In “The Sword of Hyperborea” #3, we get a continuation of the sword’s narrative, while also giving us a complete tale with this issue’s lead. Throughout, writing and art are in perfect synchronization, showing how seamlessly this creative team works together. Read on for our full review below, but be warned, it contains spoilers throughout.
Written by Mike Mignola and Rob Williams
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
Colored by Quinton Winter
Lettered by Clem Robins
An expert diver is faced with the extreme dangers of the supernatural and the real when he’s forced to retrieve a mysterious artifact from a crashed zeppelin in the English Channel. How many second chances is one man allowed to have, even when wielding the sword of Hyperborea?
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola gives us a new tale from the world of Hellboy, cowritten by Rob Williams and featuring the art of Mignolaverse veteran Lawrence Campbell in an all-new series of Hellboy lore!
Mark Tweedale: One of the difficulties of writing a story like “The Sword of Hyperborea” is fitting it into an existing timeline and moving things around to the right locations. We saw this in issue #2, where before the story could even begin, it first had to address the movement of the blade from Urrasan where it was left at the end of issue #1 to 19th century London with the events of “Witchfinder: in the Service of Angels.” There was a certain amount of necessary recapping involved.
Also, by the very nature of the story, each issue of “The Sword of Hyperborea” has to introduce its unique time period and characters. That set-up is essential, but it can slow things down. However, issue #3 benefits from the work done in #2. The story picks up with the direct fallout from the events of #2, so there’s at least one character we already know, and we’re already familiar with everything relating to the zeppelin wreckage. . . the only real heavy lifting is in introducing the issue’s lead, Victor Olssen, and most of that is integrated into the journey into the depths of the ocean anyway.
In short, “The Sword of Hyperborea” #3 manages the natural drawbacks of its format deftly.
James Dowling: Yeah, I immediately found myself pulled into this narrative without getting frustrated by the set-up of its period setting like last issue. The main reason for that success here feels like Williams and Campbell’s ability to set up a tonal environment very quickly and throw the reader right in at the most engaging vignette.
We’re immediately made aware of Olssen’s ego, his sentimentality, and the inherent danger/burnout of his deep sea diving, all of which become increasingly more relevant traits as the titular sword gets involved.
Mark: This story left so much space to tell things visually. The descent into darkness visually tells us who Olssen is. And for a story that’s so focused on one character, Campbell’s art gives it a huge scale.
James: I love the spiderweb framing of that image.
But absolutely, this is a story concept with an in-built library of visual devices you can draw on, which immediately gives you something to anticipate, even before you know where the story is turning next.
Speaking of visual devices, I’d say it’s pretty inarguable that page 8 is the best of the book, drawing on the same concentric circles of the first issue. It really reaffirms that even as the more linear narrative of this series is coming into focus, the symbolist subplot is just as consequential. It matches the cover in terms of the perfect Mignola-esque use of fundamental shapes and composition.
Mark: I didn’t even need to look. You said “best page” and I knew exactly which one you had in mind. It has such a beautiful dreamlike quality.
So much of this issue hinges on atmosphere, I couldn’t help but notice how much Quinton Winter is doing on this. It’s more than just color—so much is about scale. Everything in the fog, especially once the overhead plane is introduced, feels so large. But when you look at how little is drawn in the panel, it’s just a plane and a black ship shape.Continued below
But fog is fog. Anytime you obscure an object with fog, it puts depth into the image. The reason why I say it gives the scene scale is because Winter uses this in even the conversational panels. If a character is further back than another, there’s a subtle fog over them. This is where the scale comes from, by establishing it in even the smaller scenes so that we have contrast, so the distance in these larger panels feels bigger.
I even just like the way he’s added the watery surface on the deck there. It’s subtle, but it definitely adds to the feel of the location.
James: Winters absolutely defines this issue with his use of color and effects. The other main example of this I absolutely have to talk about is his use of gold in the book, and how it escalates perfectly alongside Olssen’s own conviction. From the start we regularly see the color popping up, with his own suit being a muddy copper/bronze color. Later we get very desaturated, amber colored flashback panels. By the time he enters Atlantis, the pages are practically lustrous with just how intense and decadent that gold color is. Even just aesthetically, it’s incredibly cool.
But the great emotional storytelling here is how it sort of ranks the obsessions in Olssen’s life. We know how committed to diving he is, but he’s also jaded, hence the worn-down suit. He cares about his family, but to him (and the reader) that past is all prologue, so it’s kind of petrified in this vague sepia past. It’s only when he starts running into the Vril crystal and the sword that we get unmuddied colors, and Atlantis, his new overwhelming obsession, is completely radiant.
Mark: Well, he dives to escape, and what he finds is all-encompassing. When he’s asked to fight, it gives him a way to drown out everything else. We get a double-page of him fighting the Nag-Urna, but we later find out that he was down there for years. Years of fighting all alone, which sounds terrible on paper, but when it’s taken away, he wants it back. It became his whole life’s meaning, drowning the person he was in mindless fighting.
We see the contrast at the end, where he’s still living in isolation, alone in his bar, but now drowning the person he was in alcohol. At least before he had purpose. He has this great moment where he was important, and yet it all happened away from his family. Olssen is isolated from start to finish, and sinking deeper and deeper as the story progresses.
Where Graf Ling de Gotha’s story was one of actualization, Victor Olssen’s is a story of utterly losing himself.
James: Yeah, it’s such a great tragic story in miniature, and while I’d love to see more of it as always, it didn’t feel as incomplete as some of issue #2 did.
Mark: While I need more of de Gotha, I’m content with Olssen’s story being done.
James: I liked the sort of anti-climax of this issue too, how the sword just burns him out. There’s no real defining character struggle, he just fights for years, stops, and loses the sword. I like how we see fate kind of folding around it, almost willing someone into taking it away and propelling it onto the reckoning we know is waiting in Chicago.
I was pretty amused with him fighting Lizard Men in Atlantis too, for a second I just had to step back and make sure I wasn’t reading an issue of “Department of Truth.” I guess Lizard Men are just at the center of the zeitgeist.
Mark: When he arrived in Atlantis, I was immediately like, “Wait, that’s not where Altantis is,” because we have a pretty good idea thanks to “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible Deep.” Then Rob Williams directly addressed that in the fight in the bar, which made me happy. I loved the angry, “I WAS TRANSPORTED TO ATLANTIS! DON’T YOU GET IT?” because I was thinking, “Yep, that makes sense,” while the two guys in the bar are looking at him like he’s a lunatic. It’s a great moment of balancing exposition and comedy, while showing us how far Olssen has fallen.Continued below
James: Yeah, it’s a really great moment and sort of shows how you can tailor a tragedy to the tragic figure. He’s a fairly light-hearted guy, he’s allowed to have a light-hearted downfall. One thing that also stuck out to me about the isolation of this story, is how it matches some of the best tropes of gothic literature. Where, even though it’s set during a period of historic shift, it’s cloistered away, and we see these great self-isolating protagonists influencing a quickly changing world from their own corner of it. Olssen has made this huge difference, but for someone so used to medals and records, there’s no way to ever prove it or claim it.
I did have some hiccups again with the start of this issue, where Olssen’s showdown with the Brotherhood drags a little, setting up more than it delivers. But it was all visually interesting enough for me to happily chug through in time for the dive.
Mark: The ‘setting up more than it delivered’ bit actually worked for me in a strange way, because it set up the expectation of more. It meant that when the sub appears and Moore’s boat sunk, I was genuinely not expecting it. Without the mislead, that sinking sequence wouldn’t have had as much impact for me. Visually, it also sets up the cigarette smoking man and gives him a wound so that when we jump ahead in time for issue #4, he’ll be immediately recognizable. It’s doing with him what issue #2 did for Henry Cyril Moore.
James: Yeah, I think it’s there to help string together these four very disparate stories, I just hope by the end of the series we’ll see the necessity of all this connective tissue, and it won’t feel like four entirely detached but visually symmetrical stories would have been more engaging.
Mark: I genuinely don’t know how this is going to end. I mean, in a way, whatever happens in issue #4, the story still continues on into Ted Howards taking up the sword. By the end of #4 it will be in the possession of the Knights of the Silver Star too. So how does that feel satisfying after de Gotha’s sacrifice to keep it from them? I’m genuinely curious to see what the creative team does here.
James: I think one of the only ways to paint yourself out of that corner is to play into the predetermination of the sword, say it has to go through all these hands and exact these tolls from each to end up exactly where it needs to be at Ragna Rok. But who knows! This story is masterful at zigging where you expect it to zag, so I’m just excited to see how Williams, Campbell and co. cap it off.
Mark: I almost wonder if they’ll address the fate of the sword beyond Ragna Rok.
James: That would be incredible, seeing as we’ve had very limited looks at any of the world outside of Hell after that time. For me issue #3 was a really strong visual and narrative encapsulation of this series’ quirks, and a few of its shortcomings, making itself incredibly memorable in the process. It’s an 8 for me.
Mark: Same. It’s an 8. I felt like it propelled the sword narrative forwards while giving us a very complete story with Olssen. I liked the picture with his family, with the boat behind called “Second Chance.” Narratively, it’s on the nose, but it’s efficient. What made it great though was the bit at the end with Olssen’s bar also being called “Second Chance.” I enjoy the irony of a second Second Chance.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “The Sword of Hyperborea” #3 is a beautifully rendered journey into the deep propelled by a masterful use of color. The issue, while restrained by some of the needs of the larger narrative, is an endearing look at obsession and isolation through the eyes of a fascinating new protagonist.