I have to say that I enjoy stand-alone comics much more than ongoing arcs, since they are like a short story and instantly gratifying to read. And this one is an excellent short tale that worked for me on multiple levels.
Hellboy, the professor, and Susan arrive in Florida to investigate cases of spontaneous combustion, an unusual occurrence which I personally find fascinating in a morbid kind of way.
The notion of spontaneous human combustion dates back to the eighteenth century, but there are legends going back centuries with similar features. And while in medieval times such deaths were attributed to demonic influence, more recently some have come to believe that there is a medical cause.
In trying to figure out whether the events were caused by an unquiet spirit, the group considers the suffering of the Seminole tribe.
The Seminole themselves were driven out by U.S. troops, forced to embark on the ‘Trail of Tears’ to make room for white settlers.
Having lived in Florida, I was familiar with the Seminole and aspects of their history. But the comic also mentions another indigenous tribe, the Timucua.
The original inhabitants of the region, the Timucua, may have been the first North American indians to encounter Spanish explorers when Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513. But the Timucua were wiped out by disease brought by the explorers, their numbers reduced from hundreds of thousands to a bare handful by the nineteenth century.
One of the things I love about the Hellboy series is that the writers consistently draw upon obscure historical information, legends, and mythology. So since I had not heard of this tribe, I did a quick web search to validate the existence of the tribe.
The Timucua were a Native American people who lived in Northeast and North Central Florida and southeast Georgia. They were the largest indigenous group in that area and consisted of about 35 chiefdoms, many leading thousands of people. The various groups of Timucua spoke several dialects of the Timucua language. At the time of European contact, the territory occupied by speakers of Timucuan dialects occupied about 19,200 square miles (50,000 km2), and was home to between 50,000 and 200,000 Timucuans. It stretched from the Altamaha River and Cumberland Island in present-day Georgia as far south as Lake George in central Florida, and from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Aucilla River in the Florida Panhandle, though it reached the Gulf of Mexico at no more than a couple of points.
Spoiler Alert: I have to give away the ending to discuss the last thing, so stop here if you plan on reading the comic and do want the ending spoiled.
It is discovered that the cause of the spontaneous human combustion is the cumulative anguish of all the people who suffered in that area.
The flames were unable to consume you, Hellboy, but you couldn’t hope to overcome centuries of pain. You could only acknowledge it. Remember it.
For me, this was a very powerful and symbolic image. Pain and suffering is symbolically represented as a burning within an individual, or collectively within a group or culture. Eventually the pain and suffering rises to the surface resulting in violent outbursts. We often think we can fight this type of burning rage, but we cannot. Fighting it only increases the pain and stokes the flames of hatred and anger. It is only through acknowledgement, empathy, and compassion that we can begin the healing process.
One last thing I want to say about this comic: the writing and artwork are both amazing. Even if you are not a fan of the genre, you will undoubtedly be impressed by the brilliance of the creative team reflected in these pages. I highly recommend this to all readers.