In Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 #1

The B.P.R.D. is growing and it's not going smoothly. Recommended reading.

The cover: Hellboy doesn’t look happy as he freezes mid-stride to look to his right. His mouth opens in anger and he pulls his gun up so that he can have it ready to blast an unseen foe. Behind him is a massive skull colored in red and green camouflage. The skull’s massive right eye socket is covered by a crimson circle containing a hammer and sickle, the iconic image of Soviet Russia. Dave Johnson has created another classical Hellboy cover, incorporating the hero, the supernatural, and a hostile government into one image. So cool! Overall grade: A+ 

The story: Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson open their tale with a letter from Director Bruttenholm in regards to Assistant Director of Operations Margaret Laine and what she’s doing. This was an informative letter for the reader and sets the stage for what’s to follow. At headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, Laine is briefing new recruits Hendricks and Murphy who have been upgraded to work in the field with Hellboy, who’s incredibly distracted, looking out the window when he should be listening to what she’s saying. The three agents are going into Mexico’s interior because “There are reports of demonic possession, vampires, the undead, hauntings, human sacrifice — the works.” They’re to go in, assess the situation, and stop it. As the men leave, Hellboy sticks around to say something to Laine, but it doesn’t go as he’d planned. Page 8 is a gut kick if ever there was one. The story then moves two months forward and is set in Washington, D.C. where a character meets with someone and things don’t go well there either. Another jump in time occurs — a month — and another cast member sees something horrible. In the past, this character’s visions have proved prophetic. With what’s revealed on Page 15 there’s big trouble in the B.P.R.D.’s future. Another country receives the focus for the issue’s final five pages and it’s tense and foreshadows so much! There’s much revealed for the new and the fervent fan in this opening issue. I’m ready for this ride to begin! Overall grade: A 

The art: This is not something I’ve seen before in any Hellboy book: three different artists illustrate this issue: Mike Norton does Pages 2 – 13, Yishan Li Pages 14 – 18, and Michael Avon Oeming Pages 19 – 23. Each has a very unique style and each fits in quite well with the subject matter. The pages focusing on Hellboy and the new field agents getting briefed resembles a government facility one would expect from the time. I like the use of the windows in all the panels Hellboy is in, resembling prison bars. All the big guy has to do is raise his eyebrows and I knew that something was up with the lug. Page 4 is the most shocking of the issue, showing the atrocities going on in Mexico. If you want horror, this page delivers. The lack of dialogue in the final panel on 5 really pulls the reader into the moment and the point of view increases the power of visuals from an earlier page. The last panel on 6 is also silent and it’s a kick in the gut. The silence continues with the first two panels on 7 and had me thinking the worst, and 8 shows where all these quiet images were leading. Wow. The D.C. pages focus on two individuals having a conversation, so Norton has really got to be able to make his characters’ emotions match their dialogue and he does. A raising or lowering of a character’s brows really adds much to the dialogue, and the middle panels on 13 are wonderfully dismissive. Li’s pages deal with two different characters engaged in a very different conversation. Without spoiling things, when a character gets that lack of something in the fifth panel on 15 it never fails to frighten. Page 15 teases much to the reader, but, like the character, can’t make complete sense of what’s shown. I loved that page. The look of pain at the end of 16 is awesome. Oeming’s art style is the most distinctive of the issue, being a perfect match for the location, mirroring the popular angular work of that land. The settings are epic and the joyful way one character moves is completely unnerving. The last two pages will leave the reader uncomfortable with the reactions of those left in a corridor. I like seeing this combination or artists and am looking forward to what they’ll bring to their stories as this series progresses. Overall grade: A

The colors: Dave Stewart gives Pages 2 – 7 a lot of yellows and oranges. These colors create a strong light outside and one that Hellboy wishes to venture into. Notice how the interiors of where the characters are receive dull, almost lifeless, browns. The three paneled page that shows the nightmares in Mexico are given violet-blues, greens, and oranges. By using one color for each panel the horrors seem even more unnatural. The red on 7 firmly linked the character to Hellboy and increased the drama of the illustration. The scenes in D.C. have very gray, very appropriate, backgrounds, forcing the reader to focus on the faces of the characters and they provide plenty of color for their scenes. The colors go orange on 14, giving the proceedings a sinister nature, and boy are they! I am in love with the light green on 15. Greens dominate 16 and they are deliriously blasphemous. The final location has very dark colors, with elements in the background incredibly bright, befitting this country. The yellows, blues, and whites on one character are a fantastic contrast to every other color on the page. Overall grade: A

The letters: This issue has letterer Clem Robins creating scene settings and dialogue. There’s no need for any sounds in this issue, as this introductory installment is setting up something massive for the future. Everything is easy to read and never overpowers the images on the page. Overall grade: A

The final line: The B.P.R.D. is growing and it’s not going smoothly. The story moves masterfully about, introducing characters, showing missions, and threats on the horizon. The visuals are terrific collection of three unique looks that perfectly match their stories. This issue would be a solid introduction to new readers and will thrill fans who’ve loved this organization since its first appearance. Recommended. 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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