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.