In Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 #3

A site is discovered, a revolt continues to brew, and an agent doesn't like what she learns.

The cover: The picture of innocence, Varvara walks down a hallway of the Special Sciences Services Headquarters in Moscow, casually dragging one of her blood stained hands across the group’s logo on a wall. She turns to the reader to flash a smile and show her eyes are just as red as her hands. Great image that summarizes the hidden horror lurking within this child. Slick, twisted job by Dave Johnson. Overall grade: A

The story: Trevor Bruttenholm is leading Jacob Stegner through a valley in Colorado. He’s telling the professor how pleased he is with the peacefulness of their surroundings. “Who knows? Maybe when I finally wise up and retire I’ll get a cabin and retire in the woods. I’ve earned a little peace and quiet, I figure.” They’re looking to confirm the location of a facility that Susan Xiang saw in a vision. They find the enormous structure, prompting Jacob to say, “Maybe that cabin in the woods isn’t such a good idea, after all…” Meanwhile at B.P.R.D. Headquarters, the newest recruits are getting a pep talk that few can’t believe. There’s a conversation between their CO and Ms. Laine which shows the stress that working for such an institution creates. In Russia, Varvara continues to keep her people in line through fear, though it appears that not all of her operatives want to continue working for her. Susan is visited as well, looking at another photo. Though she receives no visions, she realizes that she’s seeing one character in a different light. The issue ends with Bruttenholm and Stegner making a move under the cover of night, only to encounter an unexpected character. There’s much in motion in this tale created by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson. There’s no explicit action, but there’s plenty of tension as every story begins to cross into the others’ territory. Smart storytelling. Overall grade: A

The art: Three different artists on this issue with each tackling a different story: Mike Norton (Pages 1 – 9, 20 – 22), Michael Avon Oeming (10 – 14), and Yishan Li (15 – 19). Norton illustrates Bruttenholm and Stegner’s segment, crafting a beautiful Colorado valley and outstanding looking characters. The reveal at the top of Page 4 will be instantly familiar to long time readers. The scenes set at the meeting are very realistic, with the characters strong. I’m impressed with Norton’s work on the characters, making their events seem real. The final three pages of Norton’s contributions have a surprise enter the story, with a weapon on 21 and 22 dominating every time it appears. Oeming’s pages are set in Russia and are very stylized, with the characters looking unlike anything I’ve encountered in a B.P.R.D. book. This style has everyone looking very cartoony, but this is a great contrast to how intense the story is; it makes the reader think something funny is about to occur, but Varvara’s presence puts everyone on edge. There’s some really cool shadow work at the bottom of 13. The silent look passed between two characters on 14 is an excellent way the visuals communicate something to the reader without any text. The most realistic artwork of the issue is done by Li, with Xiang looking outstanding. The photo that starts 18 is killer, revealing one character’s identity to Xiang. Her reactions in panels three and four on 19 are perfect. I didn’t think I would like this series since it has three different artists, but I’m enjoying the variety of the visuals with each artist making their take on these characters surprising and enjoyable. Overall grade: A

The colors: The opening pages of the the professor and Stegner making their way through the valley have all the colors one would expect of such a rural area, with the sky being a particular beauty in blue. I like that Bruttenholm’s hat is a slight mustard, drawing the reader’s eyes to him each time he appears. The walls of the conference room at B.P.R.D. Headquarters is a rustic orange, giving it an industrial, yet warm, tone. The pages in Russia are dark, which is justifiable given Varvara’s past actions. The dainty, devilish girl wears white and has golden hair, making her a focus on every page. The computer screens in this location are a vibrant green. The colors only go bright in the final panel when a character stands out against a colorless backdrop. Dave Stewart does a great job on this book. Overall grade: A

The letters: Clem Robins creates this issue’s scene settings, dialogue, speech in a lower volume, drunken text, a song sung, and whispered text. I’m always pleased to see the scene settings in a different font from the dialogue, as they are different forms of communication. The speech in a lower volume is a quick conversation between two recruits who don’t want their CO to hear what’s said. It is exactly the volume that students would have leaving their instructor’s room. The drunken text is funny, composed of jumpy letters to suggest the character’s state. The whispered text occurs when a character is saying something to themselves aloud and comes across very naturally. Overall grade: A

The final line: A site is discovered, a revolt continues to brew, and an agent doesn’t like what she learns. All of these tales are engaging, illustrated well, colored smartly, and lettered perfectly. This is how comic books should always be. Tension bubbling underneath each tale is increasing, foreshadowing forthcoming explosions. A great 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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