In Review: Koshchei the Deathless #1

This is an epic tale of death, drama, and the supernatural.

The cover: Mike Mignola with Dave Stewart created this cover which shows the title character holding a large sword in his right hand as he stares at the reader. Before him is a mishmash of body parts, sitting in a large pool of blood. Koschchei and the pile of parts is set within a jagged black stripe that cuts it way across the white background. Looking closely, one can see that above the crimson a yellow butterfly. If a reader is unaware of this insect’s significance to the story, he or she will have it revealed in this issue. Koschchei stands strong, revealed to the reader and his being in dark colors foreshadows his fate. This cover symbolizes what can be found within. Overall grade: A

The story: Mike Mignola opens his tale with the title character and Hellboy battling in the past. One of the character’s actions on Page 3 brings the story to the present where a comment on that action is made. A turn of the page and the present setting is shown and it was a surprise. I was happy to return to this location because whenever Mignola ventures to this locale anything can happen. An individual asks Koschchei how he got involved with the Baba Yaga. “Ah…It’s a long story. To tell it properly, I would have to begin at the beginning.” The response he gets to this statement is beautiful and is enough of a motivator to get the character to tell his tale. What follows is the origin of the character: how he started, how he first came into contact with the supernatural, how he was betrayed, how he became immortal, and how he came to work for the Baba Yaga. This is an epic tale of death, drama, and the supernatural. Koschchei has noble qualities, but he seems inevitably to fall down a dark path. I gasped at certain events: the bottom panel on Page 7, the third panel on 9, much of 16, and all of the final page. How a man who intends to save himself, but lose himself in the process will be very interesting to read. Overall grade: A

The art: I’ve enjoyed Ben Stenbeck’s art in the past, so I was happy to see he was the illustrator of this book. The book opens like a film, starting at a distance from a battle before pulling in to show Koschchei and Hellboy pounding away at each other. The close-up of the title character communicates he’s angry, but reveals itself to foreshadow something else altogether on the next page. The final panel on Page 3 is a surprising composition, being totally unlike all that has proceeded it. However, it is a marvelous transition to what’s shown on the following page, which includes some excellent setting work; I really like the second panel on that page. The other characters in this locale made me smile. When Koshchei begins his tale, he is shown to be a skillful knight. Had the remainder of the book followed his exploits in this career, I would have been more than happy with Stenbeck’s art. The images on 6 are a nightmare from which one cannot turn away, but only look into deeply to see if some horror has been missed. The final panel on 7 is outstanding; all that’s missing is music. The normal world looks to have returned on 8, with some excellent character work and clothes. Even without the text, the bottom of 11 is a disturbing sequence of images that starts innocently but becomes ominous. The bottom of 14 is perfect and the character revealed on 15 continues to visually thrill as she has in previous Hellboy adventures. Stenbeck captures an action extremely well with a three panel sequence in the middle of 16. The book is full of several terrors, but it’s the final page that lingers in mind: it’s just flat out disturbing and Stenbeck sears it into the reader’s mind. Stenbeck solidly creates reality and horrors in this book. Overall grade: A

The colors: Dave Stewart masterfully increases the drama and highlights the horror with his colors. The setting and Koshchei are very pale in the opening three pages. This allows Hellboy and the sounds of their battle to stand out. When the setting in the present is revealed on Pages 3 – 5, the colors become more normal, which beautifully contradicts this location. When he begins his tale, bright orange punctuates a battle to show the action on the fields, but crimson quickly appears to show what such conflicts create. Reds and oranges are often employed to highlight violence or the supernatural. It’s done by shading an entire panel red to intensify something horrific or subtly with only a character’s eyes shaded orange. My favorite coloring occurs on the last page. Wow! Overall grade: A

The letters: The text of this issue includes narration, sounds, yells, dialogue, screams, and whispers, all created by Clem Robins. I like when a letterer differentiates the narration from dialogue, as it is two different forms of communication, and Robins does that in this book. The yells make the atrocities in this book leap off the page. The sounds are particularly huge, with the fisticuffs in the opening and the chaos of the conclusion well done. Overall grade: A

The final line: The fall of a man due to the intervention of the supernatural makes for outstanding reading. Proceeding through this tale, a reader will wonder if Koshchei damned himself or was cursed by others. The strong story and fantastic visuals make this a “must-read.” Overall grade: A

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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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