Hellboy, by Yvonne Navarro

Hellboy, by Yvonne Navarro book coverGenre: Movie Novelization
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by James Michael White

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Yvonne Navarro’s novelization of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy screenplay is a quick, fun read full of slam-bang monster-fighting action and occultish Nazi intrigue conveyed with workman-like (okay, workwoman-like) prose transmitting the bare necessities of plot and characterization with the sparest of development.

What’s afoot here is this: back in 1944 Nazis tried to change the world by bringing forth the Ogdru Jahad, the seven gods of chaos. They were thwarted in the process by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm who absconded with a Hellish prince resulting from that bungled operation and raised him in an atmosphere of kindness and love, making of this Hellboy a proper young man, as it were (evidently proving the supremacy of nurture over nature).

Owing to every advantage of his very special nature, Hellboy works with the Professor and his Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to defend the world against supernatural threats.

As it turns out, the very Nazis who years before attempted to destroy the world — okay, that’s not the way they saw it, but that was its effective end — are once again trying to destroy the world with a new and improved scheme. Sure, this one also involves Hellboy, this time acting as a kind of key to doom, but first it begins with a self-resurrecting critter by the name of Sammael who gives Hellboy a devil of a time, providing for a number of quick, early action sequences. And make no mistake, action is what’s for sale here.

Navarro’s prose skips right along with a lightness of touch befitting the idiom a summer action picture from which this derives (and from which many of the set pieces are also clearly derived); such prose also befits the idiom of Hellboy who is sufficiently impulsive, unthinking, and retortive to pass as the adolescent he’s said to be, the latter owing to the chronology of his supernatural lifespan.

The emotional centerpieces of this story are provided by Hellboy’s love for the professor who raised him and Liz Sherman, a fire-starting young woman whose on-again-off-again stays at the B.P.R.D. make their relationship a suitably unsteady one, ready-made for villainous exploitation in ways that you can imagine and others that you can’t.

Despite its lickety-split prose, or perhaps because of it, there are wobbly areas in the plot where it seems a little more elaboration might have clarified matters. After all, if the Nazis back in 1944 attempted to bring forth Ogdru Jahad, the seven gods of chaos, why does a red-skinned devil baby pop out instead? And what’s Grigori Rasputin’s strange power over Liz all about? And what, exactly, is the hierarchy of devilish otherworldly powers, especially at the end of this zippy plot?

Perhaps many of these questions are answered in the comic upon which the screenplay and novelization are based. If such is the case, fans will probably enjoy the book. Everyone else will be left with questions that the action may or may not override.

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