In the Hellboy universe, all things lead to the end of days. The day when the Ogdru Hem rise from the depths and destroy our world, raining chaos and destruction upon mankind. In the time of mutating beings, clouds of random gas, religious cults, and giant, unknowable horrors walks Abe Sapien, former BPRD agent and the world’s only Icthyo Sapien. A new transformation has come to him, along with memories of his life as human before the American Civil War. Abe wanders the desolation searching for answers concerning his past, his future, the transformations his own body is taking, and where his place in this new world of horrors lies.
This 425-page tome collects three volumes (3-5) of Abe Sapien into eight distinct chapters tracking the newly transformed agent across the United States. At each he is confronted by true horror in one form or another, sometimes confronting it head on, sometimes walking away, more lost than before. As truly overwhelming as the great Ogdru Hem horror is throughout the book, the terrible nature of man finds its way back to the surface again and again. Abe is both reviled and worshipped, attacked and protected. He is torn in his search between his need to help those in need and to find his own answers.
Hellboy has always explored the question of the true nature of monsters. While Abe, Liz, and Hellboy himself are judged for the way they look or their powers, often it is humanity that proves monstrous. It is easy to point at the alien creatures coming from the depths of the sea as monsters. It is much more difficult to see the horror that comes from within.
Abe’s journey takes him through a border town where immigration officers decided to deal with the population of their prison by simply killing them all, infected by the Ogdru Hem or not. He encounters a pastor, driven to embrace the infected, whose own transformation is triggered by a lynch mob. The town seemingly living in peace amid the necromantic squatters on the local golf course. The most telling, and overarching, encounter for Abe comes from Grace, kidnapped from her wrecked car, wrenched from the body of her daughter, and held by a crazed psycho with a rifle. Though wounded, Abe is able to rescue Grace who accompanies him on his Quixotic quest for meaning in a world gone, quite literally, mad.
Grace is haunted by the vision of her daughter, even to the point of having Abe shave her head to avoid resemblance in her own reflection. Grace doesn’t want to grieve, not really. She is an allegory in and of herself for the rest of the world collapsing around them. No one, not even Abe or the BPRD really understands what is happening and how to fix any of it. The search for meaning in life has suddenly become futile. Denial is the first stage of grief and the world is awash in it. Those who seem to accept the state of things are even further in denial than those who refuse to acknowledge it. The people who try to worship Abe or the Ogdru Hem as gods aren’t accepting the new world as it is, they are attempting to reshape it back into something that makes sense. That is not possible, not for them or for Abe.
Mike Mignola began a deep and dark world in 1993 with the debut of Hellboy. As it comes to its inevitable end, finding people struggling for their own basic humanity reflects the search that Abe and Hellboy both have undertaken over the past 25 years. Not all quests have a satisfying conclusion and not all stories have a happy ending. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth telling.