- Christmas was historically associated with ghost stories, thanks in part to Charles Dickens and his famous story “A Christmas Carol.”
- “A Christmas Underground” from Hellboy Christmas Special #1 by Mike Mignola is a great comic book story that incorporates the Christmas ghost story tradition.
- Hellboy’s calm and detached nature adds a certain coolness to the story, making it a great read for fans of horror comics.
It’s our yearly Comics Should Be Good Advent Calendar! This year, the theme is the Greatest Christmas Comic Book Stories Ever Told! I had you all vote for your all-time favorite comic book Christmas stories and I collected all the votes, and now I am counting down the results! Each day will spotlight the next story on the list as we count down from #24 all the way to #1!
Every day until Christmas Eve, you can click on the current day’s Advent Calendar post, and it will show the Advent Calendar with the door for that given day opened, and you can see what the “treat” for that day will be! You can click here to see the previous Advent Calendar entries.
The drawing for this year’s Advent Calendar, of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine celebrating Christmas together is by Nick Perks.
And now, we open the eighth door on the calendar…
as we continue the countdown with #18 on the list, 1997’s “A Christmas Underground” from Hellboy Christmas Special #1 by Mike Mignola.
We continue our countdown of your picks for the greatest Christmas comic stories with Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s twisted “Santa Contract”
What is the history of Christmas “scary ghost stories?”
One of the most interesting things about the history of Christmas and Christmas stories is that we’re all now a bit over the idea of Christmas being a time for ghost stories, and yet one of the most famous Christmas stories of all-time not only is a ghost story (A Christmas Carol), but it was actually the story that led to ghost stories becoming SO ubiquituous for Christmas celebrations, as Charles Dickens really pushed for ghost stories at Christmastime in the 19th Century, to the point where (as quoted by Colin Dickey at the Smithsonian Magazine in a piece about why we should bring back ghost stories for Christmas) Jerome K. Jerome wrote in his 1891 collection, Told After Supper, “Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.”
Well, that sure sounds like a Hellboy comic book, right? And sure enough, Mike Mignola is part of this year’s attempt by Dark Horse to bring that tradition back, Four Gathered on Christmas Eve! Which we’ll be soon featuring on CBR’s Dynamic Duos podcast (I’ll edit a link to the podcast here once it goes live).
But back to Hellboy!
Created by Mike Mignola in 1993, and initially released as part of a now long-forgotten line of creator-owned title at Dark Horse called Legends, Hellboy was a young half-human/half-demon who was summoned to Earth in 1944 (interestingly enough, very close to Christmastime) as part of a Nazi plan to win World War II. He was taken in and raised by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Hellboy was both raised as a Catholic but also to become the world’s greatest paranormal investigator.
The main Hellboy comic books series generally takes place in the present, but when there are one-shots, they typically revisit various cases that Hellboy has gone on over the years, typically summoned by some over-his-head priest who needs help with something supernatural and deadly.
The Hellboy Christmas Special as a whole was a great comic book, but the comic book story that we’re specifically talking about here was the contribution to the Special by Hellboy’s creator, the always amazing Mike Mignola, who is likely the greatest living horror comic book artist. His use of shadows is almost unparalleled in the world of comics.
The story opens with a priest calling Hellboy to a “doomed” castle where an old woman lost her daughter years ago and now she is dying herself. Hellboy visits her and gives her some hope, even as the dying old old woman mistakes Hellboy for Father Christmas (Santa Claus)…
One of the best personality traits of Hellboy is just how chill he is about all of these things. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that he doesn’t get emotional, at times, but it is never a case where he can’t believe some demon is so evil, but rather, that he wants to punish said demon for BEING so evil. In other words, while very little shocks him, he still gets angry at it and is happy to put a beatdown on these demons.
This is well-contrasted, though, with the priests he encounters who often have no experience with this stuff and thus can’t really comprehend everything. They all WANT to help, but they truly don’t know how. Even here, when Hellboy specifically asks a priest to do something with the old woman while Hellboy goes to find her daughter’s stolen spirit, he knows deep down that the priest won’t be able to pull it off.
We continue our countdown of your picks for the greatest Christmas comic stories with Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus, a ‘Santa Claus: Year One’
How does Christmas Eve itself save Hellboy?
As he then travels to the Underground, Hellboy finds the daughter, who seems to be living in a beautiful existence there. She tells her fairy tale story about how she was led to this special underground secret garden by her “prince” who has her pledge to spend her eternity with him.
When Hellboy figures out the situation Annie is in, he tries to free her spirit by first using the gift of the cross to expose what was really going on here and the striking change of what Annie believed she was dealing with and the reality of the hellish existence was beautifully handled by Mignola…
This leads to an expertly drawn confrontation between Hellboy and “prince” who has Annie’s spirit captive. Eventually, Hellboy succeeds (aided by the power of Christmas Eve itself – not exactly a great time for demons, ya know?)…and the daughter visits her mother while Hellboy finishes off the demon…
Hellboy had left instructions to do all sorts of anti-demon rituals on the dying woman, but the priest couldn’t do them, but “luckily,” her castle caught fire and so Hellboy and the priest then reflect on the night…
See how Hellboy’s sort of detached nature gives these tales a certain casual coolness to them. He legitimately does feel bad for the woman, but it is not going to haunt him. He’s seen way too much for that to happen for him now.
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