The pages of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comic are full of weird and wild monsters. For twenty five years, Mignola and his collaborators have come up with some truly strange and creepy creations. The key to how real these monsters feel is how fleshed out they are. Rarely does Mignola create a flimsy and dull creature and toss it away. He paints his creatures in three dimensions, giving them minds, motivations and often eloquence. Drawing on the rich tradition of gothic horror, many of his creatures are tragic figures. Like Frankenstein or The Phantom of the Opera, these unfortunate wretches are victims of circumstance, transformed into nightmares by bad luck. Not all are so sympathetic, some are more like Dracula, a purer, darker form of evil.
In this list we won’t be including villains that are exclusive to B.P.R.D., Witchfinder, or Lobster Johnson. We had to draw a limit somewhere!
10. The Cow-Abductor Aliens
The Hellboy comics are often more fantasy and myth oriented, so the evil aliens of “Buster Oakley Gets His Wish“ are an unusual standout on this list. Roaming the Nebraska countryside in their flying saucer, these unnamed aliens are straight out of a ’50s sci-fi movie. They abduct cows, pigs, and a poor teenager named Buster Oakley. The alien’s malicious experiments include morphing Buster’s body with that of a cow, turning the teen into a sort of human/cow hybrid. What makes these little green men so creepy isn’t just their yellow eyes and wrinkly skin, but their evil grins. They perform mad science and wield cattle prods with glee. Anyone who has ever had a nightmare about an alien abduction can relate to the fear they inspire in me. Who wants to be taken aboard a spaceship and turned into a cow-human hybrid? Not I. The uniquely disturbing nature of these experiments is what earns these ugly extraterrestrials a spot on the top ten.
9. Jenny Greenteeth
Jenny Greenteeth is one of the many Hellboy monsters based on real life myths. English folk tales recall the stories of a river hag who swallows children and those who wander into the rivers. The Jenny Greenteeth that Hellboy faced was little more than a minor monster, but her disturbing visage earns her a solid place on this list. Long stringy hair, decaying skin, and spindly arms send shivers down my spine. Appearing in “The Corpse“, one of my favorite Hellboy stories, Jenny only appears for a few pages but is certainly memorable. An image of her chewing on the titular corpse’s severed arm is one of my favorite panels in any Hellboy comics. The pathetic water hag gnawing on the desiccated arm is supremely gross but also really funny. Mignola gives her this delightfully goofy facial expression as she sees Hellboy coming to retrieve the arm. Jenny Greenteeth never returned for another Hellboy comic, but her single appearance is delightfully kooky and wild.
8. The Coffin Man
Not many beings can say they went toe to toe with Hellboy and came out on top. Even fewer can say they’ve bested him twice. The Coffin Man did two rounds with Hellboy in “The Coffin Man” and “The Coffin Man 2: Rematch“, and won both times. Drawn once by Fabio Moon, and the second time by Gabriel Ba, the Coffin Man is a lanky, purple-eyed shapeshifter who reanimates corpses. He has a powerful command of magic, and likes to use it to mess with Hellboy. In “The Coffin Man 2” he memorably uses his powers to temporarily turn a drunk Hellboy into a giant monkey. What really gets under my skin about the Coffin Man is how little we know or learn about him. In his two short appearances, we see him digging up corpses and transforming people against their will. It’s clear that he has immense powers, and nefarious intentions but nothing more is known about him. There’s something unnerving about the idea of being brought back to life against your will. If you’re ever wandering through a graveyard and see an undead man with purple eyes and magenta skin, it’s probably best to run.
7. Herman Von Klempt
What’s worse than a Nazi? A nefarious Nazi scientist who defeated death by putting his head in a jar. Herman Von Klempt is one of the most evil and longest lasting villains in the Hellboy canon. Von Klempt is perhaps Mike Mignola’s strongest homage to classic pulp comics, a weird science Nazi monster who makes more monsters. He’s Hellboy’s version of the Red Skull. Von Klempt is probably best known for his Kreigaffe project, where he turns apes into super soldiers. His evil deeds range far beyond that, from drawing spinal fluid from abducted peasant girls, to attempting to destroy the world. Luckily, Hellboy has been there at every turn to foil the mad Nazi’s plans. Von Klempt’s appearance inspires disgust and loathing, a swastika tattooed on his head, floating in a bile jar of green liquid. The only thing that keeps Von Klempt lower on this list is his comical incompetence. His schemes always fail, even with the help of other, stronger villains. Despite his despicable, loathsome nature, Von Klempt doesn’t present much of a threat.
Rasputin, the deranged Russian occultist of legend, is one of the oldest and most powerful villains that Hellboy has ever faced. Rasputin is a being of immense power and is ultimately responsible for the end of the world. If Von Klempt is Hellboy’s Red Skull, Rasputin is the comic’s Dr. Doom. The son of the great Baba Yaga, Rasputin quests his whole life to unleash the ancient elder gods, the Ogrudu Jahad. He fails many times in this task, actually being killed, before finally succeeding over seventy years after his initial attempt. After his initial death, Rasputin took the form of a ghost and continued his plotting. His power was so great, that even after his ghostly form, he lived on inside an acorn kept by his mother. He was finally being reborn again at the end of the world, only to be killed yet again by his eternal, indomitable foe, Hellboy. Rasputin is perhaps the most dangerous human (if you could call him that) in all of Hellboy, yet he isn’t too physically intimidating. Rasputin presents as just a bald, bearded Russian man, yet within is hidden depths of power.
5. William Greiner
The story of werewolves is ancient in our society, dating back millenia. “The Wolves of Saint August” is Mike Mignola’s entry into the werewolf canon. William Greiner is one of the titular wolves, surviving almost 800 years after a curse was put on him and his family. In 1214, the pagan Greiner family was cursed by a monk to suffer lycanthropy, turning into werewolves every seven years. The town locals caught the lupine family, torturing and killing them, only William survived. Eight hundred years later, a priest comes to town, and William seeks his revenge, slaughtering the townsfolk. Hellboy and his partner Kate are sent in and put him down for good. William is a towering beast, with piercing yellow eyes. His most memorable moment is when he tears his own human skin off to reveal the wolf within. The “Wolves of Saint August” is a morally complicated story. The cursing of the family was unjustified, and in some ways, it isn’t their fault they ate people. William’s final words are “I’m tired” before his body and skeleton dissolve into ash. His story is haunting and fearsome, and features some of Mignola’s strongest horror art. William and his family are not easily forgotten.
The monster fighting business is a tough one, and it rarely ends well for those who make it their cause. One such man was a wrestler named Esteban. He joined Hellboy to fight a plague of demons in Mexico, but fell victim to dark forces. Esteban was transformed by ancient evil into a half-man half-bat monster named Camazotz. Camazotz invites Hellboy to fight him at his wresting ring, set up at an ancient temple. Hellboy accepts, and fights the hybrid beast in the ring. The ring is surrounded by an army of undead, necrotic fans, and the fight is to the death. Hellboy defeats Camazotz, impaling him after a vicious and brutal fight. Camazotz is illustrated by the legendarily Richard Corben, who draws the man-bat’s teeth sharp and dripping with drool. There’s a truly revolting moment when Camazotz remove his mask to reveal his transformed face. Conversely, this reveal is also quite sad because Hellboy finally comprehends how far gone his friend is. It feels wrong to describe Corben’s design for Camazotz as “realistic”, but the art is so detailed and strong that it feels like the monster might leap straight off the page.
3. Baba Yaga
Few beings in the world are as powerful or as ugly as the Baba Yaga. With her chicken leg house, wooden teeth, and one eye, the Baba Yaga is unsightly and a force to be reckoned with. The icon of Russian folklore is one of Hellboy’s oldest and most dangerous rivals. When she was first introduced in the titular “Baba Yaga” one-shot, she’s counting fingers and stealing skulls in a graveyard. Hellboy interrupts this ritual, shooting out her eye and starting a decades long feud. At the end of his life, Hellboy sought her help to prevent the apocalypse. She agreed, but took his eye in return. The Baba Yaga is illustrated by Mignola and is uniquely weird and creepy, she floats in a cup and has two wooden legs. She’d be a comical sight, if not for the skulls she was stealing off of corpses. The fury Mignola gives her when her eye gets taken is bone-chilling. She carries a deep air of menace and threat, this is someone not to be crossed. The final panel of the “Baba Yaga” comic haunts me every time I look at it. An old Russian woman, staring right at the reader says “Her reach is long”. I look at that, and I’m glad that I don’t believe in monsters.
2. The Crooked Man
Deep in the Appalachian Mountains, there lies an old evil known to the locals as The Crooked Man. The Crooked Man is the twisted remains of Jeremiah Witkins. Witkins was a war profiteer who stirred conflict between Native Americans and settlers, so he could sell them guns. This was a man so evil that the devil spat him out of hell, and sent him back to earth to pervert and collect souls as The Crooked Man. Helped by some brave locals and a priest, Hellboy sent the Crooked Man back to hell after a long battle. The Crooked man’s disturbing visage is the best thing to come out of the collaborations between Mignola and Corben. Corben draws the Crooked Man with huge teeth, a gaping smile, big glassy eyes and a top hat. His head bent at an angle, his mouth drooling, he looks like a demented caricature of an old-timey gentlemen. A menacing caricature of the corrupting nature of greed, The Crooked Man is an almost Dickensian parody of someone who places profit over morals. In the end, his true form is revealed to be a pathetic and revolting mass of spines, claws and eye stalks. He’s nothing more than a disjointed crab monster clutching tight onto a pile of old gold. This crab-monster shocked me when I first saw it, and it remains one of the most memorable images in any Hellboy comic story.
1. Edward Stokes
Only appearing in a short story within an anthology book, no Hellboy monster has freaked me out to the degree that Edward Stokes has. A poetry quoting, corpse eating ghoul, Edward Stokes appears on the surface to be human but inside conceals something worse. He’s introduced prowling through a cemetery with a knife and fork, searching for a meal. Hellboy interrupts his attempt to dine, and aggressively lays into him with his red right hand. The more Stokes is beaten, the more his demonic form emerges. Yellow eyes, large blood-soaked jaws, and pointed ears are drawn with Mignola’s trademark skill. The teeth are the most jarring, given extra attention and drawn in close up by Mignola. Stokes isn’t very tough, he goes down without much of a fight. What makes him scarier than any other Hellboy monster is how normal he is on the surface. He dresses in a shirt and tie, quotes poetry, even has a totally oblivious wife. The implication that he doesn’t just gnaw on corpses but eats them with knife and fork is beyond disturbing. Edward Stokes could be anyone, anywhere, hiding in plain sight. Out of all these frights and freaks, nothing to me is scarier than the possibility that the kindly old man next door is secretly a cannibal.
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