Hellboy vs. Spawn vs. Ghostrider vs. Batman

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Includes a review of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” without blatant spoilers.

There have been other heroes who are caught between heaven and hell. Spawn: “Born in darkness. Sworn to justice.” Ghostrider: “He’s the only one that can walk on both worlds.” Batman, in a less literal sense, is equally torn between the forces of light and of darkness. But they have a way of taking themselves way too seriously, to the point of being silly (Ghostrider), or lame (Spawn – there’s a reason there hasn’t been a sequel). But not Hellboy.

It’s not just that he knows how to crack a good joke. It’s that he integrates action, comedy, and supernatural suspense, while wrestling with his own humanity (or lack-therof). Batman has become super by becoming more than merely human.

Yesterday, I finished reading Frank Miller’s graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” In the introduction, he describes a bar far beneath the streets of Gotham, a place where the old heroes go to tell there stories. They laugh and drink and reminisce. But there is one hero whose name they never mention, the thought of whom makes them all shudder, who in sheer force of will bested them all: Batman. But his glory came at a price: the sacrifice of his humanity.

Hellboy, on the other hand, has become great by becoming human. Sure, he struggles to find acceptance and to embrace humanity. He is a demon. But not in the biblical sense.

He’s a bumbling sort of hero. When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, his favorite catchphrase: “Oh, crap.” He gets into trouble, makes a big mess, and usually only manages to get out with the help of his friends.

He’s a bad boyfriend/husband type. “I would die for her… but she wants me to do the dishes!”

Yet, somehow, in the midst of such ineptitude, his dedication and wit shine through, and he reminds me of what it means to become a better man.

Don’t get me wrong. Hellboy II is no Schindler’s List. It’s a great movie, but not a deep movie. Fun has always been Hellboy’s strong suit. Nonetheless, there are moments of depth (why has magic faded from the world?) and, paired with Del Toro’s stunning visuals (creatures galore!), this should be the new summer blockbuster to beat.

But I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen a movie in the theater since April. Then again, I haven’t wanted to. This might be the first movie in the summer so far truly worth seeing.

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