Is it too early to talk about a shared universe based on Mike Mignola’s creations?
The most interesting part of the announcement of a cinematic reboot for Hellboy isn’t the R-rating, nor even the creative pairing of Neil Marshall as director and Stranger Things‘ David Harbour as star — although, really, Harbour will likely do an amazing job as Mike Mignola’s predestined-to-demon dumb galoot. Instead it’s the potential a Hellboy in today’s big-screen world has to bring the rest of the so-called Mignolaverse to theaters.
For fans of the comic book incarnation of Hellboy, it’s been true that the character has existed in a wider context for many years now, with spinoffs expanding the mythology created by Mignola backwards and forwards in time, building an entire alternate reality where things veer ever further from the world as we know it.
Much attention is paid to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the organization Hellboy belongs to when his comic book adventures begin. (Spoiler for the comic mythology: He leaves the B.P.R.D. at the end of the Conqueror Worm storyline.) Beyond the long-running B.P.R.D. series — which itself runs through an epic, years-in-the-telling storyline that significantly alters the world in a way that rivals Hellboy for dramatic impact — there have also been individual spotlights on merman scientist Abe Sapien and pulp hero Lobster Johnson, whose association with the group actually began after his death. (He was a ghost at the time; such things are common place in the Mignolaverse.)
Outside of the B.P.R.D., comic books have told the history of the cult known as the Black Flame, the World War II-era soldier Sledgehammer (think Iron Man, but during the 1940s), the nineteenth-century paranormal investigator Sir Edward Grey and, most recently, an alien known as “the Visitor.” There has even been a series, 2015’s Frankenstein Underground, which follows the story of Victor Frankenstein’s monstrous creation after events in Mary Shelley’s original novel, coming on the heels of an appearance in the Hellboy: House of the Living Dead series.
The full scope of the world of Hellboy is immense, thanks to not only Mignola following his particular interests wherever they take him in the two decades-plus since the character’s 1993 debut, but also the input of a number of creators including John Arcudi (Mignola’s B.P.R.D. co-writer for more than a decade), Guy Davis, Chris Roberson and Christopher Golden. With one foot in the supernatural, stories have expanded into other genres across the years, including sci-fi, superheroics and straight-up horror — in other words, ideal fodder for a shared cinematic universe, should Millennium, the studio behind the new Hellboy feature, want to build one.
It’s early days, of course; the Hellboy feature itself is only just taking shape, so thoughts of spinoffs and building an entire franchise based around the multiple properties are at best long-term planning, if not plain wishful thinking. Yet, given the potential offered by everything Mignola and company have built across the years, it’s something that should at least be in the back of studio executives’ minds. After all, when it comes down to it, what studio wouldn’t want to boast of being able to build “Marvel, but with monsters”?