Chris Roberson and Christopher Mitten team up for a second time to bring us another tale from the early days of the Hellboy Universe with “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon.”
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
A conspiracy involving the Third Reich and a dead member of a sinister secret society sets Professor Bruttenholm on his first mission—to find the man who’d soon bring Hellboy to earth.
The mad Russian sorcerer Rasputin had been thought dead since 1916, when a group of noblemen sought to end his influence over the tsar. Now Rasputin works with the most twisted members of Hitler’s inner circle, and he’s about to cross paths with the man who’ll go on to found the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.
Mark Tweedale: I love Chris Roberson and Christopher Mitten’s previous book together, “The Rise of the Black Flame,” so I was really looking forward to yet another stand-alone one-shot miniseries from them. That and Scott Allie used to drop a lot of hints that we’d be seeing a lot more of World War II eventually. So it’s a book that was already promising a lot, but as it turns out, I got more than I bargained for.
Obviously there are connections to “Hellboy” (after all, Rasputin was a major part of the series’s early years) and “B.P.R.D.” (Trevor Bruttenholm’s the main character), but that’s just the tip of this iceberg. Chris, what were your expectations going into this book?
Christopher Lewis: First and foremost I expected a story called “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon,” to be about Rasputin. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to see the first issue focused heavily on Trevor Bruttenholm and what appears to his first professional occult adventure.
Mark: The Hellboy News update column has ruined me in this regard. I cannot be unaware of the solicitations, so I knew this one was a Bruttenholm story going in.
Chris: I am not going to go into spoiler territory yet, but as a Hellboy mythology/history nerd this book has so many things going for it. Early days of World War II, Rasputin, and pre-B.P.R.D. Bruttenholm… What more could you want?
If that wasn’t exciting enough, Christopher Mitten and Dave Stewart set the mood perfectly giving an amazing feel for 1940s England.
Mark: Mike and I rambled a lot about the way Mitten and Stewart worked together as a team during our “Rise of the Black Flame” reviews, and if this first issue is anything to go by, we’re going to have a lot to say about “Rasputin.” Right away, looking at this I can’t help but be impressed by the way Stewart defines locations, especially as they relate to each other in time. Eras are color coded, even going so far as to use the same color schemes for certain eras that were used in “The Rise of the Black Flame.”
Given how much this narrative is tangled up with the past, Stewart’s work makes the flashback material so easy to navigate. It may sound overly complex, but this sort of attention to visual continuity works to simplify the story for the reader on a subconscious level.
Chris: I also loved how Mitten and Stewart portrayed Bruttenholm here. When looking at him I really felt the essence of a novice paranormal investigator. His facial expressions and eyes always looked like he was searching for answers, and there was a softness to him that showed a type of youthful innocence. This is not the confident and wise man that we have become accustomed to, so Mitten’s depiction really enhanced the vibe of the book.
Mark: Yeah, he’s only 23 in this story, so they really pushed his youthfulness.
Chris: Looking at the writing, Roberson did something unique here by presenting the story from the third-person perspective of Bruttenholm as the story takes place in 1941, as well as from a first-person narrator (who I assume is also the Professor) reading “from the unpublished memoirs of Professor Trevor Bruttenholm” in past tense. I am not typically a fan of narration in comics as writers tend to use it as a crutch, but in this case it complimented the story well making for a more intimate atmosphere in the narrative.Continued below
One minor criticism though, there were a couple times where the narration was used to unnecessarily connect characters/events from the current story to people/events from prior Hellboy/B.P.R.D. stories. When this occurred I felt that it’s only purpose was to give exposition to the reader about the greater Hellboy Universe, instead of being used to enhance a scene. A good example of this was the part where the narrator talked about the loss of Bruttenholm and Harry Middleton’s good friend Bill Connolly during one of their first adventures (told in “Hellboy and B.P.R.D.: 1953—The Kelpie”). This statement had nothing to do with what was going on in the story, and was only used to show Bruttenholm’s history with Middleton. Based on the art and content of the story, it was pretty obvious that Bruttenholm and Middleton were good friends, so this part of the narration came off as overkill to me.
Mark: I have to agree. Sometimes it told too much, but it cuts both ways too. It was used to cut out a lot of unnecessary setup and cut straight to the point. Considering how much groundwork is involved in setting up a world where so few characters are familiar and the historical context is important, the narration allowed this issue to cut a lot of corners. That said, I’m hoping the narration pulls back a bit in later issues.
OK, it’s getting tricky to dance around spoilers, so here’s your spoiler warning.
Let’s talk about Uncle Simon for a moment. This is a character that was spoken about quite a bit in Hellboy: The Companion, but in the comics there’ve only been a handful of references to him, and nothing you could call substantial. In The Companion, Uncle Simon is said to have nurtured Trevor’s interest in the paranormal. Simon knew Sir Edward Grey and told Trevor stories about him. So because of that, I always kind of hoped that we’d eventually find out Simon was one of the paranormal investigators in the Silver Lantern Club.
For me, it was very gratifying to finally meet Simon after hearing about him for so long. What was especially rewarding is that he wasn’t just a lesser Sir Edward. Simon is his own person and his approach is different. His attitude towards the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra is certainly refreshing, and it’s not hard to see how a mere two years later Bruttenholm would become involved with a branch of the H.B.R., the Osiris Club, when he goes off to hunt giants (see “Hellboy: The Wild Hunt”).
Chris: I have also wondered what Uncle Simon would be like and was happy to see Roberson and Mitten present him like an old recluse surrounded by the artifacts and books he has accumulated over the years. This is exactly how I would expect an old man from the turn of the century who has seen a lot of paranormal shit to be like. Also, Simon being fearful of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra really worked with his demeanor as he shouted for Bruttenholm to stop investigating the H.B.R. It is not often that a tenured ally of our heroes tells them to stop investigating, and I know the warning will not stop Bruttenholm. Overall, I found this first impression of Uncle Simon to be a very satisfying.
The time period from the 1880s through to the 1940s has always held a shadow of mystery as we only know a rough timeline of the events that occurred then. That being said, this era has always been a favorite of mine, so I am glad that Roberson is exploring it and hope to see more of these types of stories in the future. Also, based on what you said, I might need to go reread The Companion, as I think it will enhance my reading experience of this series going forward.
Mark: I’ve a real weakness for anything related to the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, so this one has me hook, line, and sinker. Also, I can’t help but hope these Sir Edward references mean another “Witchfinder” book isn’t far off.
I’m giving this one a 7.5. There’s an over-reliance on narration, but most of the time it works well to propel the story. “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon” reunites a creative team whose work I love, and already I’m intrigued by this new mystery.Continued below
Chris: This was a great first issue of the series and I am excited for more. Christopher Mitten and Dave Stewart’s art works perfectly for a story in this time period, and Roberson really captured the essence of what I expected Uncle Simon and a novice Bruttenholm to be like. The only drawback here was Roberson’s over use of narration at times, which I really hope slows down in future issues. All in all, I am going to give this issue a 7.75.
Final verdict: 7.6 – The team behind “The Rise of the Black Flame” dive into an era of the Hellboy Universe seldom explored, but rich with possibility. “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon” will please both long-term and new readers alike.