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    Mignolaversity: “Hellboy Winter Special 2017”

    By and | January 25th, 2017
    Posted in Reviews | 5 Comments

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    The “Hellboy Winter Special” returns! It appears this is going to be an annual thing now, which seems pretty cool to us.

    Cover by Sebastián Fiumara
    Three weird tales show the world of Hellboy through the years, with Edward Grey appearing alongside Sarah Jewell, hero of the recent Rise of the Black Flame series in 1890s London. In 1980s New England, Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman set out on a simple search for some missing kids and encounter a tormented spirit seeking to share its pain.

    And Paul Grist (Kane, Jack Staff) joins the team for a 1950s Hellboy story providing a glimpse of the next new title to debut in the Mignolaverse.

    Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
    Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    Mark Tweedale: This story sort of spins out of two recent miniseries: “Witchfinder: City of the Dead,” set in 1882, following Sir Edward Grey early in his career; and “Rise of the Black Flame,” set in 1923, which featured Sarah Jewell, who had one been a member of the Silver Lantern Club based in Whitechapel, London. “The Great Blizzard” is set between the two, in 1891, two years after Sir Edward quit his work as an agent for Queen Victoria and set up in Whitechapel as a paranormal investigator. So we’re seeing Sarah and Sir Edward when they’ve only been working together for a short while, maybe a year or two.

    I say all this because this is what the story is really all about. “Rise of the Black Flame” may have established Sarah and her relationship to the Silver Lantern Club and ‘Eddie,’ but here’s where we get our first look at that relationship up close and get a sense of the kind of rapport the two had. There is, of course, a supernatural element to the story, but for the most part it’s more interested in opening up a window to an aspect of the Hellboy Universe that’s been talked about before, but never really been seen.

    The Sir Edward in “The Great Blizzard” is now in his thirties and a decade older than the one we saw in “City of the Dead,” and he’s changed quite considerably in that time. 1882 Edward was uptight and always serious, whereas 1891 Edward is capable of smiling and has learned to trust his instincts. Where he would have once been the first to dismiss legends as bunkum, he’s now the one who says that legends often have a basis in fact.

    I’ve long been fond of Sir Edward, and the period of his life as a part of the Silver Lantern Club is the most fascinating to me (with the exception of the period after his ‘death’ when he becomes an immortal sorcerer), so I’m going to have a pretty heavy bias towards this story. This was certainly my favorite of the three in this year’s “Winter Special.”

    Christopher Mitten, whose work I continually praised throughout “Rise of the Black Flame” returns as the artist for this story, and yet again I was very impressed. I particularly liked the way the first and last pages are framed against a snowy sky. It was just a very neat way to bookend the story, and it shows the kind of thought Mitten puts in his layouts.

    Overall, this story is essentially a teaser for future stories with Sir Edward, Sarah Jewell, and the Silver Lantern Club. I doubt we’ll be getting more any time soon, especially since the “Witchfinder” series is still in the middle of Sir Edward’s career as an agent for the Queen, but it’s nice to know the creative team behind the books has an interest in this era and its characters.

    Verdict: 8.0

    Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
    Illustrated by Paul Grist
    Colored by Bill Crabtree
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    Mark: This one is probably the story most fans are interested in, as it’s a teaser for the upcoming miniseries “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed.” I like this kind of marketing decision, to do a shorter story to promote a larger one. The best ones always make the reader ask a question about the upcoming story, which is a great way to build interest.

    Continued below

    This is a little more than a teaser for “The Visitor” though, as it’s also kind of a “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” story too, though jumping forward to 1961. Actually, it’s probably more the latter than the former, as the focus is really on Hellboy and his fellow agents.

    This portion of the interview is a little spoilery. You may want to jump ahead a couple of paragraphs.

    If any of you were wondering what happened to Victor Koestler, the little kid from “1954: The Unreasoning Beast,” this story delves into that. The boy grew up to become a B.P.R.D. agent, though by 1961 he’s still young and has much to learn. “The Unreasoning Beast” was a story I really enjoyed, so this moment with Vic was the highlight of the story for me.

    The main purpose of this story though is to introduce the idea that Professor Bruttenholm bumped into the Visitor back in 1944. So this isn’t really a prequel to “The Visitor,” but it certainly sets up the story for those new to the idea of an alien watching over Hellboy’s life.

    OK, spoilers over.

    For me there was a bit of a downside for this story, and it’s sort of a larger problem since the “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” era has so many different artists working on it: the human characters lack a certain amount of immediacy. No matter who the artist is, Hellboy is always immediately recognizable as Hellboy, but the the human characters can be harder to pick. In this particular case, Susan Xiang (a personal favorite of mine) was featured in the story, but I didn’t realize it was her until someone mentioned her name. Part of this is because we’ve jumped forward from 1954 to 1961 and she’s changed her hairstyle, but even considering that, she’s suddenly got more prominent lips, her facial shape has changed… there’s little there to latch on to.

    I’ve had the same problem with the way Archie Muraro (who doesn’t appear in this story) has been drawn in the past too, where his facial shape and figure change drastically from artist to artist. To a certain extent this is unavoidable due to different artists’ styles, but it’s still something I’d like to see tightened up.

    The other thing that bothered me here was the coloring. And honestly, I feel like this is a slightly unfair criticism. Bill Crabtree did the coloring for “God Rest Ye Merry,” and will be doing it for “The Visitor” as well, but I’m so used to seeing Dave Stewart’s coloring in the Hellboy Universe. Maybe I’ll like it better in “The Visitor,” but in an anthology like this, where the story is sandwiched in between two stories colored by Dave Stewart, all I can see are the differences, especially where colors form a gradient from one to the other—they struck me as too flat.

    As a whole, this was a fun story, though a little light. It was nice getting a glimpse of the Bureau agents in the ’60s. This was a tidy way draw attention to the aspects of the Hellboy Universe that’ll no doubt play a role in “The Visitor.” I’m looking forward to seeing Paul Grist delving into something more meaty.

    Verdict: 7.0

    Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
    Illustrated by Sebastián Fiumara
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    Brian Salvatore: Sometimes a creative shift on a book or character is a really good thing: it allows new perspective, gives a fresh voice, and pushes the characters into uncharted territory.

    And then there is John Arcudi leaving “B.P.R.D.”

    Scott Allie certainly isn’t a stranger to writing these characters – especially Abe – but their dialogue is incredibly wooden and stilted under Allie’s pen. Granted, this is a good 15 or so years before we regularly see Liz, Abe, and Hellboy together, so their dynamic is not going to be as developed or easy as it will be in the 90’s, but that’s only part of the problem. Allie seems to confuse dragging out dialogue over multiple panels/pages (almost always using an ellipsis) is the best way to disseminate information, and thinks that half-answers are clever and fun to read.

    Continued below

    It is unfair to compare him to Arcudi – Arcudi is a 20+ year veteran and Allie is an editor by trade – but Allie leaves all the joy, humor, and tenderness on the shelf for this story. The story, though sad, is ultimately a happy one – they find the girls, alive, and stop the witch/monster that has been hurting them. But you would never know that from the script.

    Pairing Allie with his “Abe Sapien” compatriot Sebastián Fiumara is wise, as Fiumara is adept at taking Allie’s decompressed storytelling and reducing the boredom by surrounding it with beautiful and terrifying imagery. Fiumara milks all the emotion he can out of Jen’s face – this girl is terrified of the creature, scared for her life, and devastated at the prospect of losing her sister. She doesn’t get calmer as she talks through things, the way adults often do, she melts down more and more. It is a heartbreaking sequence, and Fiumara gives it a beautiful weight.

    He also manages to draw the creature’s various forms – tree, woodland creature – and make each horrific enough to scare a child, but also mystical enough to entice the child in before terrifying it. Fiumara makes an interesting choice to never show Hellboy actually laying hands on the creature; we see him leaping for it, and we see his result, but we never see him actually bring his fist upon it. We do see him punch a tree in half, though, and that’s always a welcome sight.

    For what this is, it works: a small story, reuniting the three pillars of the heart of the Bureau. But I’m genuinely concerned that with Mignola not scripting these stories and Arcudi’s departure, that the hollow, dialogue-heavy stories we’ve seen from Allie and Roberson will be the new normal in the Mignolaverse.

    Verdict: 6.2 – Fine for what it is, but it’s not much.

    Final Verdict: 7.06 – A mixed bag, but a generally enjoyable special issue.

    //TAGS | Mignolaversity

    Brian Salvatore

    Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


    Mark Tweedale

    Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.


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