In Review: Hellboy and The B.P.R.D. 1953 — The Phantom Hand & The Kelpie

Two stories for the price of one that take readers to one of Hellboy's earlier adventures.

The cover: An English crest is carved into a wall behind Hellboy, while behind him, somehow avoiding all light, is a skeleton. The Phantom Hand lunges toward the title character, and in the bar below that bears its name is the Kelpie. A good conglomeration of images that creates a good tease about the two stories within this issue, but doesn’t reveal anything specific about them. It’s an excellent image by Mike Mignola, and a big thumbs up to Dave Stewart for keeping it eerie; I especially like how the skeleton absorbs no light and how the crest in the wall glows a rotten gold. Overall grade: A

The stories: Both stories in this issue are written by Mike Mignola. “The Phantom Hand” is set in St. Albans, England, February of 1953. Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm are vising Harry Middleton, who has called the two to investigate a phantom hand that’s appearing in a mansion; it even tried to strangle the lady of the house. He tells a tale of the rumored owner of the hand, but when the thing reveals itself the truth is slowly revealed. This was a really good creeper, that took the story far beyond that of a severed crawling hand and into Hellboy territory. The professor’s reactions to Hellboy’s actions on 9 are great — I loved them! The climax of the tale is excellent, and the three page resolution between Trevor and Harry outstanding. “The Kelpie” is a much shorter story, only five pages, but it packs quite a punch, telling the tale of the first ghost that Trevor and Harry encountered at too young an age. Both of the these stories capture the time period well, which is one of the great pleasure of these Hellboy tales, and show the protagonist at an incredibly early point in his career with the B.P.R.D. and not as smart as he would come to be. I usually go into more detail in story reviews, but with these tales being so short, any more specifics would spoil them. Suffice to say, they’re really good. Overall grade: A+

The art: Each story is illustrated by Ben Stenbeck and he does as good a job as Mignola does in writing them. He captures the Gothic look well with his settings: a mansion, a nearby forest, and the Scottish countryside. My favorite settings of the book occurred in “The Kelpie”, where even the opening panels was gorgeous, and reminds me of a tour guide I had when I was in England who said, “Oh, yeah. We used to sit on them when I was young and have a picnic.” Horrors! The character work is also good, with the professor (always a favorite to see) looking academic, frustrated, and relieved. Harry has some impressive emotion on him, such as when things go suddenly haywire, thanks to Hellboy. The big guy looks great, big and buff, not like his current emaciated state in Hellboy in Hell. When he goes into action he looks great, and I was pleased to see that the battle was not one-sided, and he was getting the stuffing beaten out of him as well. The character that appears fleetingly in the fifth panel at the bottom of Page 3 looks great and sets an instant tone of insanity into the tale. The individual that fully appears on 7 is designed very well. I loved seeing his right appendage rendered as it was, giving readers a visual clue to his identity. The final panel was perfect. There is only panel featuring the title character of “The Kelpie” and that’s more than enough. A water horse doesn’t sound frightening until it’s seen and it is a monster. The reactions of Harry and Trevor make the story more creepy than actually seeing the horror committed, and I was glad to see Stenbeck go in that direction. Overall grade: A+

The colors: An overcast England is expected for tales of the occult, but Dave Stewart inserts bright colors into each story to highlight the supernatural. Hellboy is a beacon in crimson, often being the brightest object on the page. The horrific flashback that occurs early in the first tale is nicely tinted in orange and red to emphasize the emotions. The arrival of the Phantom Hand also introduces orange into the tale to make the gray appendage stand out even more. The final three pages are a nicely lit scene before a fireplace, with both characters cast in a nice glow, only to be overshadowed by the colors of one character’s possible future. “The Kelpie” has slightly brighter colors (Which surprised me — I don’t recall Scotland being brighter than England when I was there), but the skies are gorgeous in the opening and closing, with the night scenes wonderfully blue, and the monster a terror in mottled white. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Opening story credits, setting and character identifications, dialogue, sounds, and yells are crafted by Mignolaverse star Clem Robins. I really like seeing the story titles embedded in the first panel of each tale, as the style and location instantly created an aged and classical look. The sounds are stellar, but the whisper at the bottom of Page 3 was a bit of dialogue that I “heard” when I read it. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Two stories for the price of one that take readers to one of Hellboy’s earlier adventures and illustrates the power that his character has to create thrills and scares. 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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