In Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 #4

The cover: Against a mottled white background a demon opens its mouth to emit flame. Within this creature is a bust shot of Susan Xiang, the future headquarters in...

The cover: Against a mottled white background a demon opens its mouth to emit flame. Within this creature is a bust shot of Susan Xiang, the future headquarters in Colorado, and Hellboy holding a gun. At the bottom of this creature’s body is the large circular logo of the Bureau. Dave Johnson has created an excellent representational cover of what can be found within this issue. Ya gotta love Johnson’s work! Overall grade: A

The story: In Colorado, Bruttenholm and Stegner are confronted by a man with a gun. Stegner puts himself between the professor and their assailant and is shot in the chest. Bruttenholm chastises the man because, he assumes, they are allies. The man raises his gun to the professor, saying, “I serve Queen and Country, chummy, while you sashayed off to serve a foreign–” And he’s cut off by someone. The man with the gun cannot believe he’s being told to stand down by this individual and raises his gun to kill this character. It will be last thing he ever does. Something horrific occurs with only the professor surviving the ordeal. With two bodies before him, and instructed by his savior to run, the sad man has to leave Stegner’s body behind. The setting changes to Russia on Page 6 where the members of the S.S.S. have a surprise for their leader, the supernatural Varvara. Things do not go as she expected, though long time readers of Hellboy comics will recognize where she is placed. Pages 12 and 13 contain no dialogue, but plenty of foreshadowing for what’s to occur in about sixty years. Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson reveal that this pair of pages is witnessed by Susan Xiang and the experience has physically changed her. Back at Connecticut, the professor decides to waste no time and retrieve the Bureau’s biggest assest. WOW! There’s a lot going on in this issue, beginning with the death of Stegner, followed by the shock of who saves the professor. The actions in Russia had me on the edge of my seat, wondering if anyone would survive. Susan’s visions continue to confirm that she may be leaving the Bureau because her lack of trust in the professor continues to grow. The final pages confirm the professor is putting his foot down and I welcome the return of a specific character to the fold in the next issue. Overall grade: A

The art: A trio of artists continues to create each chapter of this tale: Mike Norton (Pages 1 – 5 and 17 – 22), Michael Avon Oeming (6 – 11), and Yishan Li (12 – 16). Norton has some frightening images beginning subtly on Page 2 and becoming horrific on 3. I love that the character is able to stand in that element unaffected. The result of the actions of 3 are graphically revealed on 4 and they are shocking and superb! The lackadaisical way the savior leaves the setting is terrific. The reactions of the guards to what they discover will mirror the reader’s. The remainder of Norton’s work is grounded in reality, save the individual that has a character’s focus. His anger and frustration are easily interpreted on the final page. I also have to give a shout out to all the items on the shelf that are teased but not discussed. Oeming’s pages represent the blocky, propaganda artwork of Soviet Russia, save Varvara, who resembles pure innocence. The slight looks given in the fifth panel on 6 and fourth panel on 7 telegraph to the reader that something is not right. What’s done to a character on 9 may seem inhumane until the reveal 11 where someone’s true nature is revealed. I loved this sequence of actions. Pages 12 and 13 begin Li’s work on the book and this is a hellish double-paged spread showing something monstrous emerging from the ground as lightning crackles around the individual, while someone’s death shown on the right, complete with wooden coffin. There’s no dialogue, but visuals such as these are portents that no reader, or character, can choose to ignore. Moving quickly to Susan, she reacts to what she’s seen and discovers that her visions no longer leave her unharmed. This book looks great! Overall grade: A

The colors: The book starts darkly colored in a forest at night, punctuated by the one gunshot that fells a character. Oranges then begin to dominate on Page 3, accompanied by a light blue sound effect to give the action a subversively smooth feel. Dave Stewart uses several browns for the interiors of the S.S.S., which has Varvara’s white dress and blonde locks standing out each time they appear. The sound on 8 gets a sickly green to make the action even more disturbing. The green letters continue onto the next page, being necessary for the action, and continuing the disturbing event. The reds on 11 are great. They slowly transition on the bottom of the page to a faded tan morphs into sickening shades of green on 12 and 13. These colors make the transition to the colors of Susan’s face doubly shocking on 14. Colors are used on 16 to show how she’s being effected by her visions. Notice how Stewart gives the sounds on Page 20 yellows to preview the color that a device will emit strongly. Subtle and cool. Overall grade: A

The letters: Clem Robins is the individual responsible for the book’s yells, sounds, dialogue, scene settings, singing, and a chant. There are several reasons for characters to yell in this issue and they appear in several different fonts to tell the reader how loud each should be heard. Several sounds punch up the actions on the page, with even non-violent ones, with the final three pages cool. The singing is brief and perfectly childlike. The chant first appears in a circular manner, making it maddeningly dizzying, before becoming a constant in the room. These are all great. Overall grade: A

The final line: Someone is killed, someone is saved, someone is captured, and someone sees something they shouldn’t have. It’s impressive that so many thrills can exist in this book, considering it’s set so far in the past. I was surprised several times throughout and find my apprehension of one character’s fate increasing. Often three artists on a book leads to one outshining the others, but not in this book, with all creating incredible visuals. Hell, this is entertaining! 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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