There seems to be few comic book writers as committed to their own characters as much as Mike Mignola is to Hellboy. From the comic origins, through his flourish in Hollywood, back again to the page, the creator and his creation have seemingly always been side-by-side.
With this first issue in a new run entitled “Hellboy and the BPRD 1953” we get two brand new stories; “The Phantom Hand” and “The Kelpie”. The tales act as standalones, adding to the rich anthology feel to many Hellboy tales; it’s another day and another adventure for the big guy. What makes this interesting for fans – and a logical jumping on point for newcomers – is that the 1953 setting finds Hellboy quite fresh-faced when it comes to paranormal investigating.
“The Phantom Hand” has an English manor house setting, a staple for much of Mignola’s work. Teaming up with a younger Trevor Bruttenholm and Harry Middleton, the trio are knee deep in their hunt for a haunting hand. In true Hellboy fashion the what and the why of how this spirit came to be is particularly gruesome, involving a group of murdered children, a lunatic and a hanging. And while there’s no real waiting around for the phantom hand to reveal itself – yep, literally a hand walking around by itself – it’s no time at all before Hellboy tries to deal with it in his usual no nonsense fashion; by impaling it with a poker and lobing it in the fire. Good work, sir.
But before they can pat themselves on the back, the flames engulf the phantom, only to reveal its true image: that of a real big, real ugly demon. While Bruttenholm and Middleton try every trick in the book to vanquish the spirit, Hellboy’s traditional “punch it till the thing stops moving” approach is certainly from a different way of doing things. You can see why this tactic hasn’t really changed for him over the years, because the demon is soon seen to. Hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The first story is wrapped up with Bruttenholm and Middleton discussing the sighting and their concerns for what Hellboy could become. Bruttenholm wants to see the good in him, as always, but their study of him leaves a certain air of uncertainty to things; they can never forget that there’s still a monster inside of him.
Though second story “The Kelpie” begins with the same three characters, the tale soon flashes back to Bruttenholm and Middleton as younger men, investigating rumours of a headless monk in Scotland, with the help of their Eton classmate Old Bill.
The retrospective approach to the storytelling keeps things galloping along at a decent pace. The hunt for the horseman, that turns out to be a Kelpie – think underwater were-horse that drowns whoever rides it. Silly to some, but Mignola always finds the strangest, most visually interesting myths and legends to put on his pages – ends in disaster, but not without its life lesson.
It’s a good little scary story, cut back to act as a little extra to “The Phantom Hand”. But both are certainly enjoyable reads. The combination of Ben Stenbeck’s art and Dave Stewart’s colours are very reminiscent of Mignola’s early Hellboy stories – deep shadows and stunning, dynamic highlights – leaving the character and his environments looking exactly as you’d expect. These are two delightful tales that fit nicely into the character’s legacy, expanding on Bruttenholm and Middleton just as much as the big guy.
If you’re bringing one monster home this Halloween, make it Hellboy.
4 out of 5 Nerds