In Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1

If you've never read a Hellboy comic, this is your instant entrance point. Highest possible recommendation.

The covers: The Main cover is by interior artist Alex Maleev. Hellboy is lighting up a cigarette surrounded by B.P.R.D. members Archie, Robert, Susan, and Jacob; all standing next to a plane. It’s a brilliant image. This could be an illustration from any military moment in 1952, but Hellboy’s inclusion just makes it stunning. For the first time on a Mignolaverse book, I passed on the Mignola cover to own this one. It’s that good. The Pencil Variant cover is by Mike Mignola, and it features a slim Hellboy with a bust shot of his future horned self behind him. It’s good–Hell, it’s Mignola!–but I just couldn’t pass on Mallev’s cover. Overall grade: Main A+ and Variant A-

The story: If you’ve never read a Hellboy comic, this is your instant entrance point. What a fantastic idea to start this series as Hellboy’s first mission. This is how he became a man. The book wisely doesn’t begin with the demonic hero, but starts in 1946 in a hospital in France where Professor Trevor Bruttenholm is visited by Varyara, a character who has been appearing throughout the past few years in several B.P.R.D. tales. She’s there to tell the professor that “we have found the man responsible for summoning him. Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.” She thinks the “boy” is dangerous, but Bruttenholm sees a spark of good in him. She gives an outstanding response that turns into the worst possible nightmare. The book then transitions into the present, 1952, as four B.P.R.D. agents are going to a village in Brazil to find out what’s killed thirty-three people. Realizing that Hellboy hates being locked up in their headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, the professor knows he needs to see the world, and this story is his chance. Yes, there is a lurking threat that’s eluded to but not seen. Yes, there is the expected infighting among the agents. However, the highlight is watching Hellboy experience the world. It’s worth the cover price alone. Bread crumbs of clues are given as to what they’ll encounter, but definite answers will have to wait for next month. That said, this was an incredible read from Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: This is truly a time where “comic book” is not the correct phrasing for this story. This is an illustrated story that looks more like a photonovel. Alex Maleev is an amazing artist whose work is breathtaking. Page 3 has an incredible bit of horror occur for the professor, which only becomes fully realized on Page 4. This is the first instance of fantasy in this tale and it is startlingly horrific. The second panel on that same page is a fantastic transition to the present. I like how all four of the agents are in their own panels as they’re introduced, putting the focus on each before the reveal of the title character. When Hellboy does appear it’s one sweet entrance. The story has been hammering how unhappy he is, and he looks it in that panel. But when he’s told he’s going out, I dare any reader not to smile with him. The bottom three panels on Page 11 were a great example of movement and scheming. Pages 16 and 17 have a tremendous gothic setting that would make anyone uncomfortable to experience on their own. Miss Isadora is a splendidly designed character. She instantly fits the model of the elder who’s tired of the status quo. Her confrontation with the individual on the penultimate page is perfection. No–I take that back. This entire book is perfection. Overall grade: A+

The colors: This book returns Dave Stewart to the more traditional coloring patterns of Hellboy books. Recent issues of the B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth have had bright colors, shifting to a–albeit slight–hope for the future. This book has darker colors, making readers look in every corner of the art for the threat that could exist. Pages 3 and 4 employ orange to marvelous effect. The professor’s office is the dark wooded environment that one would expect of an educated man, and Stewart colors it darkly. Hellboy is the only bright character in this book. His red is a magnet for the eyes, and he is worth every moment of focus. This is a sinister, secretive book because of Stewart’s contributions. Overall grade: A+

The letters: There’s no call for sound effects in this installment, save two minor instances. I believe that Clem Robins’s skills with sounds will be employed in future issues, because he’s used only for scene settings and dialogue, both being he same font. It’s easy to read and made the book a breeze to get through. Overall grade: A

The final line: A must read for fans of Hellboy, gothic horror, or just good storytelling. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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