What is it about Hellboy that makes him so popular? He's not the coolest indie comics star out there, nor the best-looking. He's not the best drawn character, and he doesn't have the most innovative stories. He's not particularly toyetic, and his name is anything but mass-market-friendly. I mean, I still can't believe Wal*Mart allows anything with the word "Hell" on it into their stores, you know? And yet, Anung Un Rama is all over the place, like the Wolverine of the indie world. Comics, movies, merchandise... and now even cartoons?! Hellboy's catching up with Spawn.
Mezco did two distinct lines of Hellboy figures (three if you count the Mez-Itz), covering first the movie
and then the comics, but their license is sputtering to its unfortunate end with this year's exclusive Abe Sapien - the only figure from the planned third series that we're ever likely to see. However, at last year's SDCC, Gentle Giant made the surprise announcement that they had picked up the rights to the animated series.
Now, Gentle Giant isn't exactly a company known for its action figures. They are, in fact, better known for statues and busts - see, they're the guys who own that big RV with the laser-scanning equipment inside. Any toys or statues that boast RealScan likenesses? That was them. They're the people toy companies go to when they don't want to sculpt something - heck, even the much-vaunted McFarlane Toys has used Gentle Giant's scanning services. But you can't scan a cartoon, so some people were leery about the idea of Gentle Giant producing the toys.
Honestly, they needn't have worried.
The animated Hellboy doesn't ape his comicbook stylings, so this figure is more than just a duplicate of one you already have. You know how Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animates Series designs were different from those in the comics? Same thing. Everything you know and love about Hellboy has been tweaked and exaggerated. He's got a big, huge chest and broad shoulders, then a pair of tiny twigs that pass as his legs.
The figure's design is big and blocky, just as it should be. His skin is covered by a slight pebbly texture of the sort not really seen since Palisades' Muppet line ended. Seriously, it's everywhere - even on his head. If it's exposed and it's skin, it's rough. His horn-stumps have a straight grain pattern, and the highlights in his sideburns are actually sculpted in. How crazy is that? Big Red has a quizzical look on his face and, for this exclusive, a cigar chomped between his teeth.
The paint is good. The base red is a bit darker than all the previous Hellboys', but it's still suitable. There are dark shadows painted all about, though sometimes they seem to be applied randomly. Remember, guys, just because there's a joint in the figure, it doesn't mean there would be a shadow on the body. His eyes are yellow, and the highlights in his hair are grey. You can just make out some tiny teeth behind the cigar. The paint on his pants and belt is good, but it looks like they missed an app on his left wrist - unless that bandage/wrap thing is supposed to be the same color as his skin.
Hb's only real "accessory" is his Samaritan gun, which is just as oversized as the rest of the figure.
It doesn't snap open, like the movie Hellboy's did, and the design is simplified (hey, what do you expect: it's animation), but it's still a cool little piece. It even fits nicely into the holster on his utility belt; a holster which has a tiny peg to snap it shut. The figure also includes two extra removable hands, so both his normal arm and the Right Hand of Doom can have either an open palm or a fist - no hunting for variants to find an open hand, this time. Since he'll never stand for long on those itsy little legs, the figure also includes a black display stand with a raised Hellboy logo and a clear rod to support him.
Gentle Giant's Graveyard Skeleton
was surprisingly articulated, and Hellboy follows suit. Remember, this is a company that's never done figures before, and yet Hb has a balljointed head, balljointed shoulders, biceps swivels, pin elbows, balljointed wrists, a hinged torso, a peg waist, balljointed hips, peg thighs, pin knees, peg shins, hinged ankles, a mid-foot swivel, and hinged toes. And, since he has a tail, add three more swiveling peg joints. The last time a company came out of the gates this strong was when SOTA made Tomb Raider figures. Depending on how you count, that's between 28 and 36 points of articulation on a 6" figure.
And yes, that brings us to this figure's major fault - its size. With his hooves flat on the ground,
Hellboy stands 6½" tall, which mean he's smaller than the movie and comic Hellboys, which were more or less the same size: about 7" or 8". Gentle Giant said that they planned to make their figures in a 7" scale, but that obviously didn't happen. The final figures are supposed to cost, like, $17 apiece, right? That price is going to be way too hard to swallow for 6"-scale figs. Maybe this is a case like Stevenson Entertainment Group's Alias figures: when they released Sydney Bristow as an SDCC exclusive sneak preview, she was 6" tall, an inch shorter than the real figures. If that's what Gentle Giant did here, then there's a reason.
This Hellboy is a Best Buy exclusive, available bundled with the newest Hellboy animated feature, Blood & Iron. They obviously didn't spend much time or money on the packaging - it's just the figure in a tray, shrink-wrapped to the back of the dvd. Pretty ugly, but then, you're not buying this for a box. A dvd case, by the way? 7½" tall, just enough for this undersized animated Hellboy figure.
The first animated movie, Sword of Storms, was pretty good,
but left a little room for improvement. The producers took that room and filled it all with the second film.
When Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien are assigned to investigate the ghost-infested mansion of a publicity-hound billionaire, they uncover a plot to resurrect a beautiful yet monstrous vampire from Professor Bruttenholm's past. But Before they can stop her bloodbath, Hellboy will have to battle harpies, hellhounds, a giant werewolf and even the ferocious godess Hecate herself. How much crap does a guy have to take from a Hungarian Blood Countess before he and his surrogate father can avenge the souls of the damned?
Looking to fill the gap
between his first live-action Hellboy movie and its sequel, director Guillermo Del Toro handed off the reins to Tad Stones, an ex-Disney animator best known for creating the comic-friendly Darkwing Duck. The animated films technically exist in their own continuity, but since Hellboy, Liz and Professor Bruttenholm (and, once the second live-action film comes out, Abe) are all voiced by the same actors, it's not hard to imagine them fitting seamlessly in place.
This time Hellboy is back in his usual stomping grounds. Yes, seeing Japanese mythology was a nice change of pace
for the first film, but Hb is more associated with Western monsters. While Sword of Storms was nearly pastoral - save for the tacked-on Liz/Abe subplot - Blood & Iron is much darker, much heavier on the action. We start with a random mythological monster fight before flashing back to one of young Trevor Bruttenholm's first cases, in late '30s Hungary. Things go poorly, of course, and it's all downhill from there. Hellboy doesn't spend the entire movie wandering through allegorical fables, he's in the real world punching real threats.
But ultimately, the story is about family. Not in an overt, "pound it into the ground" way, but the theme is there, an uplifting note to counter the movie's pervasive darkness. There's more to this ghost story than cheap scares, though it is pretty intense sometimes. The directing gets a bit uneven near the end, sadly, as the team gets more spread out and more endangered.
When Mike Mignola signed off on the animated series, one of his requirements was that
the animation not mimic his artwork. Word has it he walked out of a screening of The Amazing Screw-On Head after five minutes because he can't stand to see his style as a cartoon. Go figure. In any case, the character designs were done by comic artist Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, and are somewhat reminiscent of Jeff Matsuda's designs for Jackie Chan Adventures or The Batman. The use of color and shadow is very moody, an effect which is only helped by Christopher Drake's ominous score.
One of the flaws with the first movie was some of the voice acting. Ron Perlman is a longtime voice actor, so Hellboy sounded fine - it was just the rest of the BPRD regulars who seemed a bit shaky. Obviously they've gotten more comfortable behind the mic, as this time all the characters sound very natural and relaxed.
One thing, though? It drove me nuts hearing Hecate's name - Εκατη - pronounced "HECK-it."
Unless you're Shakespeare trying to make the name fit your rhyme scheme, it's "heh-CAW-te." She was a Greek goddess that didn't really fit into the pantheon, because she was actually a holdover from an earlier, pre-Hellenic religion. She's sort of a liminal wilderness mother spirit thing, so she's often considered the matron saint of witches, and is most often depicted in art as a triplicate woman with a torch, a key and a snake. And sometimes animal heads.
Image quality on the disc is good,
with no grain or over-enhancement, and no evidence of interlacing problems. The tendency of the film to be very shadowy works against it somewhat, giving viewers a very muddy image, but that's the fault of the animation, not the disc. You have your choice of English of Spanish audio tracks, both of which are nice. If you have a full surround sound system, fire up the Dolby Digital 5.1 track and really get engulfed in sound.
There's a nice selection of extras to be found. First of all, Blood & Iron comes with an exclusive 32-page comicbook, just like Sword of Storms did. "The Yearning" is a follow-up to the film, picking up on one of the threads that was mentioned and then forgotten (and throwing in a nod to The Shadow, as well). The cover is by Eric Powell (of The Goon fame), it was written by Jim Pascoe and the interior art is by Ben Stenbeck.
As far as bonus features go, we get some real goodies. "Reversal of Fortune: Professor Broom's Story" takes the Memento-like flashbacks and puts them in chronological order.
"Tales From The Tomb: A Look Inside Blood and Iron" is a making-of that also talks about how the film was inspired by Wake The Devil and gives new viewers a nice overview and introduction to the world of Hellboy. There are also interviews with Tad Stones, Mike Mignola and Guillermo Del Toro, and a bit of discussion of what needed to be changed to make the movie the best it could be. They're also very honest about what could have been better.
In Sword of Storms, the classic Hellboy tale "Heads" was adapted into the film. There were no obvious swipes like that this time, but we do get an animated look at another old favorite, "The Iron Shoes," with an introduction by Mignola. It's completely original animation, and is still voiced by Perlman (with Dan Castellaneta), and it's very fun to see this short come to life.
Not quite as fun, however,
is "The Penanggalan," an original story about a Malaysian demon. Rather than being animated, it's presented as an "e-comic," which means that the camera pans silently over still images. Wow, how exciting. The timing seems off in some parts, too, forcing you to rewind to catch all the dialogue. It's really pretty infuriating, especially since this type of thing has been done well before.
Finally, we have a commentary track from Mike Mignola, Tad Stones and director Vic Cook. The three of them provide a good deal of insight to the film and the filmmaking process, so this is definitely worth a listen. They'll even point out some easter eggs you probably never would have seen yourself.
The future of the third Hellboy animated feature, The Phantom Claw,
is entirely dependent on Blood & Iron - the sales of this disc will determine whether or not they move ahead with the next movie, so it really needs your support right now. It's an excellent film, very true to Mike Mignola's work, and really well done. If you're a Hellboy fan at all, head out now and pick this one up. Don't rent, don't download, don't borrow it from a friend, spend the money to support it and tell the producers you want more.
There are several different store-exclusive bundles of this dvd, offering things like comics or Bust-Ups, but the only one that comes with something you can't find elsewhere is this Best Buy set. It'll only set you back about $25, which is less than buying the disc and the figure individually. You might not be able to find this on the shelf - my secret shopper had to get an employee to retrieve one from the back room, so if you don't see it when you go in, ask. The movie is worth buying alone, but packaged with a figure that's this good? Definitely pick it up, and do it fast; this is a limited exclusive, and will sell out.