I read my first Hellboy comic about fifteen years ago. I bought a few of the early trades, enjoyed them, and made it a point to buy all new Mike Mignola collections whenever they came out. But at some point, I stopped reading them.
I've had a few customers ask me about reading order. And mostly I just tell them to read the Hellboy books in order, then BPRD, then BPRD Hell On Earth, and then Hellboy in Hell. I'd always admit that I hadn't read Witchfinder, or Lobster Johnson, or any of the other spin-offs.
A year or so ago, I looked up what the proper chronological reading order was via several websites, and they mostly spat the same uninformed advice that I'd been giving. After a couple of discussions with Jeff Stumpo about the BPRD series, I decided it was finally time for me to a deeper dive into The Mignolaverse (the unofficial name for Hellboy, BPRD, and their spin-offs.
The Internet was once again, mostly unhelpful. The choices were: Just Read Them In The Order Of The Numbers On The Spine You Nerd, or lists that were so focused on chronology that they recommend putting a book down mid-story, and picking up another volume for a few pages, before returning to the original one. That's no way to read comics. And since the stories weren't written chronologically, nevermind collected chronologically, I decided it was time to do some reading and research of my own.
So, here's another conceptual TV Series chronology. It's four seasons long because there are four large arcs to the series so far, with a fifth one just beginning, and probably taking years before it's wrapped up.
Season One takes us from the 1800s into the 1950s. None of the show's major characters show up in the first few episodes. But the main characters of each episodes will return during later seasons, and I've only included their most interesting and important adventures. You also get to see baby Hellboy grow into rebellious teen Hellboy during this season, which is an absolute blast. You may also note that there are a couple of episodes which just say "missing", this is because there are clearly stories that have to fill in a couple of tiny gaps that haven't been released yet. I'll update them when they come out.
Dure dure d'être bébé
Season 1: Seeds Of Destruction
(showrunner Mike Mignola)
Episode 1: Witchfinder
(Witchfinder 1: In The Service Of Angels, Witchfinder 2: Long & Gone Forever)
written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, art by Ben Stenbeck and John Severin
A nineteenth century English boy gets accidently involved with the occult when, during a search for lost children, he's bitten by a werewolf, who he then kills. He grows up to be an occult celebrity in England, eventually tracking a case down to Nevada. As you might guess by the title, there are witches involved in these stories, but it's more about dismantling folk tale tropes by changing their settings and giving some thought as to what the evil characters have to gain by giving them somewhat smaller scopes then Taking Over The World. There's also an interesting placement of how religion can interact with profane magic without going wildly-over-the-top in either direction. This is easily the best western witchcraft examination of privilege and Christianity that I've seen in a comic book.
Episode 2: Rise Of The Black Flame
(Rise Of The Black Flame, Lobster Johnson 2: The Burning Hand)
written by Mike Mignola John Arcudi and Chris Roberson, art by Christopher Mitten and Tonci Zonjic
Young girls start go missing in Siam. When some of those girls turn out to be British, your early 20th century racist cops go looking for them, and end up meeting some of the Witchfinder's associates. They combine their efforts, and end up tragically contributing to the origin of the Black Flame. A few years later, a Batmannish vigilante named Lobster Johnson is trying to wipe out the mob. After losing some pivotal battles, the mob starts to work with some occult experts, and, lo must Lobster Johnson battle The Black Flame in order to save his city.
Episode 3: The Voice Of The Dragon
(Rasputin: The Voice Of The Dragon)
written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, art by Christopher Mitten
As I'm compiling this chronology, this book isn't out yet, but it's shown up in Previews. This volume is intended to introduce us to future villain Rasputin, as well as the closest thing Season 1 has to a protagonist, Trevor Bruttenholm, future founder of the BPRD and eventual caretaker of Hellboy.
Episode 4: Sledgehammer 44
(Lobster Johnson 1: The Iron Prometheus, Sledgehammer 44)
written by Mike Mignola and Jason Arcudi, art by Jason Armstrong and Jason Latour
Nazis, magic suits, dragons, and action fill these two stories. They're both fairly weak entries in the Mignolaverse but the stories resonate later in the series, and the art for The Iron Prometheus is fantastic. Imagine if the early Iron Man suit were in the hands of a well-intentioned but not scientifically trained wannabe hero, instead of an alcoholic millionaire.
Episode 5: Vampire Sturm
(BPRD 9: 1946)
written by Mike Mignola and Josh Dysart, art by Paul Azaceta
During 1944, Project Ragnarock resulted in the appearance of a demon child named Hellboy. He was adopted by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, who went on to found the Bureau For Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD). Now that the war is over Bruttenholm returns to Germany to try and learn more about Project Ragnarock and Hellboy. Unfortunately, some Russian soldiers, the remnants of a German army of Vampires and some other paranormal villains have other plans in mind.
Episode 6: A Game Of Catch
(BPRD 13: 1947)
written by Mike Mignola and Josh Dysart, art by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
BPRD, now based out of a New Mexico airbase, sends some new recruits on a mission to France to learn about what a two hundred year old opera has to do with a train car load of dead former Nazis. Featuring a few familiar demony faces from Vampir Sturm, and introducing some new humans to Brutteholm's paranormal team. Also, adorable young Hellboy just wants to play a game of catch while Bruttenholm deals with the consequences of his latest mission.
Episode 7 : Enkalados
written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, art by Max Fiumara
BPRD relocates yet again to Connecticut, but the new members we met in 1947 travel with Bruttenholm to Nevada, where they research the appearance of monsters who may or may not have a connection to tests of the atomic bomb. Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Hellboy prepares to meet President Truman. There is some great conversation in this episode about the difference between theoretical physics and magic, and how one can be proved while the other can't.
Episode 8: The Midnight Circus and Other Tales
(BPRD Vampire, Hellboy Midnight Circus)
written by Mike Mignola, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, art by Gabriel Bá, Fábio Moon, and Duncan Fegredo
The conclusion to Agent Anders's arc that started in "A Game Of Catch". This will surely be the last we hear of vampires for a while. Also, Hellboy runs away from the BPRD to a place that's just as weird and demonic as any place the BPRD ends up.
Episode 9 missing
there will be a story here which should give some sort of context for why Bruttenholm decides to allow Hellboy in the BPRD in the next episode
Episode 10: Anchunga
(Hellboy & The BPRD 1952)
written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, art by Alex Maleev
Hellboy's first case with the BPRD takes them to Brazil where a series of murders could either be connected to a haunted prison or a sound studio for propaganda films. Not both, obviously.
Episode 11: Beyond The Fences
(Hellboy & The BPRD 1953)
written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, art by Ben Stenbeck, Paolo Rivera, and Michael Walsh
More early adventures of Hellboy with the human BPRD. The crux of the stories offering more information about the monsters who showed up in Enkalados.
Episode 12: Black Sun, Ghost Moon
(Hellboy & The BPRD 1954)
written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, art by Brian Churilla, Stephen Green, and Richard Corben
A slightly less noobish Hellboy travels the world with his human BPRD agents. We encounter even more damned dirty apes and the threat of the "occult Cold War" that's been foreshadowed in "Vampire Sturm" and "Beyond The Fences". As of this posting, the collection isn't yet available, but most of the issues are already out.
Episode 13: Occult Intelligence
(Hellboy & The BPRD 1955)
written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, art by Shawn Martinbrough
The story for this episode/collection hasn't quite started yet, but 1956 is the beginning of the second major arc for Hellboy, as well as the BPRD, so this should be a really important adventure that ends with a major shuffling of the staff of the BPRD.
Season One is probably 13 episodes, maybe 14 depending on whether Mignola explains the shuffle in Hellboy & The BPRD 1955, or if there will be a Hellboy & The BPRD 1956....which doesn't seem likely at this point.
You'll have to excuse me, I'm terrible with remembering names. I once spent four hours calling my ex only "Hey...you." until I remembered it. Of course, we'd only dated for about a year, so he's really lucky that I recognized him at all.
If you want me to remember you, you really have to make an impact. Strangle a hamster with its own intestines, show me The Green Lantern tattoo on your ass.
So far in this continuity we've been introduced to a variety of Batman's rogues: The Joker, Catwoman, The Monk, and, Hugo Strange. We've also seen a few cameos of future villains: Harvey Dent, Harley Quinn, and The Scarecrow. But, apart from The Joker, we haven't had a major supervillain crime spree yet. The Long Halloween is on the horizon, though, and that involves a bunch of supervillains, so it's time to get to know as many of them as possible.
In Batman: Four Of A Kind we witness Batman's first encounters with Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Scarecrow, and Man-Bat.
It's not an ideal way to introduce them. I'd love to list trades that fully flesh out their origins or first appearances, but this is a decent primer to characters who will shortly become very important to the Batman Universe. Also, although we don't see why or how, halfway through this trade Jim Gordon gets promoted from Lieutenant to Captain.
Alan Grant opens up the collection with the introduction of Poison Ivy who first poisons Bruce Wayne, and then poisons Batman, informing him that both he and Wayne will die that night because the only antidote to Poison Ivy's kiss is a second kiss. The art is very Vertigo 90s style, except for Batman's cowl which looks a bit like Matt Wagner's and a lot out of place with the rest of the art. But Brian Apthorp's one and two page spreads are gorgeous. And there are several very well drawn humorous facial expressions.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Chuck Dixon handles The Riddler story. He's one of my all-time favorite Bat scribes, but his Riddler story is your basic "my parents didn't love me, I felt invisible, so I turned to a life of crime" origin, which seems inadequate for someone as clever as The Riddler. There's a lot of silver-age craziness to this version of Edward Nigma that we don't really get in the modern age. The art by Kieron Dwyer is very noirish. His Riddler outfit seems lazy (just penciled question marks with no dimension, design, or color to them), but everything else works.
Story 3/5, Art 4/5
Doug Moench's Scarecrow tale is very telly. "Yeah -- You sure look like a scarecrow!" "He also looks like a different crane -- Ichabod Crane!" Eeeks, zero subtlety or trust in the reader's ability to notice Crane's physique or notice the Crane/throwing pumpkins connection. The writing made slogging through this chapter very difficult. The flashbacks, in particular, are absolutely terrible. But you do end getting the full origin story.
Story 1/5, Art 3/5
Chuck Dixon returns to wrap things up with the origin of Man-Bat. The meek Kirk Langstrom is getting ready to marry his beautiful fiance, but he's incredibly wrapped up with his genetic research. And when his research project is rejected, he takes drastic measures and turns himself into the Man-Bat. It's not a life changingly fantastic story, but after the mediocre Riddler tale and the awful Scarecrow, it seems fantastic. Quique Alcatena's artwork is very consistent with the style of the mid to late 90s Batman.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Overall Rating for Four Of A Kind: Story 2/5, Art 4/5
Collected Legends Of The Dark Knight has three stories of very different styles from the Legends Of The Dark Knight series from the early 90s. James Robinson and Tim Sale open the book with Blades, the story of Gotham's second vigilante, a swordsman, The Cavalier. The swashbuckling hero becomes a more public face than Batman, and the public adores him...until they discover that he's been leading a double life as a jewel thief. What Batman doesn't know (he's busy solving the murders of elderly Gothamites by a killer named Mr Lime.) is that The Cavelier is stealing jewels for Mr. Salt (apparently James Robinson likes tequila) to protect the love of his life from being outed as a murderess. Alas, his plans go awry when he decides he can't trust Mr. Salt anymore, and he kills him with his sword. Batman tracks him down almost immediately, and the two engage in a swordfight to the death, and The Cavelier wins!
But he's a good guy at heart, so instead of killing Batman, he draws a gun and walks outside where he is gunned down by the police.
This is one of my favorite lesser-known Bat stories. And, it alone is worth the price of this book.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5
Alan Grant and Kevin O'Neill show up to do the second story, The Legend Of The Dark Mite. And while I can't say for certain that either of these men have done hallucinogens, all signs point to a very colorful yes. This is the origin of Bat-Mite, and as it proclaims on the very fist page "This is NOT an imaginary story." It's the story of a drug addict who sees the error of his ways when confronted with a tiny Batman-like creature who shows him what his life would be like if he contnued his life of crime. We see this story as he tells it to Batman from his cell at Arkham. It also involes a neat two spage pread of assorted DC characters as mites.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
John Francis Moore and P Craig Russell close out the book with Hothouse, the story of Batman's second run in with Poison Ivy. The story uses the familiar Batman trope of rehabilitated Bat-rogue turns out to be not so rehabilitated, as Poison Ivy gets involved with a drug ring that makes hallucinogenics from plant pheromones.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Overall Review For Collected legends Of The Dark Knight: Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Did you ever see that episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where Buffy believes she's actually in a mental hospital, and that her entire slayer life has been a series of psychotic episodes? Well, it's possible that Joss Whedon read Bryan Talbot (who does double duty as writer and artist here)'s Mask, the first story in Dark Legends. After stopping a crime Batman wakes up in a hospital where he's addressed as Bruce Wayne. Terrified that he's been found out, he soon realizes that he's not a billionaire playboy, but a drunken homeless person with delusions of a superhero life.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Dennis O'Neil and Bret Blevins come up next with Images, yet another "first encounter with The Joker" story. It is very similar to The Man Who Laughs, in that it retells the Joker's origin. Joker chemicals, Batman blames himself for turning The Red Hood into The Joker, rich people die, Alfred tells Bruce to stop blaming himself. If you've not read any of the other Joker origin stories, it's okay, but it does not hold up against many of the other versions of the tale. The art is ok, but Batman's physique shifts a little from page to page.
Story 3/5, Art 3/5
Batman goes to Chinatown for Tao by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. It's an interesting change of pace from the usual Gotham supervillains and mobsters, but it really reads like a white Western guy writing about Eastern culture. And the art is very much a product of its era, having a very early nineties almost Vertigo style.
Story 2/5, Art 3/5
The gem of this collection is the Dan Raspler and Mike Mignola scribed story: Sactuary. If you've ever wondered what Hellboy would look like if it starred Batman, you'll find the answer here. The story's locale alternates between a graveyard and a gothic afterlife, so it's perfect for Mignola's art.
Story 4/5. Art 5/5
Overall Review for Dark Legends: Story 3/5, Art 4/5