The Hellboy movies are in that category of films that skirt Steampunk without it being the main focus. In both Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) you can find steamy fodder for your punked out imaginings. Plus, those filed-down horns sure look like goggles!
Some fun facts and context
۞ Hellboy first came onto the comic book scene in 1993. Since then there have been dozens of comics and collections, as well as two major motion pictures, two video games and two animated short films called Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron. You can watch both animated films in their entirety under the gallery of photos below.
۞ I also found a bonus “animated comic” in the special features of Hellboy 2 called the “Zinco Epilogue” where (in my opinion) the creepiest villain of all time, Kroenen, is shown being revived by a man called Mr. Zinco and his team of scientists.
۞ The world of Hellboy was created by Mike Mignola, who wrote another awesome Steampunk book, The Amazing Screw-On Head (2002) which tells the tale of an American Civil War-era spy. In 2006, a pilot was aired on scifi.com in a contest to see if it would be made into a show, but it didn’t make the cut. The 22-minute pilot was released on DVD in 2007, but you can watch it by clicking here.
۞ But it was the dark and spooky director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) who brought these characters to life on the silver screen. With the assist by Peter Briggs of Alien vs. Predator fame, Del Toro wrote both feature length movies and was a creative producer on the animated films. You can see a kindred spirit to the style of Pan’s Labyrinth in the visage of death in Hellboy 2.
۞ “Hellboy” is the name that was given to the little red demon discovered by Alliance soldiers when he was “born” in the wake of WWII in 1944. It is revealed during Hellboy (2004) that his “true” name is Anung un Rama which loosely means “and upon his brow is set a crown of flame.” During the movie, a many-times-resurrected Rasputin (Karl Roden) forces Hellboy to accept his role in the rise of the Ogdru Jahad, a phylum of Cthulu-like monsters that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud. One of Hellboy’s special features is a giant arm made of stone, which can act as the key to open the Ogdru Jahad’s crystal prison in another realm. Luckily for humanity, Hellboy stops (most of) the creatures from entering our world and thwarts Rasputin’s nefarious plot.
۞ This supernatural detective love cats and enjoys big guns and fine cigars. He was raised like an ordinary boy by Professor “Broom” Bruttenholm, a founding member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Hellboy’s aging process is described as “reverse dog years,” so Broom knows that Hellboy will outlive him and worries about his future. Prof. Broom is played by John Hurt, who also lends his voice to the animated films. It took me awhile to realize that I was I was looking at the actor who played Mr. Ollivander from the Harry Potter films, as well as the villain from another wonderful comic-turned-movie, V for Vendetta.
۞ Hellboy is joined in both movies by his buddy and fellow freak, Abraham Sapiens. Abe is a fish-person a la the creature from the Black Lagoon, and was actually portrayed by multiple actors. Doug Jones is the one who had to crawl into the prolific prosthetics, but the voice of Abe in the first movie was actually done by actor David Hyde Pierce who goes uncredited.
۞ Hellboy’s lady love is Liz Sherman, a reluctant pyrokinetic agent for the BPRD. In the movies and animated shorts she is played by Selma Blair. Belief in psychic abilities and clairvoyance (ie, communicating with spirits from the “other side”) reached their pinnacle of popularity during the Victorian era. If you are looking for an absolutely amazing non-fiction book about what happens after we die, check out Mary Roach’s hilarious and poignant Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. You can read a description here.
So where is the Steampunk in all of this?
In the first movie, Hellboy has an enemy named Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. In the comics he is just another Nazi in a gas mask, but Del Toro creates a truly creepy new backstory about a man obsessed with surgeries. His fetish has left him without things most of us take for granted, like eye lids, lips, etc. (you know, the little things.) In return, his research has also given him preternaturally long life do to a body filled with saw dust and clockwork. I have a feeling it is this guy’s cringe-worthy visage that boosts the movie from a PG to a PG-13. [Shudders]
But it is a Victorian-era villain who directs the action. Grigori Rasputin (played by Karl Roden) was born in 1869, and was living high on the proverbial hog off the Russian nobility during the early 1900s as a royal physician. According to the movie, he has been resurrected in 1944 and is there at the beginning of Hellboy’s life. His terrible plot continues to unravel 60 years later (give or take a resurrection and some minions) he attempts to use Hellboy to bring the world to its knees.
If we move on to the enemies and allies of Hellby 2: The Golden Army, we need not look any further than the title. The Golden Army was built by a goblin blacksmith to end the war between humans and supernatural beings like trolls, fairies and elves. The King of the elfs, Balor, tries to make it so the army can never be awakened, but thousands of years later and in the hills of Ireland the clockwork army lays dormant. Don’t be fooled by their egg-like appearance, these “seventy times seventy soldiers” pack a wallop as big as Hellboy and they put themselves back together seemingly without end.
There is a gorgeous animated prologue to the movie that tells the whole story and you can watch it below.
Luckily for Hellboy, he does have some Steampunk fighting on his side, too. Johann Krauss is an agent for the BPRD, but he and Hellboy do not cross paths in the comics. According to the books, Krauss suffered an accident in 2002, but in the second installment of Del Toro’s Hellboy movies his suit definitely looks like it is from the turn of the 20th century. He no longer has a body, so the suit contains his ectoplasm, another popular trope in the Spiritualist movements of the early 1900s.
Check out more videos and photos from the movies below, as well as steamy homages to Hellboy and his buddies I found online.
This is the prologue from the second Hellboy movie. It tells the origin of the Golden Army and it has tons of machinery and gears.
What is it about our many legged friends that makes them a popular trope in Steampunk?
۞ Monster Cephlapods have been the major focus of several classic works of Science Fiction and Fantasy such as H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the 1830 Tennyson poem The Kraken. There is also a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story called Horror of the Heights that features a flying tentacled monster. In more recent times both the Kraken and Cthulu-like monsters have made appearances in Hollywood blockbusters like Hellboy and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (though you also get a good look at the Kraken after it is death in Pirates of the Caribbean: World’s End).
۞ Their bodies are also reminiscent of complex machines. The long skinny tentacles are like wires or tubes and their movement is powered by water, not unlike steam vehicles. As a bonus their bodies kind of look like they are wearing a helmet and goggles all the time, and if Steampunk had an official symbol I’m pretty sure it would be a pair of goggles (or maybe a gear).
۞ Brian Kesinger, the talented artist behind Otto and Victoria and the book Walking Your Octopus: Your Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephlapod, did an interview for ComicMix.com, and when asked about his choice to draw an octopus as a couture pet he answered:
“I find octopuses extremely fun to draw. It is a real challenge inventing eight different things for them to do in every image. They are nature’s original multi-tasker and they certainly have captured the imagination of a lot of people. Along with the squid and other Cephalopods, octopuses seem to be a sort of theme animal for steampunk so when I set forth trying to render an image of a high class Victorian lady and her boutique pet the choice was obvious. What was not obvious was how popular Otto has become since I first drew him a year ago. He has inspired fan art, tattoos and I’ve even seen girls cosplay Victoria and conventions around the country! And for that I am so grateful and it keeps me drawing octopus.”
Cephlapods are fascinating creatures that are about as far away from human as you can get.
۞ I used to work at an aquarium so I got a chance to spend lots of time observing octopus and my personal favorite cuttlefish. These invertebrates can move in three dimensions, jetting around the water column and feeding on smaller animals.
They are also totally visually stunning. Undulating tentacles aside, many of them can change color and shape at will, which makes them masters of disguise. Want to have your mind blown? Check out the PBS documentary below for more information about cuttlefish camouflage.
I’ve collected just a sampling of the Steampunk art featuring our many-legged friends out there on the interwebs. In most cases you can get the artist’s name by simply hovering over each image and you can open a gallery of larger images by clicking on any thumbnail. If you see something that is mislabeled or you know who is behind one of my unlabeled entries please let me know so I can give the artist the credit s/he deserves.
Click on any thumbnail to open the gallery of larger images.