The three-issue Beyond the Fences arc kicks off here. This is a noteworthy issue too, the first written by Chris Roberson. He’s going to be working on many Hellboy Universe titles going forward, so I’ve been waiting for this one with baited breath.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Pencils by Paolo Rivera
Inks by Joe Rivera
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
A mysterious creature hunts the children of an idyllic suburban town, and the BPRD get more than they bargained for when their investigation begins to seem strangely familiar.
I finished this issue with a happy, contented sigh. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. is in good hands with Chris Roberson. He fits this series very well, sliding into it with apparent ease. This story clicks. And not just because of Roberson either. Paolo Rivera’s art is perfect. I’ve been following his posts on Instagram, so I wasn’t surprised to see how well he draws the Hellboy Universe. He gets the tone, and he keeps everything character focused. And he finds the fun in it too. One of my favourite panels was Hellboy saying goodbye to Mac (his dog) before going on a mission. Mac is wagging his tail, and Hellboy is wagging his too. That was a really nice touch.
But it was a nice touch in an issue full of nice touches. Just look at the way Jacob and Susan introduce themselves to the residents of Rosemead. They have nearly identical posing, and yet Susan is more open and welcoming, while Jacob is sharper and more antagonistic. The similarity in their poses makes the contrast more prominent without being blatant.
I loved seeing Hellboy chatting to the kids. It’s cool to see him dealing with his new-found celebrity and enjoying it. I love the way the kids totally welcome him. Abe’s said before that Hellboy has a way with kids, and while we’ve seen it in past stories, we’ve never seen it to this degree.
Most importantly, this issue really feels like a team book—it’s called Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. for a reason. Hellboy, Susan, and Jacob work well together, chatting like people that know each other, and even supporting each other. This is something I’ve been missing a bit in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, where lately the characters tend to carry their problems alone. But in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. I love the way the characters have their problems, but they are always shouldered by the rest of the team to varying degrees. So I like seeing Stegner looking out for Hellboy, and I like seeing Hellboy concerned for Susan’s well being, and I like seeing Susan trying to keep Stegner’s abrasiveness in check.
Honestly, I can’t imagine a more promising start for Roberson’s Mignolaverse career. Right away he’s shown he doesn’t just get the obvious monster stuff, he really gets the character clockworks too. Oh, and he knows this universe; there are plenty of links to other stories, all appropriate, not overdone. The man has done his homework.
But how odd that this feels exactly like a Hellboy Universe story should when it is set in the suburbs instead of a creaky old house. I mean, even Dave Stewart’s colours are different—he’s doing blue skies—and yet it feels right.
I always feel like I’m stating the obvious when I say this, but Stewart’s colours are amazing, and in an issue like this it really should be pointed out. This issue he captures Hellboy’s mood so well with the colours. This is definitely a happier Hellboy without the world on his shoulders. He also captures that feeling of a world that feels safe from trouble, and when the trouble bleeds in, so do the more-familiar palettes of a Hellboy story. I love the way those blue skies become more green as the weirdness creeps in.
OK, let’s talk spoilers.
Oh boy, that connection to B.P.R.D.: 1948 is certainly exciting. And I liked the way it was used to further explore Susan’s powers while simultaneously catching-up readers that haven’t read that particular story.Continued below
Susan Xiang’s a relatively new character (introduced in 1952), but she’s already become a favourite of mine. The 1946–1948 stories were incredibly male dominated, so having a woman on the team was a nice touch. It was beginning to seem like Bruttenholm’s secretary was the only woman in the B.P.R.D. This story also added Dr. Sandhu, previously mentioned in last month’s short story, Wandering Souls. Yeah, it’s the 1950s and things were different then, but women were still around, and I’m happy to see them as a part of the B.P.R.D. plus a diverse team makes for a good book.
The comedy was great in this issue too. The panel with Dr. Boucq running away screaming, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” while the Bureau agents stand there completely stunned was perfectly written and drawn.
That’s enough spoilers.
It all seems so effortless when it comes together, but there’re so many plates spinning here, and the fact that I wasn’t aware of them while reading speaks volumes to how deftly everyone involved has pulled this story off. It’s a Mignola story so it’s gotta have the right tone, but it’s also a period piece, sometimes playing up the idyllic 1950s, other times the 1950s mystery/conspiracy stuff. It’s in the suburbs, and it should feel like the suburbs, but when the weird stuff happens, it’s gotta be able to hit the appropriate tone there too.
Before I wrap up, I have to mention Rivera’s background crowd scenes. I really liked the way he takes the time to make each parent and each child unique in their body language. Without a single line of dialogue, these pieces say so much about the mood of the scene. There was a panel with Hellboy talking to some kids in the foreground, and each is looking at him differently, but way off in the background there are two girls near a slide that just seemed to have noticed the commotion. One is standing slightly behind the other, peering around her friend to see Hellboy. I really appreciate the range of reactions in that sequence. Rivera’s care in the details is fantastic.
This issue is excellent. Chris Roberson and Paolo and Joe Rivera seem to have a natural affinity for this series and I can’t wait for the next issue.
Final verdict: 9