Review: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1
“Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1 tackles weighty continuity head-on, creating a tale that’s accessible to folks unfamiliar with the Hellboy universe while at the same time adding a depth to the mythos for those long-time fans of Mignola’s creations. “
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Artist: Alex Maleev
Release Date: Wed, December 3, 2014
I hate to be that guy, but spoiler alert: Hellboy, demon fighting on the side of light and chain-smoking cigar aficionado, is dead in the present day continuity of the character. Yep, I suck, I know. Spoilers are the weapons of the damned. However, I reveal this tidbit not as a “screw you” to potential readers, but as a balm to folks who have been considering dipping their toes or cloven hooves into the flames of the Hellboy universe but might be afraid of being bogged down by the character’s 20-year history. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and writer John Arcudi offer a jumping-on point for new readers in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1, giving new fans the opportunity to immerse themselves in all things Hellboy, while rewarding long-time readers for their loyalty to the character and his world.
B.P.R.D. throws the spotlight on Hellboy’s first mission in 1952 with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, director of the B.P.R.D., sends a crew to investigate mysterious deaths, deaths that have the stench of the supernatural. The professor has the team take a young Hellboy with them, as he feels that keeping the demon child locked away for the rest of his life is good for the spirit.
The plot is pretty straightforward, but that’s quite all right, as the real star of the issue is the characterization and interaction between the B.P.R.D. crew, the professor, and Hellboy. The members of the Brazil crew have mixed reactions to working with the demon, ranging from acceptance to distance. And the professor shows his fatherly care for the boy, a mix of wanting to protect him from the world and knowing that he must eventually be part of it. These little touches provide a depth to the characters that long-time readers will appreciate, while providing a story that is unencumbered with past story baggage that would turn off new readers.
Something that isn’t touched on a good deal in the Hellboy comic books is that Hellboy, like any of us, had to start somewhere to get good at what he does. We don’t all start life as accomplished at our craft; we all begin as wet-behind-the-ears (or horns) kids. With as self-assured and brilliant at what he does as Hellboy is (or was) in the present day stories, B.P.R.D. showcases a Hellboy who is just learning his craft, showing that even kickass defenders of the Earth have to crawl before they can crawl. And that rookie status can be seen in the barely-restrained awe in Hellboy’s face, body language, and dialogue when he is told that he’ll be accompanying the B.P.R.D. on his first mission with the crew. Hellboy seems to barely contain his excitement at smelling pine trees in Brazil, while alternately being less chatty than we normally see him, seeming to defer to his more seasoned teammates. As much as I love the self-confident Hellboy of most of his stories, this is a nice change of pace and a smart move on the part of Mignola and Arcudi.
Artist Alex Maleev’s work on Hellboy is his first with the character and his world, which feels somewhat odd, because Maleev’s work here is a perfect fit for the Hellboy universe. Maleev, as he showed with his seminal work on Daredevil with writer Brian Michael Bendis, knows how to combine the heady noir and mood that is so intrinsically tied to Hellboy and company. Not only that, though, but Maleev also manages to make a menagerie of new characters have their own unique looks and personalities, something that could easily get lost in the shuffle with the sheer number of new members of the Hellboy mythos being introduced in this issue. For my money, this is Maleev’s best work since Daredevil, and it’s a joy to see a master artist back at the top of his game.
Delving into reading a new comic book can be a crapshoot for a lot of fans. Walking into a world with the weight of years of continuity can be intimidating and turn off potential new readers. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1 tackles that problem head-on, creating a tale that’s accessible to folks unfamiliar with the Hellboy universe while at the same time adding a depth to the mythos for those long-time fans of Mignola’s creations. Few storytellers can manage this narrative feat, but that’s why Hellboy and his B.P.R.D. brethren have endured for two decades and show no sign of wear and tear.