In Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1954–Ghost Moon #1

A terrific backstory, dubious allies, and supernatural smackdowns make this recommended reading.

The cover: A tiny Hellboy standing atop a rocky outcropping looks upon a gigantic horse-faced foe that’s wearing armor and a cape and sporting a Chinese hook sword. This is definitely not going to go well for the hero. This is a very atmospheric cover from Mike Huddleston, with the focus being placed on the antagonist more so than the title character. The villain’s feet (hooves?) are obscured by the rock Hellboy is on and there’s quite a bit of smoke/fog surrounding the creature. This frontpiece if fine, but I admit to being the fan that wants Hellboy as the focal point on all his titles. Overall grade: B

The story: At the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Professor Bruttenholm is interrupted from his debriefing of two agents by a call from Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones who’s asking if he could give her some assistance in Hong Kong. Hellboy, Archie, and Susan Xiang arrive during the “Ghost Moon”, “a month long hungry ghost festival. An old folk belief says the gates of Hell open for one month so spirits can search for food and entertainment.” This is a great setting for the agents to get into trouble: Hong Kong of the Fifties during a massive festival, complete with parades and costumes. The three make their way through the festivities to arrive at an empty side street looking for Roland Childe. Childe and his associates were looking to acquire an item of “some value” from a Chinese national. Something happened, some-thing was seen, and the B.P.R.D. were called in to help. Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson take a few pages to set things up, but one they do there’s a lot that happens, and this is only the opening installment of this story. Nice to see a bit of friction between Archie and Susan; when the heroes squabble that builds up tension before an antagonist appears. In his initial appearances, Hellboy is focused on something other than the missions, and it’s pretty funny. Childe is an interesting character whose trustworthiness seems questionable. The discovery on Page 10 is when things get serious. It’s a very disturbing reveal and the bottom panel on the page ramps things up more.  Susan is a good character to move through some backstory visually and lead the characters to different settings and that’s exactly what she does here. Naturally the group has to split up, with major action occurring for all groups. I like how the story teases information in the last half without giving anything away, forcing the reader to make snap decisions just as the characters do. The final page has the WOW moment, with a big reveal and everything hitting the proverbial fan. I love stories that start small and then build to a tremendous payoff and that’s what a reader will get with this story. Overall grade: A

The art: Welcome to the Hellboy Universe, illustrator Brian Churilla. His work is beautiful. He gets to open in the Professor’s study, allowing him to show the iconic character as poised, speaking to the agents, and then relaxed, taking the call from Eden-Jones. The one image of the lady is well done, as if the reader is gazing into Bruttenholm’s memory. Hellboy’s introduction is on the second panel of Page 2 and he looks magnificent, exhaling some smoke as he gazes around an airport hanger. Page 3 has the trio in the thick of the festival and this is a great showcase for Churilla to draw the revelry and costumes, and those costumes are both funny and creepy, creating a good mix of the bizarre. Childe is a seeding looking character because his eyes are often hidden behind his glasses, but when he does show his peepers it’s often in shock or to create doubt in the reader’s mind. The reveal on 10 is terrific; a simple idea done exceedingly well — this visual would cause an audience to go audible with dread. There’s a full paged splash on 11 and it, too, is gorgeous, but saying what’s on it would be a spoiler. Nevertheless, what’s shown is enough to plant seeds for future ramifications. 13 introduces a new setting that’s believable and morbid. Things have Hellboy springing into action on 14 and his confrontation with a character is good, while Archie is undeniably out of his league. What Childe finds is the visual showstopper of the issue, with things going eerie on 18 and practically apocalyptic on the final page. Churilla creates solid action, spectacular supernatural scenes, and makes Hellboy the hero to root for. Overall grade: A 

The colors: Browns and blacks evoke the leather chairs and other furniture one would expect to see in Bruttenholm’s office. The festival costumes and decor are reds, whites, and various shades of tan. As always, Hellboy’s bright reds make him the focal point of any panel he’s in. The panels leading to Childe’s introduction are nicely done in dark colors, making him seem shady before he even appears. Pages 6 and 7 have two very different flashback scenes and the coloring for both create a strong emotional impact. The full paged splash on 11 introduces a new color to the book’s palette which is appropriate reused when one character goes off from the others. The setting on 13 has a great background of colors, comprising a wild mix of violets, alerting the characters, and the reader, that something bad is going on within. My favorite coloring occurs in the third panel on 19: I love the stark oranges that increase the energy of the image. Dave Stewart continues to show why he’s at the top of his field. Overall grade: A

The letters: Scene settings and a telephone conversation (the same font), dialogue, sounds, a shocked whisper, yells, and a groan are letterers Clem Robins contributions for this issue. His lettering is some of the best in the business. Given the importance of each panel, for it may impart a clue to the reader about what’s actually going on, Robins masterfully inserts all text onto the page without covering key images. His sounds are spectacular, with several coming into the play in the book’s final half. When Robins in lettering an issue, one can be sure that the text will be visually pleasing. Overall grade: A

The final line: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.’s expolits in Hong Kong shouldn’t be missed. A terrific backstory, dubious allies, and supernatural smackdowns make this recommended reading. 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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