I said it’s occurred to me that H.B. is an answer to Superman. Well, but aren’t all the comic-book hero figures who come after Superman answers to Superman, one way or another? Heck, Superman’s been cast as answer to himself often enough by now, maybe.
Then again, these answers to Superman come in different kinds, and there might be something to be said for comparing them. So, where does Mignola’s turn at it belong in the whole range of such ‘answers,’ and so on — we can always talk about that. Or rather, somebody can. That’s a project better left to the real comics geeks.
But it’s not like responding to the Superman standard is really what all the super and/or heroic stuff of the comics is all about, is it? We’re far enough down the road now that answers to Superman and answers to answers to Superman in the comics have their key place in this system of stories and brands, without, at the same time, necessarily being its very core. By now, the ‘super’ (man, but unnaturally endowed) and the heroic (virtuous, solitary, born/reborn/sent to save, &c.) have had their occasion to be told in the mainstream American comic book in form free of any significant glance back at Superman and descendants. Sandman is the example that stands out in my mind — or possibly it’s the only one I know anything about, but anyway it’ll certainly do.
I can’t say that I’ve worked the idea out with any thoroughness or precision, but from fairly early in my acquaintance with the Mignola stories it’s seemed to me that Hellboy’s progression ends up owing quite a lot to the genre-b(l)ending fantastic that Gaiman et al., with their Sandman books, brought to (or maybe just brought to mainstream popularity in?) the comics. That might or might not be a commonplace observation. I bring it up here mainly to suggest that to the degree it’s so, it does something for a discussion of Hellboy as late inductee of the answers-to-Superman club. Maybe what makes Hellboy kind of special is that he’s a post-Sandman answer to Superman. If we knew the surrounding material well enough, maybe we’d be declaring him the definitive post-Sandman answer to Superman, who knows. But I’m not writing a paper here.