goes to fight the villain once again.
- MacGuffin (The villain’s object of desire = what he wants):
The villain wants Hellboy to fulfill the purpose why he was summoned to earth: to stand beside the sorcerer and lead the power he unveils.
- Investigative Red Herrings:
Sven Olafson, the son of the old lady, looked like her butler. But why would she talk about him being lost when indeed he was in that very room with them?
- Making it Personal: The Villain needs the Hero to get the MacGuffin and thus must victimize the Hero to get what he or she wants.
The sorcerer spares Broom’s life so that he would lead him to Hellboy. So Hellboy loses his stepdad.
- Clock: there is a limited time for the Hero to act:
The sorcerer starts summoning the demons. Hellboy has to act quickly to stop the end.
3. What are the objects of desire?
External object of desire (WANT): Hellboy wants to know more about the expedition that Broom undertook with the three Cavendish boys to be able to find out more about what Broom wanted to tell him.
I do not see an internal content genre at work. It’s not about morality, status or worldview so far. At least nothing that’s strong enough to show an arch of character development. So there’s no internal object of desire (NEED), at least not for this particular story of Hellboy.
4. What is the narrative device and point of view (POV)?
Hellboy – Seed of destruction is told in first-person and in third-person objective point of view (third person objective means we know what happens to other people but we do not have access to what they are thinking or feeling).
The main POV-character is Hellboy. He is also the narrator of everything that happens around him. We have access to his thoughts and feelings only. And he tells us his story using ›I‹, which creates a close psychic/narrative distance to the reader because it feels like he’s directly talking to us. I still did not feel as close to Hellboy as I did to Daredevil because Hellboy is not letting us into his world as much as Daredevil did, at least not in this story.
There are also scenes which are told in third person omniscient point of view. Those are scenes with the purpose of creating narrative drive through using dramatic irony. We see what’s going on in other places and therefore gain an advantage over what the protagonist knows. We have a private moment with Emma and the shadow behind her. We can see the men at the bureau of paranormal research and defense. We see other creatures in the universe who fear what the sorcerer is about to do, adding artificially some dramatic momentum because they didn’t play a part in the story before. They just add to the stakes (only the reader is aware of) and are not mentioned again.
5. What is the controlling idea/theme?
For a thriller the general controlling idea goes like this:
Positive: Life is preserved when the Protagonist unleashes their special gift.
Negative: Death or damnation triumphs when the Protagonist fails to unleash their special gift.
What is Hellboy's special gift?
For Hellboy, it was a little hard to come up with the controlling idea because what’s Hellboy’s special gift that he unleashes while fighting the sorcerer? Yes, he’s damn strong, that’s what I thought about first. But then it would not make sense to say his special gift is his strength because it had failed him before, like when he was fighting the frog creature.
Hellboy’s gift seems to be that he can’t be corrupted no matter what’s the offer.
He doesn’t take shit from anyone, even if there’s crucial information about his origin on the line.
But the same ›defiance‹ is also what brings him into trouble. It’s a gift and a curse at the same time.
The first time Hellboy shoots the sorcerer in the head because he doesn’t give a damn and is thrown hard against rocks. Second time Hellboy gets the offer he using his right arm and punches the weakened sorcerer defeating him.
So here’s my controlling idea for Hellboy - Seed of Destruction:
The world can be saved from the forces of evil if we do not let ourselves be corrupted by the sweet things they offer us for our support.
6. What are the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff?
Hellboy – Seed of Destruction consists of 4 chapters (92 pages).
Chapter One, Two, Three, Four – 23 pages
Beginning Hook – Chapter 1 (23 pages = 25%)
Inciting Incident: When Hellboy meets with his sick stepdad to be told some vital information before the father dies ...
Turning Point Progressive Complications: ... but Broom is killed by a big frog creatures ...
Crisis: ...Hellboy has to decide if he follows the attacker into the dark or if he can come up with another strategy.
Climax: Hellboy follows the creature out in the dark and his left arm is paralyzed.
Resolution: Hellboy shoots the creature and asks the lab team to figure out what that creature was.
Middle Build – Chapter 2 (23 pages = 25%)
Inciting Incident: When Hellboy visits the Cavendish house to find out more about the expedition his father went on ...
Turning Point Progressive Complications: ... and his teammate Liz is snatched from her room (complication 1), Hellboy finds Emma dead with the same marks on her skin as his adoptive father had (complication 2) and then he recognizes the voice of the sorcerer as being familiar and is told that he is his master (turning point: revelation) ...
Crisis: ...he has to decide if he surrenders unto him or dies.
Climax: Hellboy will not comply ...
Resolution: ... and he is grabbed by a giant tentacle and pulled underground.
Ending Payoff – Chapter 3 – 4 (46 pages = 50%)
Inciting Incident: When Hellboy has to fight the frog creature and the sorcerer at the same time
Turning Point Progressive Complications:... and even though Abe saves Hellboy and Liz, but the sorcerer returns once again ...
Crisis: ... Hellboy has to decide if he flees with his teammates or if he will take on the fight against the sorcerer once again.
Climax: Hellboy fights the sorcerer ...
Resolution: ... and loses his chance to ever be able to understand the power that dwells within him because he has killed his master.
Conclusion: Hellboy – Seed of Destruction
I just thought about Hellboy being a paranormal investigator. That’s just a statement so far. As a reader, we can’t tell how well Hellboy’s investigative skills are. We are bound to believe them because he’s over some decades in the business of paranormal investigations, but we have no proof so far.
I noticed that the ›investigation‹ which belongs to a crime story that can also be found in thrillers (a combination of horror, action and crime genre) does not play a part in this Hellboy story. After Broom’s death, Hellboy is allowed to assemble his own team, but we do not witness some form of his investigations. He goes to the Cavendish house because that’s the only clue there ever was because Broom went with Sven Olafson and two of his brothers on that expedition he told Hellboy about.
I still enjoyed Hellboy. ›C’ mon, it’s hellboy‹, but the story could have been stronger meaning that it would not seem too far fetched for the reader.
Here are some indicators why I thought the story did not work as best as it could have:
- the sidekick saves the day (not really the sidekick, but the sidekick who is possessed by a ghost)
- the lucky found of the concussion grenade (deus ex machina)
- the lack of a present story plot (because the investigative part was left out)
- artificially raising the stakes by having some other space creatures talk about the consequences of raising the Seven
- the proportion of Beginning Hook, Middle Build and Ending Payoff. The fight sequence at the end is two chapters. The beginning hook and middle build is one chapter. Normally the middle build should be around 50%, the rest each 25% (can differ, but this story was more concerned with the big battle scene in the end than with establishing a stronger storyline as well as creating more character insights).
I am certainly gonna analyze some more Hellboy stories to see how other stories work or don’t work.
Now that you have made it all the way to the end of my blog post, it'd be really great if you could spend two more minutes and let me know your thoughts.
Did the story work for you? What did you like the most about Hellboy – Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola? What didn't you like?
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