“Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” returns to the 1950s at last with ‘Family Ties’ from Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, and Laurence Campbell. While I was already excited for this issue, Roberson and Campbell prove to work exceptionally well together. Let’s hope we see them collaborate again in the near future. Join us for our spoiler-free review (unless you haven’t yet read “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956,” in which case there’s at least one major spoiler ahead).
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Before they can track down an errant copy of Gustav Strobl’s Witchcraft and Demonology, Hellboy and B.P.R.D. agent Susan Xiang are sidetracked by a beset housewife’s pleas for help. Unraveling the mystery of an unwanted house guest may lead the occult investigators right to where they wanted to be, but also right into demonic danger.
Celebrated writer Mike Mignola and longtime collaborator Chris Roberson bring you yet another hit Hellboy one-shot, with art by the extraordinary Laurence Campbell and colors by Dave Stewart.
In publishing terms it’s been over two years since the last installment of “1956,” and while there have been plenty of issues of “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” since then, the 1950s plotline has been left hanging. Professor Bruttenholm is failing to be an effective director, Susan Xiang no longer trusts him, the C.D.R.D. is looking into weaponizing the paranormal, and Jacob Stegner is dead (and no, I still haven’t recovered from that). So after all this time and with so much left hanging, I was a little surprised that “1957” is returning with five one-shots. It’s counter-intuitive, and yet it makes sense. Knowing the Hellboy Universe timeline, there are some big developments coming in the early 1960s, so this gives Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson a chance to settle into a simmer and explore the characters more. (Just so you know, the “1957” stories will be the last 1950s stories—after that the series will jump ahead into the ’60s, so the series won’t be simmering too long.)
The first of these smaller, character focused stories is ‘Family Ties,’ which has fan-favorite artist Laurence Campbell returning to the Hellboy Universe—which automatically makes this title a must-get. Campbell’s art is pitch perfect for this suburban horror tale, marrying the mundane with the otherworldly. Under Campell’s pen, a simple household hallway becomes menacing and foreboding.
You wouldn’t know it from the moody art, but this is actually a pretty funny issue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s dark, but there’s a playfulness to the concept that drives the whole thing, with the humor of Chris Roberson’s writing contrasting against the horror of the visuals. The way these two elements work in tandem is irresistible—I was won over long before the final page. ‘Family Ties’ is definitely among my favorite 1950s stories. And best of all, it takes advantage of Hellboy and Susan being the two leads. These characters are still processing the events of “1956,” and while ‘Family Ties’ is a stand-alone tale, they carry these anxieties with them. This isn’t a deep dive into this aspect, so the story will certainly be accessible to new readers, but it’s just enough that there’s emotional continuity and it gives more weight to the events that follow.
Dave Stewart is in excellent form on this issue, starting with grays defining the suburban setting, the palette shifting to ominous reds as the Hellboy and Susan approach the Stemple house, then sickly greens as they step into the interior. I can’t say much more than that without veering into spoiler territory, but from there the story sinks its teeth in and Stewart makes sure you know it. There are specific story elements associated with green and also with blue, and Stewart uses these like Geiger counters for how close characters are to these elements, and also to orient the reader. This is, after all, a suburban home, so it’s a very confined space, but thanks to Campbell being careful with the details of the environment he chooses to show, and Stewart using those elements as color anchors, it’s effortless to track the spatial relationships when the action kicks into gear.Continued below
When I think of Campbell’s work, I often think of full-body figures seen at a distance—he tends to use distance more than the average artist, and it’s a part of his storytelling I enjoy and always look forward to. That element is still at play in ‘Family Ties,’ but due to the cramped environment, it’s not something he can do nearly as often. Instead, what we have is an issue where Campbell uses close-ups to get uncomfortably close. Like the characters in the scene, you get that sense of being in a small room that doesn’t let you stand far enough away. Time and time again, the close-ups end up being some of the best moments in the issue.
I couldn’t help but be conscious about the way Campbell uses eyes throughout ‘Family Ties.’ There’s a lot of shadows in this story, so oftentimes characters’ faces are covered in blacks. With Hellboy, he’s got those orange eyes that Mignola likes to use when Hellboy’s totally in shadow, but Campbell is very careful not to overuse this. Instead, when you can see a character’s eyes, they are always communicating something essential in the scene. For instance, a character may be looking at something, so the eyes are visible in the panel preceding the reverse panel which reveals waht they’re looking at. Simple enough, but because the eyes are only there when they need to be, it’s a cue to the reader to look at the next panel more carefully. And when this structure is reversed, where we are shown something in one panel, then in the next we see a character react to it with their eyes visible, the emotion feels that much more heightened because of the lack of eyes elsewhere. Campbell’s choices in this issue are so smartly story driven.
Given that for the last two years “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” has been standalone tales, making the return to the ongoing 1950s plotline a series of one-shots is a really smart choice. It allows new readers to check out this series, and if they like it, there’s a big omnibus they can pick up now to catch up. Chris Roberson and Mike Mignola have selected just the right details to please both new readers and long-time readers. Anyone familiar with Strobl’s Witchcraft and Demonology is immediately going to get an extra kick out of ‘Family Ties,’ but it’s merely a plus to an already great story.
Final Verdict: 9 – ‘Family Ties’ sets a very high bar for “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1957,” delivering one of the best 1950s stories to date.