Mike Mignola teams up with veteran Mignolaverse artist Christopher Mitten, along with new colorist Brennan Wagner and letterer Clem Robins, for a spooky new miniseries that takes Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. into the woods of New Hampshire in 1975. Some Spoilers Ahead!
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Colored by Brennan Wagner
Lettered by Clem Robins
A small town in New Hampshire that has been plagued by disappearances is shaken when a local discovers a pile of corpses that date back decades, and Hellboy and B.P.R.D. Agent Kinsley arrive on the scene only to be overwhelmed by supernatural theories for the ritualistic killings.
Hellboy and Agent Kinsley become acquainted with the crime scene and the local law enforcement that called them in to look things over. The site is a mass grave surrounded by religious symbols and occult sigils, none of which have any link to each other. As more bodies are uncovered it comes to light that the deaths range from 1925 to 1974, just the year prior. Due to the bizarre nature of the symbolic graffiti and the time frame of the murders, a myriad theories are coming from all angles. The police are open to the murders being of a supernatural nature, which is what prompted them to call the B.P.R.D., but the use of random symbols would point to a person or persons using them to throw the police off their trail.
The further the investigation goes the more everyone learns about the killings, but the new information only opens up new paths to explore. About twenty years into the killings, the killer(s) started cracking open the victims’s chest cavities and removing the heart, leaving all other organs intact and in decent shape. Hellboy and Agent Kinsley are feeling the strain of the case as they have no clear leads and with each new horrifying discovery they are sent back to square one. They throw around the possibility of demons, witchcraft, cults, vampires, werewolves, and even an undiscovered species… like Bigfoot. Getting a new case that Hellboy and crew can’t figure out within twenty-eight pages is an absolute delight. As great as the long line of one-shots and miniseries are, layered mysteries were usually kept to the main titles and were usually connected to the greater story arcs. The additional characters are quite welcome here. The chemistry between Hellboy and Kinsley is one of clear professional respect with a friendship at the core. It feels like a forerunner to the relationship eventually shared between HB and Liz, but without that sense of shoehorned fan service. It is all natural and this series will benefit from new characters we can love and relate to.
Woven throughout this growing mystery is a B plot showing thirteen-year-old Liz Sherman’s early days staying at the Bureau in the care of Prof. Bruttenholm, who is trying to look after her the best he can, but his impossibly busy schedule makes it difficult for him to give her the dedicated attention and discussion she is looking for. The greater Mignolaverse has explored Liz’s backstory in enough detail to give long-time readers everything we need to completely understand her character. However, it has been a rarity to get a plot of teen Liz being angry and screaming for attention. There have been glimpses of this time in her life and, while readers know and understand Liz’s story, it is nice to see this added into a new story. It gives us enough to be intrigued, but does not delve deep as the focus is the giant murder pit. It is a nice aside to the main plot, but it is a little jarring jumping from the main plot to this unexpectedly.
With the main “B.P.R.D.” and “Hellboy” story coming to a close earlier this year in “The Devil You Know,” fans expected to get more stories jumping back in time as has been the norm for “Hellboy.” With ‘Saturn Returns’ Mike Mignola and Scott Allie are given some room to breathe, spacing this story out over three issues rather than just a quick one-shot. As Mignola no longer needs to focus on the bigger picture when it comes to Hellboy, this first issue already has a sense of a simpler clarity. It is still playing with a deep enough mystery to keep things incredibly interesting, which makes this premiere a standout amongst the miniseries and one-shots, and already one of the highlights of the “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” stories.Continued below
Longtime Mignolaverse illustrator Christopher Mitten is back serving up gorgeously detailed environments for our beloved characters to play in. He knows this world and these characters, and is able to draw us into the story just as well as any of the bizarre and disturbing details that Mignola and Allie throw at us. This is a universe that has always had some of the best visual storytellers within its ranks and Mitten is no different. His skill for conveying the plot through his art is such that you could remove all speech bubbles from this issue and the premise would still be completely understandable. As with all great comics, the writing and the art should work as narrative handshake; working in tandem to tell us the story in the best way possible. If I had to be critical of any aspect of his work, it would be my dislike for his take on Hellboy’s face, but that is just personal preference.
Paired with colorist Brennan Wagner (“The Shadow: Year One”), the artwork side of this book is really beautiful. Right from the start he fully creates New Hampshire in October. Autumn leaves are abundant, gloomy gray skies loom overhead with just a few beams of sunlight pushing through to give faintly brighter glimpses at the horrors below. He keeps up with the highly detailed environments like the wooded outdoor areas or the building in which the local police are housing and studying the bodies. His coloring choices keep this issue firmly within the Mignolaverse while still allowing him to stay true to his own style. His palette for the environments feels akin to much of Dave Stewart’s work, while his characters are brighter in tone, stepping outside of the typical look throughout the various series.
There is so much to like in this issue. It is wonderful to get back to the simpler days of the world’s greatest occult detective with this premiere. There are plenty of riddles without it all tying back to some huge plot for the end of the world. And sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from the grand mythology. The webbing of clues spread out more like a broken window than one perfectly spun by a spider. Threads lead nowhere and everywhere, our heroes are just as lost as we are, and it is more refreshing than frustrating when it comes to plotting this out. It is a pleasure to watch Hellboy and Kinsley, with the help of the cops and FBI Agent Oates work this out and kick ideas back and forth. While the main story is the better part of the issue, the quick portions with Liz are well done even if at first they seem out of place. This is the kind of short story “Hellboy” fans have come to love over the years.
Final Verdict: 8.5, An icky and brain twisting start to this fun mid-70s era detective story that will keep readers sufficiently creeped out and invested in what’s to come.