In Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1955–Burning Season

Spontaneous combustion gets an explanation and Hellboy is right in the middle of it.

The cover: Susan Xiang, Hellboy, and Professor Trevor Bruttenholm stare in different directions, with an odd looking Tyrannosaurus-like dinosaur to the title character’s left and a Triceratops below him and the professor. Palm trees can see behind the taller dino, while a beach, umbrellas, and a pier can be seen to the right of the professor. Oh, and they’re on fire. Fire consumes and surrounds the terrible lizards with the flames rising above the heroes. In the foreground is the greatest amount of flame and within it human remains. Artist Paolo Rivera has created a frontpiece that seems composed of random images, but actually hits on key elements of this one-shot’s story. The three leads look incredible. Overall grade: A

The story: Port Orange, Florida, in October of ’55 is the starting point as a man leaves his wife by the side of their car to heed the call of nature. It’s night, but not completely dark. A distant scream from his wife causes him to return concerned and he finds his wife aflame. By the time he reaches her, a burnt corpse is all that’s left of her. The story then moves to the present with Xiang, Bruttenholm, and Hellboy accompanied by a police office at the scene of the death, which is a burnt spot in the grass. The officer reveals that this is the fourth incident of spontaneous combustion that he’s heard of near there, but “I’ve only been in town a few years, so I figure there might have been more than that.” Hellboy makes a discovery a few yards from them: an odd looking dinosaur statue. This figure’s presence, as well as those of its companions, is given a plausible and very cool explanation. What’s revealed to have happened there in the past is the crux of the troubles in this tale from Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson. Before the trio can make any major discoveries, one of them almost falls victim to the seemingly random flames. Sue’s contributions to the case are neat and result in Hellboy making an explosive find. How the supernatural threat is combated is neat, though, like all things in the Hellboy Universe, it could be revisited. Overall grade: A

The art: Pencils on this issue are by Paolo Rivera with inks by Joe Rivera. The first panel of the book sets the tone excellently with the couple’s car on the side of the road in the dark with the creepy moss covered foliage of Florida surrounding them. The third panel on the page is shocking, creating an unexpected threat. This is followed by a focus on the husband in the dark, with even his face hidden by the darkness, but the dread in him apparent by the wrinkles in his forehead and raised brow. The second page starts with the wife engulfed in fire. This is followed by a panel that is a companion piece to the third panel from the first page. The terror felt by the husband in the fourth panel is outstanding, with the smoldering corpse of his wife in the foreground. The burnt hand reaching for an object in the next panel is terrific — not showing the dead woman completely is much better than showing her, because what the reader could imagine would be worse than what the Rivera’s could reveal. When the leads are shown on Page 3 their emotions are smart: the professor questioning, Sue frustrated, and Hellboy surprised. That final panel on 4 had my hackles rise, as simians are always sources of immense trouble in this franchise; just the visual suggestion of this character put me on edge. The action that begins on 6 is great, starting small before quickly erupting into something much larger. There are several flashback sequences and they are excellent; the Riveras’ take on history is undeniably creepy. The climax of the book is preceded by Sue using a specific tool that’s only recently come into her hands. The layout of how she holds the object is awesome, with only one of her eyes focused on. Notice how Sue’s eyes take a turn on 14. The battle on 17 is great for the fury presented, with the stance of both characters in the middle panel reminiscent of Jack Kirby’s classic battles involving the Thing in Fantastic Four comics. The penultimate page has Hellboy looking incredible, with that last panel perfect. The final two panels of the book contain no text, but wonderfully suggest in images that this tale is not over. Overall grade: A 

The colors: I expect Hellboy comics to have dark moments, and this book does, but when Dave Stewart uses bright colors they are startling. The oranges from the car’s taillights in the first panel are eerie, with the glow they cast in the grass hellish. The flames on the second page intensify the shock of the artwork. Check out the great orange glows he gives to the character in the second panel on the same page. Hellboy is a shock of crimson in every panel he appears, making his visage not the only thing that draws the reader’s eye. The flashbacks are given a sepia tone which ages them excellently. When the beaches of Florida are shown they have gray skies, foreshadowing something bad is coming and it is revealed on 12 with the skies turning a nightmarish shade of burnt orange. All the flame work in this book gets some slick blending of oranges and yellows. The smoke that the flames create also gets some neat work, with the penultimate page’s last panel looking sharp. Overall grade: A

The letters: Clem Robins’s contributions to this book include scene settings, dialogue, screams, yells, and sounds. I like that Robins gives characters different fonts for different yells and screams, showing the severity of each utterance. The sounds don’t appear often until the book’s climax and they are as big as the action. Overall grade: A

The final line: Spontaneous combustion gets an explanation and Hellboy is right in the middle of it. This one-shot has the perfect eerie vibe and the visuals tell the story expertly. I’d love to return to Florida for more heat in the Sunshine state. 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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