The Death Card
(Hellboy in Hell #2)
by Mike Mignola
Dark Horse Publishing, 2016
Symbolically the Death card of the Tarot’s Major Arcana death doesn’t mean death; it means a new beginning risen from the ashes of the old world. At the beginning of the story there is no one left to revive the sleeping Army of Hell. By the end, there is an army, but not the one you’re thinking of.
Hellboy in Hell: Volume 2 doesn’t quite meet the same caliber as Volume 1: The Descent, lacking the cohesiveness of the three Dickensian visitations, thus resulting in an incoherent tour of Hellboy’s past that seemingly ties up loose ends… that were never really hanging to begin with. For example, Mignola just sort of drops the Vampire of Prague into the middle of it.
Hellboy is dead. Dead and cast into Hell where he cut the throat of Satan and threw the realm into turmoil.
Two dead men are writing the definitive history of Hell, and tell Hellboy that they have a map (but only in their heads, of course.) Mr. Jenks and Mr. Dean explain the topography of the land, a bowl with the island of fire in the middle, and Pandemonium at the center of that, with only the abyss beyond. The men then flee as our old friend, the Vampire of Prague shows up.
The Verger of St. Peter’s Church in Prague, cursed as a vampire, found salvation when someone finally beat him at his own game. After he found death, he awoke in Hell, and he blames Hellboy and his full house for that final, eternal curse. They have a knock-down, drag-out ten page fight until the vampire is chased away by a nameless Minister of the Damned, tied to his own church bell, and thrown into the sea.
Chapter two finds Hellboy in the care of two “doctors,” Chatrain and Erckmann, who found him lying in the road. They offer him a draught that sends him on a vision. In what was once England, (apple trees hint at Avalon,) he is shown the new world tree, grown from his own blood and final sacrifice. It is Alice who shows him; she has taken the place of Queen Mab. She says the old world tree is dying and it has Hellboy’s true name carved into it. The old world is almost done.
The two doctors inform Hellboy that a carnivorous parasite has attached itself to his soul. There’s nothing they can do about it… but they know a fellow. A Doctor Hoffman, but of course, he is on trial, being prosecuted by one Dr. Wilhelm Coppelius, for some unknown reason. (Coppelius had it in for him, blaming Hoffman when his a golem had run amok.) But Hoffman is acquitted of whatever it was, Hellboy punches out Coppelius after he turns into a demon-ape, and they retreat to Hoffman’s lab, where Hellboy’s reflection shows the parasitic organism is real. Then Coppelius shows up again, this time enraged to the size of a giant, but his spirit is deftly dispelled.
”I’m going to lie down in this trunk. If you could just keep him occupied while I trap his soul inside this dead cat.”
Hoffman is finally able to bring out Hellboy’s parasites: the Furies. Alecto, Magaira, and Tisiphone are invoked to see justice done when someone escapes the laws of both man and God. They accuse Hellboy of the murder of his brothers and uncle. But they taste his blood and find him innocent. Turns out he was falsely accused, set up… by his half sister Gamori! (See Hellboy: The Midnight Circus) The Furies claim her instead, and her punishment will end in the complete fall of Pandemonium, “The heart of Hell gone forever.”
Attention shifts and we listen in as three captains of Hell discuss how their masters died. They have found themselves homeless ronin as the ranks of the underworld face rebellion. Generals of Hell taking their own lives in disgrace, mountains of dead devils. To offer themselves as servants to Beelzebub, the last demon standing, the three attempt to bring the demon lord the head of Hellboy.
They fail only because of the interference of Hellboy’s wife. Remember back in Mexico? 1956? (See Dark Horse Presents #31-32). She insinuates that she had influenced Hellboy to kill Satan, offering the push he needed to fulfill his destiny, and reminds him of his unclaimed crown. Will they stay as King and Queen? Alas, no. She keeps his father’s ring with the fly in it, and removes herself to hide far away. In the end, she explains that the only way out is through. “You want to start over? You want a new life? First you have to finish the old one.”
The bell tolls. The final scene. The unnamed devil from the end of The Death Card speaks with his grandmother again, describing, as a witness, the end of Hell– the fall of Beelzebub in his castle. Where the survivors had all gathered, Beelzebub has just announced that he had decided to call to Pluto, one of the original watcher angels cast off the face of the earth for creating the Ogdru Jahad.
Will he make it in time? Not before a great kaiju battle that shakes the world between Anung un Rama, Leviathan and Behemoth!
”Will you tell me your name?”
“Back in the world they called me Hellboy.”
“Yeah. Now that I’m here it does seem pretty silly.”
There were some nice nuances here, like Hellboy’s wife morphing from Victorian lady to cat-bodied winged demon as she talks at him (he has been pinned to a tree with three swords through his body). One of the rivers of Hell leads to the body of Satan, from whom it emanates, and at the very end Beelzebub is wearing a ring with a fly in it, hinting at where Hellboy’s wife may have run off to, and how she probably got in.
The main story is followed by a short called The Exorcist of Vorsk (A Puppet Story Told in Hell) about a man who throws his nagging shrew of a wife down a well. Soon after, a demon comes up out of the well and tells him to take her back! This quaint story reads like one of the old Jewish folktales of Herschel of Ostropol. The man is warned not to use a magic scroll more than three times. He uses the spells to amass a fortune, but before reclaiming his wife as a wealthy man, he gets greedy. He uses it a fourth time…