This is the 25th anniversary of Mike Mignola’s first Hellboy comic book and, unlike the work-for-hire creators of Batman, Iron Man, the X-Men and most other comics properties, he actually owns his creation. On Saturday, the writer-artist and his scarlet-hued brainchild will step into the spotlight at New York Comic Con for a panel promoting their latest Hollywood adventure, the upcoming Hellboy film from Summit Entertainment.
The April 2019 theatrical release from Liongate’s Summit will be the third Hollywood adaptation of Mignola’s demonic do-gooder but, oddly, it will be the second of them to be released with that single-word title. The new movie isn’t a remake of director Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 film titled Hellboy, so why duplicate the name?
Mignola tells Deadline he was initially caught off guard by the choice but then came to see value within its symbolism. With a new star, new director, new tone and new story, the title now feels like a signal that this is a fresh start for a reborn franchise.
“Honestly, I was a little surprised that they didn’t give it a subtitle,” Mignola said. “They would like this to be the first of many new Hellboy movies and if they had a subtitle it might make it a little confusing. Is it a sequel like the second del Toro film [Hellboy II: The Golden Army from 2008]? I suspect calling this one just Hellboy sends the message that this is the first one in a new series of movies.”
The previous Hellboy films starred Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) in the title role, but this time around the crimson-colored lug will be portrayed by David Harbour, who has considerable experience with supernatural seekers as the Emmy-nominated star of Netflix’s hit Stranger Things. The director of the new film is Neil Marshall (The Descent) working from a script written by Andrew Cosby (2 Guns).
The New York Comic Con appearance is Saturday morning at Javits Center, with Mignola and Harbour joining a panel that is expected to include fellow cast members Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim and Sasha Lane.
Harbour spent long hours getting into the character and not all of them were in make-up chair. “One night we were texting back and forth so much I said, ‘Dude here’s my phone number, just call me,’ ” Mignola said. “We must have had a two-and-a-half hour conversation…I remember thinking, ‘I hope I haven’t completely derailed his performance by giving him way too much information.’ “
The second del Toro film was an original story, not a comic adaptation. When it became clear that del Toro (now celebrated as the Oscar-winning director of The Shape of Water) was not returning for another Hellboy installment, it led to some debate about the next step. Should there be a continuation of the del Toro mythology or a clean break?
“We went back and forth on that,” Mignola said. “Early on there was some idea of continuing the storyline that del Toro had started but would that be fair to a new director? So we decided to just start over. Neil is a horror director so the idea then was to a make a darker film. If you are going to use a guy, let him do what he does best. So we went through the script taking out the del Toro-isms and in some ways go out of our way to make sure we are doing a different Hellboy with its own distinct character [as a project] but still adhering to the comics.”
The new film adapts a three-part adventure that appeared in the comics over a span of five years and were written by Mignola but illustrated by Duncan Fegredo. Their opus stretched over years with a trio of miniseries: Darkness Calls (2007), The Wild Hunt (2011) and The Storm and the Fury (2013), all published by Dark Horse.
“It’s my epic,” Mignola said, simply, of the sprawling story that forces Hellboy to confront his true heritage, pits him against the ruthless Queen of Blood, and climaxes (at least in the comics) with the hulking hero’s apparent death.
The choice of source material underlines the tonal shift with the new film (which features Milla Jovovich as the Queen of Blood). While Mignola didn’t get into specifics, he made it clear that the new adaptation will strike a different balance between humor and horror than the del Toro films, which had a playfulness. Del Toro’s Hellboy had a grousing blue-collar disposition (he was a hero that’s going to hell in a lunch pail as opposed to the proverbial hand-basket) but it sounds as if much of that has been exorcised this time around.
“While del Toro did a more fanciful version of Hellboy, Neil has done a darker, more horror version of Hellboy. The both started with the source material but then they each have led it in very different directions,” he said.
Much like the principles in Men in Black, Ghostbusters, Grimm or The X-Files, Hellboy’s workday is spent in thankless pursuit of the otherworldly malcontents and inhuman threats that pose a danger to the largely oblivious citizenry of our mundane world.
Mignola spent only a handful of days on the set of the new film — four nights in England, one more in Bulgaria — a far different scenario than the del Toro productions where the writer-artist was a far more frequent visitor. Even if Mignola’s window of time on the set was limited, it still provided the illustrator with a truly novel sensation.
“This is the first time I have been able to say honestly that I was on set and looking at something that looked like it jumped straight out of the comic. I never had that experience on any of the other stuff. There’s one scene in this movie where I was like, ‘Holy f*ck,’ that’s pretty damn close — in the costumes and everything else — to a specific scene in the comics. That was a new experience.”
Last week, Summit switched the Hellboy release date to April 12, 2019 (it had been on the calendar for January 2019). Asked if that was a good or a bad thing, Mignola said he trusts Lionsgate and the filmmakers to make those sorts of decisions. “And everybody seems very happy with the date. Anything that means there’s more time to do the post-production is great.”
The producers of the film are Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Mike Richardson, the latter the owner of Dark Horse Entertainment, the Oregon-based publisher of Hellboy comics. The same producers delivered the first Hellboy film, which was distributed by Sony and pulled in $99 million in worldwide box office in 2004. They returned for the 2008 sequel, which was distributed by Universal and pulled in $160 million in global box office.