Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hellboy in Mexico and Christological Echoes: The Platypus Reads Part CLI

The Sacred Heart of Jesus always catches my eye.  There's a story in this.  Back during the Great Depression, my great-grandfather owned a restaurant.  One day, a man came in and told my great-grandfather that he was hungry but couldn't afford a meal.  My great-grandfather, a devout Catholic, sat him down and gave him one for free.  The man thanked him and left.  The next day he came back and told my great-grandfather that he had a job interview but needed a watch so he could be on time.  Again, my great-grandfather gave him his pocket watch.  Now the man did come back, and with the watch, but when he returned it to its owner there was a slight change: the man had painted inside in minute detail the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  It was his "thank you" for a man who was unafraid to live the gospel.

Now, I told you that story to tell you a less important one.  Namely, what I see in Mike Mignola's Hellboy in Mexico, part of the collection Hellboy: The Bride of Hell and OthersHellboy in Mexico tells the story of how Hellboy joined forces with a band of luchadores to fight evil back in the 50s.  The luchadores themselves felt the call to become occult detectives when the Virgin Mary appeared to them and asked them to forsake wrestling in order to fight monsters.  In keeping with their Catholic devotion, one of the brothers, Esteban, has The Sacred Heart of Jesus tattooed across his chest.  This becomes important as we shall see.  The monster bashing lasts for a month with no diminution in the attacks until the monsters wise up and grab Esteban.  Hellboy discovers him in the ruins of a Mayan temple and finds that the monsters have turned Esteban into the bat-demon Camazotz, complete with snakey-heart tattoo.  Hellboy and Camazotz fight and in the end Hellboy is forced to spit Camazotz straight through the heart.  This done, the monsters vanish and Camazotz turns back into Esteban, bleeding through The Sacred Heart of Jesus.  There's no anastasis, but the Christological echo should be clear: only by taking on the evil and sacrificing himself can Esteban save Mexico from the monsters; merely fighting them by human efforts will not work.  The symbol of his sacrifice is none other than the Sacred Heart.  Also of interest is the notion that evil caries in itself the seeds of its own destruction.  The monsters in their pride seek not only to defeat good but to humiliate it.  In trying to make Esteban one of them, they open the pathway to their own destruction just as in some theories of the atonement, the devil destroys himself in seeking to kill Christ.  The notion that evil is ultimately self-defeating shows up elsewhere in the collection and is worth keeping in mind as you read.

That said, one final remark.  The purpose of this examination is not to determine Mr. Mignola's religious leanings or claim that Hellboy is somehow Christian.  What it is seeking to do is draw out is how Mignola makes use of Christian symbolism and Christian theology to tell a good story.  Why Christian symbols and Christian theology make for good stories I leave up to you.

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