Sunday 30 November 2008

Hellboy Reading Order (including BPRD)

As a big fan of Hellboy (and the excellent spin-off, BPRD) I thought it might be helpful to put together a complete reading order for the entire series.

Those who have read the first three trade-paperback collections might have noticed that the published order isn't the order you should actually read the stories in. Very confusing for first time readers!

Of course a reading order can be tricky to judge because it's perfectly usual for Hellboy's timeline to jump around the place and without any serious knock-on effect to any other story.

With this in mind I only mark stories in RED that require you to read them in order. Stories in BLACK are related to the stories in red, but can be read at any time. The other stories (those in GREY) can be read at absolutely any time and are completely stand-alone.

So if you want to mix it around, you can now make your own decisions as to what to read next.

How to use this reading order:
Just start at the top and work your way down. Pretty simple! The order is my own personal recommendation (grouped by the trade paperbacks you need to own in order to read the story), but the Red/Black/Grey system means you can mix it up however you please, so long as you read the RED stories in order.

Note: The years the stories are set are included for the sake of interest only. (I just liked seeing them :)



Hellboy #1: Seed of Destruction
1993: Untitled promo story (originally published in San Diego Comic Con Comics #2)
1994: Seed of Destruction
1994: Untitled promo story (originally published in The Comic Buyer's Guide #1070)

Please note: If you own Volumes 2 and 3, then you might want to read The Chained Coffin from Volume 3 before continuing with Volume 2. The reason for this is that Hellboy makes a passing reference to this story in Volume 2.

If you don't own Volume 3 (or 2) then it's perfectly fine to go straight ahead and read Volume 2 first. Reading The Chained Coffin before Volume 2 adds very little to the main story.

Hellboy #2: Wake the Devil
1996: Wake the Devil

Hellboy #3: The Chained Coffin and Others
1959: The Corpse
1961: The Iron Shoes
1989: A Christmas Underground
1994: The Wolves of Saint August
1995: The Chained Coffin
1964: The Baba Yaga
1996: Almost Colossus

Hellboy #4: The Right Hand of Doom
1947: Pancakes
1954: The Nature of the Beast
1956: King Vold
1967: Heads
1979: Goodbye, Mister Tod
1982: The Vârcolac
1998: The Right Hand of Doom
1999: Box Full of Evil

BPRD #1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
1998: Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead
1938: Lobster Johnson: The Killer in my Skull
1997: Abe Sapien vs Science

Hellboy #5: Conqueror Worm
2001: Conqueror Worm

BPRD #1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
2002: BPRD: Hollow Earth

Hellboy #6: Strange Places
2002: The Third Wish

BPRD #2: The Soul of Venice & Other Stories
2003: The Soul of Venice
2003: Dark Waters
2003: Night Train
2003: There's Something Under My Bed
2004: Another Day at the Office

Hellboy #7: The Troll Witch and Others
1963: The Troll Witch
1958: The Penanggalan
1991: Dr. Carp's Experiment
1992: The Ghoul
1993: Makoma

BPRD #3: Plague of Frogs
2004: Plague of Frogs

BPRD #4: The Dead
2004: Born Again (Listed as "Prologue" to main story.)
2004: The Dead

BPRD #5: The Black Flame
2005: The Black Flame

Hellboy #6: Strange Places
2005: The Island (You can read this any time after The Third Wish, if you like, but it might retain more impact if you wait.)

BPRD #6: The Universal Machine

2006: The Universal Machine

Hellboy #8: Darkness Calls
2007: Darkness Calls

BPRD #7: Garden of Souls
2006: Garden of Souls

BPRD #8: Killing Ground
2007: Killing Ground

BPRD #9: 1946
1946: 1946
1939: Bishop Olek's Devil

Ape Sapien #1: The Drowning
1981: The Drowning

Lobster Johnson #1: The Iron Prometheus
1937: The Iron Prometheus

BPRD #10: The Warning
2008: The Warning

BPRD #11: The Black Goddess
2008: The Black Goddess

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder #1: In the Service of Angels
1879: In the Service of Angels
1879: Murderous Intent
1879: The Burial of Katharine Baker
Hellboy #9: The Wild Hunt
2009: The Wild Hunt

BPRD #12: War on Frogs
2006: War on Frogs
2008: Revival

BPRD #13: 1947
1947: 1947
194?: And What Shall I Find There

BPRD #14: King of Fear
2010: King of Fear

Hellboy #10: The Crooked Man and Other Stories
1958: The Crooked Man
1992: In the Chapel of Moloch
1986: They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships
2007: The Mole

Please let me know if you have any corrections and/or suggestions. Thanks!

Thanks to Shady on the Darkhorse forums for additional help.

Saturday 29 November 2008

The Hellboy Story Chronology

I've recently fallen in love with Mike Mignola's Hellboy comic book series. After watching Guillermo del Toro's movies (first one: meh, second one: wow!) I decided to read the first collection, Seed of Destruction (co-written by John Byrne), and I wasn't overly enthusiastic at first, but I decided to persevere and discovered I was wrong: Hellboy was, infact, awesome.

Alan Moore's introduction to the second collection (Wake the Devil) points out exactly what makes it such a brilliant and unique series: It captures all the fun and brevity of Golden Age comics like Spider-Man but also has an interesting modern edge (and I don't just mean being filled with post-modern references; refreshingly there are none). It manages to be dark and subversive while always remaining sweet, innocent and fun.

The storyline leaps all over the place, in a very fun and effortless way, but you may wonder how they all fit together into a single chronology. No? Well, I did :)

The following lists the individual stories of Hellboy and the trade-paperbacks where they can be found. It is based on the excellent work of Kid Cthulu and Mist the Soul-Gatherer and features only canon works (so no Hellboy: Weird Tales, Hellboy: Odd/Odder/Oddest Jobs or Hellboy Jr.)

If you think I've missed something, please leave a comment! (The items in grey are ones that I'm not sure if they're canonical of not.)

1937: Lobster Johnson #1: The Iron Prometheus
1938: Lobster Johnson: The Killer in my Skull (collected in BPRD #1: Hollow Earth & Other Stories)
Hellboy appears (1944):
1946: BPRD: 1946 (collected in BPRD #9: 1946)
1947: Pancakes (collected in Hellboy #4: The Right Hand of Doom)
1954: The Nature of the Beast (collected in Hellboy #4)
1956: King Vold (collected in Hellboy #4)
1958: The Penanggalan (collected in Hellboy #7: The Troll Witch and Others)
1959: The Corpse (collected in Hellboy #3: The Chained Coffin and Others)
1961: The Iron Shoes (collected in Hellboy #3)
1961: The Hydra and the Lion (collected in Hellboy #7)
1963: The Troll Witch (collected in Hellboy #7)
1964: The Baba Yaga (collected in Hellboy #3)
1967: Heads (collected in Hellboy #4)
1979: Goodbye, Mr. Tod (collected in Hellboy #4)
1981: Ape Sapien #1: The Drowning
1982: The Vampire of Prague (collected in Hellboy #7)
1982: The Vârcolac (collected in Hellboy #4 (redrawn and expanded))
1986: The Lost Army (novel by Christopher Golden)
1989: A Christmas Underground (collected in Hellboy #3)
1990: The Kabandha (from the Hellboy Sourcebook (only 4 pages) - not yet collected)
1991: Dr. Carp's Experiment (collected in Hellboy #7)
1992: The Ghoul (collected in Hellboy #7)
1993: Makoma (collected in Hellboy #7)
The original series begins:
1994: Hellboy #1: Seed of Destruction
1994: The Wolves of Saint August (collected in Hellboy #3)
1995: The Chained Coffin (collected in Hellboy #3)
1996: Hellboy #2: Wake the Devil
1996: Almost Colossus (collected in Hellboy #3)
1997: Abe Sapien vs Science (collected in BPRD #1)
1997: The Bones of Giants (novel by Christopher Golden)
1998: The Right Hand of Doom (collected in Hellboy #4)
1998: Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead (collected in BPRD #1)
1999: Box Full of Evil (collected in Hellboy #4)
2001: The Dakini (prose) (from the Hellboy Sourcebook - not yet collected)
2001: Conqueror Worm (collected in Hellboy #5: Conqueror Worm)
2002: BPRD: Hollow Earth (collected in BPRD #1)
2002: The Third Wish (collected in Hellboy #6: Strange Places)
2003: BPRD: The Soul of Venice (collected in BPRD #2: The Soul of Venice & Other Stories)
2003: BPRD: Dark Waters (collected in BPRD #2)
2003: BPRD: Night Train (collected in BPRD #2)
2003: BPRD: There's Something Under My Bed (collected in BPRD #2)
2004: BRPD: Another Day at the Office (collected in BPRD #2)
2004: BPRD: Born Again (collected in BPRD #4: The Dead)
2004: BRPRD #3: Plague of Frogs
2004: BPRD: The Dead (collected in BPRD #4)
2005: The Island (collected in Hellboy #6)
2005: BPRD #5: The Black Flame
2006: BPRD #6: The Universal Machine
2006: BPRD #7: Garden of Souls
2006: Hellboy #8: Darkness Calls
2007: BPRD #8: Killing Ground

Note 1: If there's no story name it's because it's the same name as the collected edition (with no other short stories).
Note 2: The full name is only given once, after that it's just the volume number.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Saturday 20 September 2008

A new adventure game from the makers of Fate of Atlantis!

What do you say when you hear that one of the founders of classic adventure gaming is about to return to their roots? Ron Gilbert is about to with Death Spank, Tim Schafer is creating Brütal Legend, Dave Grossman has Sam & Max. All exciting and wonderful. But did you know that the lead designers of the legendary Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein have teamed up again? That's right and it's for a true-blue, classic adventure game based on the exploits of the infamous Mata Hari.

Time to sit up and take interest, indeed.

Mata Hari, for those who are unaware, was a real historical character. At one time the most famous exotic dancer in Paris, with a string of male admirers, she was later executed by the French authorities for being a German spy - creating the enduring image of one of the greatest femme fatals in history. But her story is much more complicated than that, and who better than Barwood and Falstein to bring her extraordinary tale to life...

Born in Holland to a wealthy background in 1876, the promiscuous Margaretha Zelle always craved an exciting life, but she wasn't to find one straight away. Her stable upbringing was suddenly uprooted when, at 13 years of age, her parents were divorced and declared bankrupt. If this wasn't already a shock, two years later her mother died and she was moved to spend the rest of her youth at an uncle's house, abandoned by her father.

Three years later, at 18, she responded to a lonely-hearts column from a Dutch Army Captain, Rudolf MacLeod. A few months after that they were married, but her life didn't improve the way she had hoped. Her new husband was a hard-drinking, womanising, abusive husband who neglected to mention he had syphilis. Things were impossible, but when MacLeod's disease killed one of their children, their marriage was pushed to breaking point.

After being beaten with a cat-o'-nine tails by MacLeod for wearing a low-cut dress at a ball, it was finally time to leave and attempt to find the life she'd always wanted. But MacLeod was determined to make it as difficult as possible and placed adverts in the local papers warning all shopkeepers to refuse her credit. Penniless and without prospects, she left her Dutch homeland in 1903 for the city that would change her life but ultimately destroy her.

Paris was dazzling and exciting, but she still has no prospects and soon she found herself forced to turn to prostitution in order to be able to eat. It was only when she was given a job at a circus that her calling would become apparent; Her talent, she was told, was in dancing.

Her desire was always men, perhaps an attempt to make up for an absent father, and dancing got her a lot of male attention. Despite not being considered classically beautiful she was determined to be become a professional dancer. She trained hard, developed her skills and created a whole new persona in the process: The sultry Mata Hari.

Inventing a new exotic history and claiming to have been trained in "sacred" Indian dances, an eager and ignorant public lapped up "Mata Hari". Her creation was a bigger success than she could have ever imagined and with the success came all the attention she could ever desire.

Despite the fact that her shows mainly consisted of her removing her attire (although never appearing totally nude on stage) she was seen as a serious artist. This wasn't the crudity of the Moulin Rouge, the public believed, this was ancient high-art performed by a highly skilled woman. She entranced Parisian high society, Dukes, Officers, Marquis, and became a respected celebrity overnight. Contemporary critics wrote that she danced like a "feline, trembling in a thousand rhythms, exotic yet deeply austere, slender and supple like a sacred serpent". She had men eating out of her hand and she loved every moment of their attention.

"Tonight I dine with Count A and tomorrow with Duke B. If I don't have to dance, I make a trip with Marquis C. I avoid serious liaisons. I satisfy all my caprices," she wrote.

Stories soon found there way into the press that added to her mystique; she was the daughter of an Indian temple dancer who had died giving birth to her, that she grew up in a jungle in Java. As a result, soon she was performing as much off-stage as on.

By 1908, however, her mystique had worn thin. She was over-exposed in the public eye, had many imitators and her credentials had come into question; Was this really high-art or just a woman undulating in various states of undress? The fact that Mata Hari was very vocal about her many lovers did nothing to dissuade her detractors that she was nothing more than an attention-loving harlot. Despite these issues she was unwilling to give up her luxurious lifestyle, and resorted to earning money at Paris's many maisons de rendez-vous (one step-up from ordinary brothels), while living off the generosity of her admirers.

If things had started to become difficult for Hari, it was nothing compared to the chain of events that were kick-started by the political situation in Europe. Having just found work in Berlin, the sudden start of the Great War quickly put aside any ideas of stability. Her job ended, all her furs and money were seized and, as a result, she had no choice but to retreat back to her native country and into the arms of an old lover. It was there, in neutral Holland, that she was visited by Karl Kroemer, the German consul.

Kroemer told her that he was recruiting German spies for the war and offered her 20,000 francs. She wasn't interested in being a spy, throwing away the bottle of invisible ink she was given, but happily took Kroemer's money, in the same way she had taken so many other's. She felt she deserved all the money she was given and had no qualms taking it. In Hari's eyes, Kroemer's money was nothing more than compensation for the assets that had been seized in Germany.

Naively, she failed to realise how much Europe had changed and, on her way back to Paris, British intelligence stopped and interrogated her. Little did she know that despite not finding a single thing to incriminate her, the British still marked her as suspicious. Why was this? The report merely noted that she "speaks French, English, Italian, Dutch and probably German" and that she was a "handsome, bold type of woman". Apparently it took little more than for her to be foreign, bilingual and confident for her to become a potential enemy.

Once back in Paris she resumed her expensive lifestyle, living in luxury at the Grand Hotel, but things weren't as simple as before: She was now secretly being monitored by two undercover policemen. They steamed open her letters and questioned any staff that worked with her. Reports show that, while they discovered plenty about her love life, they found nothing relating to espionage.

Also, despite being back in Paris, things hadn't really improved since she was last there and, finding life difficult once again, she longed to see the man she had truly fallen in love with, a Russian captain who resided in the eastern war town of Vittel. Unfortunately for her, travelling to such towns required permission from the head of French intelligence, Captain Georges Ladoux.

An ambitious man, Captain Ladoux had risen to his position amid fears of German spies infiltrating France, and he had his doubts about Mata Hari. Suspicious that she was a German agent, he promised her a permit on the proviso that she become a spy for France, for which she would be rewarded greatly; one million francs for valuable information. It was an odd move for Ladoux, but one that might have revealed Hari's allegiances. She took the pass and didn't worry about the consequences -- afterall she'd never done anything for Kroemer.

While at Vittel, her lover, freshly wounded from the frontline, asked for her hand in marriage. Excited, she immediately accepted, and turned to the practicalities of where they could find the money they would need for their new life together. Of course, she knew just where to begin.

Her first mission for Ladoux required her to seduce a German officer she had known before the war, now residing in Belgium, and attempt to gather information about weapons. Unfortunately Belgium proved impossible to enter and she was routed to Britain where, still under suspicion, she was sent away again, to Spain.

Determined not to give up, she began an affair with a German Major named Kalle in Madrid and managed to get him talking. She hurried back to France, only to discover that the information she had gathered was baseless and possibly deliberately misleading. Desperate to earn her million francs and return to her lover, she went back to Madrid attempting to get more intelligence from Kalle. Once again she came back with misleading information, much to the frustration of Ladoux.

It seems that Kalle could see through her deceptions and was enjoying playing with her. Cementing this idea is the fact that shortly after she left for the second time, Kalle ordered a German message be sent to Berlin using a cipher he knew the French had cracked; Mata Hari was Germany's spy, "Agent 21".

In theory this should have finally exonerated Hari from all suspicion once and for all; Why would the Germans use a cipher they knew the French and British understood to talk about a real, valuable spy. It is likely that Kalle was enjoying mocking France's attempts at gathering intelligence. Hari had no experience as a spy, after all.

Ladoux was fearful for his reputation. Hari had proven a worthless spy and he was afraid that people would think he'd only hired her as an admirer succumbing to her charms. He didn't want it known in France that the Germans were aware of their (lack of) progress in cipher-breaking and suppressed this information. He certainly didn't want it known that Germany was mocking his department.

With this information being suppressed there was no reason to doubt Kalle's message and a warrant was issued for Hari's arrest. Astoundingly, with little or no evidence aside from this one German message, she was tried and found guilty of treason. Instead of becoming a useful French spy and being able to marry her lover, she was marked as a traitor and sentenced to death.

On October 15, 1917, her request for clemency being denied, Mata Hari was executed by firing squad. According to eye-witness reports, refusing a blind fold or to be tied to the stake, her fearless expression never changed, even after being shot.

30 years later, one of her prosecutors, André Mornet, would admit that "there wasn't enough evidence to flog a cat".

This is the story of Mata Hari as best we can piece it together today. A small minority still claim that Mata Hari really was a cunning and devious German spy, but whatever the truth, it cemented the mythical idea of the beautiful seductive femme fatal, one that's been featured in countless stories since, and made a legend, for good or bad, of "Mata Hari".

Was she really a German spy or was she just a pawn in someone else's career. Was she, as most historians agree, a naive scapegoat, caught up in a complex and volatile situation beyond her complete understanding. Until 2017, when the French authorities open all of their documents relating to the Mata Hari case, it's up to people like Falstein and Barwood to do justice to this woman's incredible story, treating her life with the dignity and respect it deserves.

Of course, knowing how successfully they have weaved well-researched fact with mythical fiction in the past, it does raise the question; Why, in the name of all that is sweet and holy, did they decided upon THIS as their box art...

Mata Hari is due for a German language release in November 2008. An English language release has yet to be announced but is expected. (We can only hope it's better than the artwork suggests.)

The game has been released in an English-language version on Steam... and good taste does seem to have prevailed, thankfully.

Take a gander here:

Thursday 17 July 2008

Joss Whedon's latest bundle of joy...

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is only available until July 20th (after which you'll be forced to pay for it), so go watch it for free while you can! (Yes, that is Doogie Howser. Yes, that is Captain Reynolds.)

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Monkey Island Memory Trip

I wrote this little piece for the LucasArts fansite Mixnmojo. They currently have a complete retrospective on the classic The Secret of Monkey Island, featuring interviews with project leader Ron Gilbert and artist Mark Ferrari. I think it turned out rather nicely, so I'm posting it here, too.

Hope you enjoy it!

The Secret of Monkey Island was the first adventure game I ever completed. I first read about it in issue #2 of Amiga Power, and became mesmerised by the promise of being able to play a character in my own little movie. I needed this game, but unfortunately it required a 0.5 megabyte RAM upgrade in order to be played. There was nothing I could do. So I obsessed about playing it, re-reading the review over and over, waiting for my birthday to come around so I could get the upgrade.

Finally, when the day came, I amazingly (and this has never happened to me since) wasn't disappointed. In fact, if anything, I was even more blown away than I'd imagined I would be. From the moment I heard the opening plinks and plonks of the xylophone and saw the 'LucasFilm Games' logo appear at precisely the right moment, I fell absolutely, head over heels, in love. I sat listening to the buoyant, joyous music and, enthralled, watched the entire opening credits (and doing so became a ritual every time I loaded the game, feeling it would be sacrilege to skip them). Then came the opening conversation (the first time Guybrush Threepwood was introduced to the world!), and it was simple, earnest and funny; a perfect description of the game I was about to play.

I remember finding myself on the moonlit pier of the beautifully and romantically realised Mêlée Island and, attempting to introduce myself to the interface, did the first thing the developers had intended me to do: LOOK AT POSTER, I told it. "Vote Governor Marley", Guybrush read, "When there's only one candidate, there's only one choice". The tone was set and the game continued from there. It was almost a spiritual experience, I couldn't believe I was seeing something actually smart, clever and genuinely funny in a computer game. I felt like I was playing a movie. My favourite movie. It was like Indiana Jones and Star Wars rolled into one.

It's important to remember that, back in those days, adventure games were almost entirely made up of dry, humourless, unforgiving experiences. I'd tried plenty and they'd all promised me the same thing; the freedom to lead my character through an exciting and entertaining adventure, but only The Secret of Monkey Island succeeded. It created a wonderfully welcoming universe, filled with little surprises and nice touches. Every single character, for example, had a perfectly rounded personality that could be appreciated in just a few lines of dialogue -- without the need for a tedious back-story (much in the same way a character like Dr Hibbert in The Simpsons can). Even today this is a rarity. The presentation, the characters and the overall sense of fun completely engulfed me, and I loved every minute of it.

This was an adventure game, no, a computer game, that had charm, wit and personality. An adventure game that didn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time didn't fall into the easy trap of being self-referential or fourth-wall busting, either. No, this was a genuinely joyful adventure that stayed true to its storyline and characters, while letting you feel you were part of the fun. I'll never have that experience again, but I'll always cherish The Secret of Monkey Island. After all, you never forget your first love.