Comics Rewind: Hellboy: “The Corpse”

Welcome to the first installment of Comics Rewind, where we bring you the best in classic comic books from the Golden Age to the Modern Age. A new Comics Rewind feature will appear every week here at Nerd Bastards, so hopefully we’ll be able to show you some hidden gems, shed some new light on some old favorites and maybe even change your mind about comics you pushed away. We begin with Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, for no reason other than he’s awesome.

If you saw Guillermo del Toro‘s film Hellboy (if you didn’t, something is missing in your life) you might recall a scene in which Hellboy (Ron Perlman) raises a corpse and slings it onto his back to give him directions through a massive necropolis. While most of the film is based on the character’s first miniseries, Seed of Destruction, that particular scene, and the iconic image of Big Red with a dead guy on his back, comes from a short Hellboy tale called “The Corpse.”

Originally serialized in two-page monthly installments in Capital City’s Advance Comics, “The Corpse” was collected as a single story for the first time in “The Corpse and the Iron Shoes,” a Dark Horse Comics one shot published in 1996. It’s both drawn and written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, who felt the challenge of producing two page installments that remained thrilling and intriguing made the story suffer. When you read it in one sitting, though, “The Corpse,” is a dynamic, unpredictable, and delightfully strange story that’s among the best in the Hellboy canon.

It’s a very simple tale. Hellboy is in Ireland, where a couple asks him to help when their infant is acting strangely. The infant is, in fact, a changeling, and in order to get the real baby back, Hellboy is given a hanging corpse in the dead of night and told he must give it a Christian burial by daybreak. Of course, for Hellboy, nothing is ever as easy as it seems, a host of horrors await him along the way.

The strangeness of “The Corpse” is its greatest virtue. In the span of just 16 pages, Mignola throws a large cast of monsters and weirdos at his demonic hero, one right after the other like a gauntlet in the night. Hellboy, of course, faces each of these challenges with his trademark snark and Working Joe charm, which makes it all the more satisfying. It’s also a wonderful treatment of Hellboy as a solo character. The tale is set in 1959, so there’s no team of BPRD agents surrounding him yet, just Big Red roaming the world, bumping back at the things that go bump in the night.

Added to this thin slice of raucous, kinetic storytelling is Mignola’s wonderfully gloomy art. Other artists have tackled Hellboy over the years, but no one with the simple elegance of his creator. After two decades, he’s still the best crafter of monsters in the business.

“The Corpse” was released as a one-shot to promote the Hellboy film in 2004, but you can also find it in the Hellboy trade paperback The Chained Coffin and Others as well as the massive second volume of the Hellboy Library Editions.

Click the page below to read a the first four pages of “The Corpse” at Dark Horse’s website.

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