“Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Seven Wives Club” reunites Mike Mignola and Adam Hughes for a Georgian ghost story. It also reunites Hellboy and Agent Raskin, who we last saw working together in the 2005 short story ‘The Ghoul.’ Fair warning, in the latter half of the review we go deep into spoiler territory.
Written by Mike Mignola
Illustrated by Adam Hughes
Lettered by Clem Robins
The team behind the Eisner Award-winning one-shot Hellboy: Krampusnacht spins a new ghostly yarn! Hellboy comes to the aid of a young girl whose ghost hunt goes wrong, and a visit to an abandoned medical school reveals sinister layers to a grisly, long-ago murder. Stolen cadavers, vengeful spirits, and more abound in this one-shot.
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola reunites with fan-favorite artist Adam Hughes for a spirit-fueled scream fest sure to excite old and new fans alike!
Mark Tweedale: When “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” was first announced, it was meant to be a series that could jump around in time anywhere from December 1944 (Hellboy’s arrival on Earth) all the way to May 1994 (the Cavendish Incident from “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction”). At first the series focused on an ongoing narrative in the 1950s, but for the last two years we’ve really seen this original concept come to life, with stories jumping all around the timeline. ‘The Seven Wives Club’ wanders closer to the boundary than any “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” story before it, set in 1992 in Georgia.
James Dowling: Yeah! I feel like this period for Hellboy just before ‘Seed of Destruction’ is a really compelling one. It is probably him at his most confident seeing as he seems to think he has seen pretty everything, but hasn’t quite had Rasputin turn his world upside down yet. That definitely translates in this book seeing as Hellboy is consistently worried for the safety of Jane Howell and Pauline Raskin more than himself, it’s a good slice of time for the character.
Mark: Yes, it’s the last of the good old days before Hellboy’s destiny got too big to ignore. I can’t help but compare this story to ‘The Return of Effie Kolb,’ just because it too had Hellboy in that role where he has a duty of care. Periodically, Mignola likes to remind us that this is something Hellboy is really good at; he’s good with kids and he’s an empathetic character. These reminders matter, especially when this is an aspect of the character that gets lost in translation to film. “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” stories are meant to be accessible to new readers, and some of those readers are bound to have only ever seen Hellboy as he is in the film, so having moments that showcase these qualities of Hellboy are important.
James: Yeah, Mignola does a really good job of bringing that sense of empathy to Hellboy as a working class hero. He has also rarely looked as good as he does under Hughes’s eye. I think some of his human characters end up a bit plastic-y but our starring hellspawn looks remarkable. On top of that the walls of cobweb and macarbe Rennaisance-style paintings give the setting such a distinctive feel in line with some of Mignola’s best locations like ‘The Chapel of Moloch.’
I think there is a disparity within Hughes’s inks and colors in that the shading on characters can feel weirdly rendered while the environmental lighting is so sharp. But the fact that Hughes is coloring himself and still manages to keep pace with the usual and prolific ‘Hellboy’ colorist, Dave Stewart, is remarkable. He has that same penchant for storytelling through color theory, and even carries visual cues like Stewart’s lime green of the supernatural into his work. Letterer Clem Robins also establishes a great dialogue with Hughes’s art, contrasting the colors of his sound effects with the primary-color drenched palette of Hughes’s work, at times it doesn’t quite stick the landing but it’s beautifully distinctive.
Mark: I think before we go any further, I need to drop a spoiler warning here, because we need to talk about the villain of the piece and that final conflict.Continued below
There’s a moment early on in the issue, with the bang of a gun punctuating a scene, but in the letters there’s the grin of the villain, Walter Wakeman. It was a ghoulish touch I really appreciated.
James: I think the aforementioned empathy of Hellboy felt especially evident when compared to the apathetic and narcissistic foil of Wakeman, our monster of the month. He’s probably one of the most malignantly malicious undead characters we’ve seen in any of the Hellboy short stories. Hughes brought a lot to that portrayal as well, portraying the very faint and shadowed merged figure of Tommy/Wakeman with the boldly spectral ghosts of the Seven Wives.
I think this really culminates in the conclusion of the book where Hughes’s confident pacing and tone setting allows Wakeman to just emerge as this super daunting enemy. It’s that powerful presence he has that makes his death just so cathartic. Wakeman holding his heart in his hands is such a great set up for a soft, Shakespearean death, so then having Hellboy absolutely turn him to paste is a great double-take, it really allows the book to explode out of the tension it set up for itself.
Mark: Visually, the Wakeman stuff is my favorite part of the issue. Mignola has long been drawing anatomy mannequins and dissected cadavers as part of his atmosphere in his stories (and not just in “Hellboy” either), but they’re rarely more than just a part of the mood or the location. To take Wakeman’s dissected corpse and turn it into the central force of the story was really satisfying to see. But this is where Hughes really shines too, because a gruesome corpse would be easy to disassociate from the version of Wakeman we saw earlier in the issue, but Hughes left just enough of his face so that you can’t unsee the human aspect of him.
There’s a panel near the end, with all the sinew of Wakeman’s cheek exposed, but the skin on his lip is still there, sporting that distinctive little moustache. Having these two elements in the same frame was electric for me, both expressing the character in vividly different ways.
James: Yeah, this book brought something creepily anatomical to its body horror that I liked. The corpse of Wakeman studded with the ‘hearts’ of the Seven Wives definitely reminded me of ‘The Prisoner of Mars’ from “The Amazing Screw-On Head.” Speaking of, I really liked our titular villains in terms of portrayal (the motive was a bit light for me). In terms of action, it’s fun that they can just torch Hellboy alive, and visually I liked the messaging in how they are reduced to skeletons compared to the mangled flesh of Wakeman, which is still trying to hold onto some kind of composure.
The other great driving force here were the second set of Seven Wives, the nurses at Holy Sisters of the Marne, who really reminded me of the misguided vet students from the French horror film Raw. There is just something resonant in the contrast between flesh and soul in terms of corruption, which is highlighted beautifully in the dissection scenes. Adam Hughes also gives one of them a pitch perfect Kubrick stare which sets up so much mindset for a predominantly voiceless set of characters.
Mark: I’d literally just rewatched The Shining before I read this, so that was an element that really jumped out to me. Before we wrap up, I want to take a moment to discuss Jane Howell. ‘The Seven Wives Club’ sets her up as someone Hellboy already knows from the beginning. As is often the case with “Hellboy,” there could be nothing more to it than that, or later there could be a story about it. Normally, I wouldn’t give much thought speculating about something like this, but given that in ‘The Return of Effie Kolb’ Mignola set up the Linton School for Girls, which he clearly means to do something with in the future, I can’t help but wonder if Jane may wind up connected to that story thread.
I particularly wonder about this since Adam Hughes is known for drawing women, and if we ever see more than a one-shot from him, he seems like a good pick to draw a miniseries exploring the Linton School for Girls.
James: Yeah, I think my biggest criticism of this issue was how, despite the interesting house of horror set-up, the actual overarching plot wasn’t super compelling for me. It felt like it bounced from a damsel in distress opening to a haunted-house/hubris-of-man story that we have seen before in the Hellboy Universe. So I think tying this all into a wider non-1950s “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” plotline would be a great move that could give this book more legs.
As it stands, ‘The Seven Wives Club’ doesn’t really have much to say about Hellboy as a character, and isn’t really pushing the envelope for Raskin beyond just saying she wasn’t always a desk jockey. I would absolutely love to see Howell and the Linton School for Girls hit an Adam Hughes collision course though. It feels like we’re set to see the next big change in direction for the Mignolaverse and that could be a good part of it.
Mark: While the story does stress that Raskin wasn’t always a desk jockey, it does show us one more element of her character—she’s cool under pressure and she’s unflinching in the face of horror. This casts what we learn about Raskin in “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth—The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell” in a new light, where we discover that she left field work to focus on training new agents. I’d been under the impression she’d left field work after a rough case. And maybe that’s not how it happened, but if it did, it must’ve been one hell of a rough case if she was as collected as she is here in ‘The Seven Wives Club.’ What gets someone as good at field work as she clearly is out of the field?
James: Yeah, the “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” stories have been amazing at spotlighting different agents from throughout the Bureau’s history and giving them identifiably remarkable characterizations.
Mark: I feel like this confrontation with the dissected corpse is something Mignola’s been wanting to put into a story for a while, so it feels like the primary driving force here. The bits that work best are mostly related to that. True, the motivations of the ghosts aren’t really explored much, but then that’s part of the gag in the wrap-up. Sometimes the Bureau never figures these things out, and when ghosts are involved that seems to be the case more often than usual. This was an all-round solid story for me, so I’m giving it an 8. I’ve already read it three times, so that’s a good sign, even if I’m struggling to articulate what’s driving these rereads.
James: Yeah, I think for me this is a story that took some peripheral parts of the Hellboy formula and gave them a new level of emphasis. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it shows a willingness to innovate on the series’s strengths. Both Mignola and Hughes are iterating on their work, in places that work still turns out pretty see-through, but I can already tell that parts of this book will stay stuck in my head for a while. I’d say it’s a 7/10 for me.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – While not as striking as “Hellboy: Krampusnacht,” “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Seven Wives Club” feels like a story that’s been bubbling and brewing in Mignola’s mind for a while now, and Hughes’s art seemingly relishes every macabre moment.