In “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Secret of Chesbro House” #2, we discover the horrific secret the Chesbro family has kept hidden all these years. After the slowburn of the first issue, issue #2 is a sprint for the finish line. And, just so you know, this review is going to be packed full of spoilers.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Shawn McManus
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Hellboy is plunged headlong into the dark history of a haunted mansion, witnessing at last the dark truth behind the ghost in residence. . . and how it might be made to leave.
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola teams with longtime collaborator Christopher Golden and artist extraordinaire Shawn McManus to bring you a brand-new frightful delight from the world of Hellboy!
In some ways, ‘The Secret of Chesbro House’ #2 is a tricky issue to review, because it’s a strong issue, one that I really enjoyed, but it could’ve been a great issue. At its heart, ‘The Secret of Chesbro House’ is a ghost story where the engine driving it all is, as the title suggests, secrets. The first issue asked a lot of questions, so issue #2 is all about answers. And the answers themselves were compelling, but I feel like they never quite achieved their full dramatic potential. In part, I feel like the most dramatic parts of the secret were held on till too late in the story.
The focus early in the issue is on what was done to Sarah Chesbro by her father, Peter Chesbro; the way she was used as a vessel to incubate a demon. The result is that in the present, we have Hellboy beating up this demon, trying to prevent it from escaping. It’s largely an action sequence flavored by some tragedy. We get little nods to Sarah in moments like when the demon is defeated and Hellboy says to her skeleton, “Rest in peace, kid. You’ve earned it,” but it’s the action that takes center stage.
There’s another part of this story, how George Chesbro murdered his father for what he had done to his sister, and then left her chained up in that secret chamber so that the demon inside her could never get loose. This part of the story is delivered like an epilogue, just before Chesbro House is engulfed in flames.
And then there’s that bit we hear from Madame Zemperelli, about how Sarah was laughing after what had been done to her, which is a really creepy element to introduce, but it’s never taken further than that. I can’t help but imagine how much creepier that final battle would’ve been if the ghost of Sarah had been in the chamber, laughing as she wastes away, thrashing against her chains. And if George’s ghost had been sitting outside the chamber, hands over his ears, clearly in agony, tortured by what he’s done to her. It would frame the action differently.
The whole point of the Chesbro House curse was that it was about the family, and yet in the end, the demon stole a bit too much of the limelight. But can you imagine how differently this issue would feel if when the demon is killed, Sarah’s laughing finally stops, and she just cries. Then Hellboy comforts her as she passes on. We’d get that moment of catharsis, which is what really breaks the family curse.
All these things are accents that I think could’ve pushed an already strong issue to being something great. The emotional core just gets a bit smothered by the demon fight, which is a fun fight, but it’s also familiar. We’ve seen Hellboy knocking the teeth out of a big nasty before, so the story isn’t really embracing what makes it unique.
There’s a lot of other things going on that are great, like Peter Chesbro’s talking skull. Carter Stroud, of course, was always doomed—we knew that the second the Chesbro family curse was mentioned. But it wasn’t really the curse that doomed him so much as his own self-interested nature. He has no interest in helping Sarah, in atoning for the wrongs of Peter and George. In this way, I can’t help but feel like the curse is not so much a prophecy of what will happen, but rather an accurate read on how the family lets these things fester. George, as much as he loved his sister, he never tried to find someone that could help her. It seems he was more afraid of someone ever learning what his father had done to her, or of the demon inside her.Continued below
At the core of it all is a family drama, and so the character Serena Wilkins plays an interesting role because this was almost her family, but she managed to dodge that bullet. The way she watches the house burning, you really get a sense that she knows this too. Yeah, her fiancé is dead and it’s been a traumatic experience, but after everything she’s seen, she knows how much worse things could’ve gone, and at least this puts an end to it.
Shawn McManus seems to be having a lot of fun with the design of Chesbro House. The sacrificial altar in the secret chamber was especially well designed, with those twisted faces on it, all with their mouths open—sometimes it conjures up the idea of some evil hunger, other times a silent scream.
He also gets to have a lot of fun with the monster design, which goes through multiple stages. We see it as the poltergeist-like spirit that has infested Sarah’s ghost, and later as the small demon that crawls out of the egg and changes into the full-sized demon Hellboy ends up fighting. Throughout all these stages, it has to be very different but still recognizably the same being, so McManus gives it a distinctive brow and eyes. This way he can treat the rest of the head almost like plastine, stretching and squashing it as needed, but it still reads as the same character.
Even though I was sorry to lose Madame Zemperelli, the whole poltergeist section was fantastic. McManus sells the violence of the moment hard. While there’s part of me that wishes the action didn’t take over the story as much as it did, I can’t deny it was also tremendously fun, in large part because McManus brings so much life to these moments. And, of course, there’s the humor in this story, which is such a great fit for his art.
I don’t think anyone is going to walk away from ‘The Secret of Chesbro House’ disappointed. Even though I think it could’ve been better, there’s so much to love here. There’s a really creepy story here, but overall the focus is more on the action and the humor.
Final Verdict: 8 – ‘The Secret of Chesbro House’ is another solid entry for “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” It delivers all the promised action and humor, tied together with dark secrets.