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Justice Doesn't Pinch, It Burns — An Ode to Hellboy's Lobster Johnson

The Lobster is kind of like Batman... if Batman burned the Bat-Symbol into the foreheads of his enemies.

By Josh Weiss

Of all the comic book characters birthed from the imagination of celebrated Hellboy mastermind Mike Mignola, no creation deserves more love than that clawed and goggle-wearing symbol of unadulterated justice: Lobster Johnson. Revered by a young Anung Un Rama, the brutal and enigmatic vigilante terrorized wrongdoers in 1930s Manhattan.

The Lobster (or "LoJo" for short) is kind of like Batman... if the Caped Crusader decided to start murdering criminals and burning the Bat-Symbol into their foreheads, Inglorious Basterds-style. The comparison to Quentin Tarantino's World War II revenge flick seems more than appropriate, given how LoJo often battled agents of the Third Reich looking to wreak havoc on the United States. In fact, the beloved pulp hero tragically lost his life at the very start of the Second World War during a mission to prevent the Nazis from harnessing the power of a terrible cosmic entity.

For More in Hellboy:
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This Week in Genre History: Hellboy was a heavenly mix of monsters, heroes... and del Toro

Is Lobster Johnson: Mike Mignola's Greatest Creation?

In Lobster Johnson's first solo comics outing, The Iron Prometheus, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola presents an abridged history of how the elusive avenger known for prowling the rooftops of New York City captivated the public's imagination through dime-store serials and comic books. The character's comic book exploits — which involved hordes of Nazi zombies and Hitler becoming a "Frankenstein-like creature" — were mostly overseen by the team of writer Adam Horowitz and artist Isaac "Janky" Rosen, the latter of whom spent 16 years trying (and failing) to get a feature-length Lobster Johnson adaptation off the ground in Hollywood.

Rosen's inability to give LoJo his cinematic due feels reminiscent of our own pre-2019 reality, where the uncompromising vigilante was nowhere to be found in Guillermo del Toro's two acclaimed Hellboy movies starring Ron Perlman as Big Red. With that said, a cursory glance at internet chatter will tell you the Oscar-winning director had hoped to cast Bruce Campbell as The Lobster (absolutely perfect choice, Guillermo, no notes) for the third installment that we'll probably never get to see. 

"Well, del Toro wanted to use everything in the third movie," Mignola said during an interview with Vulture in 2019. "I have no idea what a third movie actually would’ve been, but every other day, he’d mention something that was going to be in there. So God only knows what he would’ve done."

Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church) points a gun in Hellboy (2019).

Instead, fans would have to wait until the Neil Marshall-helmed 2019 reboot, which saw Stranger Things alum David Harbour donning the trench coat of the cigar-loving demon destined to end the world as we know it. More importantly, the 2019 film brought LoJo into the realm of live-action for the very first time. Played by Twisted Metal's Thomas Haden Church, the character prominently appears in the flashback to the Nazi-sanctioned ritual that brought Hellboy to our world at the tail end of WWII. And yeah, the sequence is pretty great: Johnson kicks fascist booty and caps off the Allied raid by branding Rasputin with his famous claw insignia. Again, perfect. No notes.

Of course, longtime fans of the Dark Horse-published source material know this marked a significant change from the original Seed of Destruction comic, in which Hellboy's arrival on Earth was witnessed not by Lobster Johnson — who died in 1939 — but by the Torch of Liberty, who is actually the creation of legendary X-Men illustrator, John Byrne.

"I’d pointed out, when they mentioned they wanted to use that character, that that character was actually on loan from [comics writer and artist] John Byrne," Mignola explained to Vulture. "I said, 'Let’s not use the Torch of Liberty. But had I created Lobster Johnson way back when, I would’ve put Lobster Johnson into that scene.' I’m glad they checked with me instead of just putting the Torch of Liberty in. But I said, 'Yeah, this is a perfect place to insert Lobster Johnson.' Which is really a good example of me getting to go back and touch up and add details that I just didn’t know yet when I did the comic."

On the print side of things, Lobster Johnson hasn't taken center stage in his own comic since the Mangekyo one-shot released in 2017. What's more: a LoJo animated feature entitled The Phantom Claw (produced by the same folks who made Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron) was announced, but still remains in limbo.

"When it came time to talk seriously about the third movie, three elements resurfaced: Lobster Johnson, Hellboy's origin, and classic Universal Monster movies," the project's writer, Tad Stones, teased in 2007. "If Sword of Storms was the folklore side of Hellboy, Blood and Iron the vampire/Hammer Films side, then The Phantom Claw is the mad scientist/weird technology aspect of Hellboy stories. This film will be completely different than the first two."

Chatting with Flames Rising a year later, Stones cast serious doubt on the film, stating that it probably wouldn't happen in the wake of poor DVD sales for the first two animated features. "Sadly, it doesn’t look good," he said. "Sales of the first two really climbed as the marketing for Hellboy II: The Golden Army kicked in, but they disappointed when first released. The studio that currently holds the rights is for sale, so we can only hope for some truly hellacious buyers to get things back on track."

As we await The Lobster's long-awaited return, remember this, kids: justice doesn't pinch... it burns!

Catch Lobster Johnson in 2019's Hellboy, streaming now on Peacock!