Feature: The Sword of Hyperborea #4 Reviews 

Mignolaversity: “The Sword of Hyperborea” #4

By and | April 13th, 2022
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

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“The Sword of Hyperborea” #4 brings the saga of the titular blade to a close with the story of Elijah Bone and his journey toward success in Chicago. The issue brings together familiar visual elements, familiar antagonists, and a familiar structure, for all the highs and lows that entails. It cements the series as a breeding ground for new ideas, but readers may be left looking for resolution.

Cover by Laurence Campbell
with Dave Stewart
Written by Mike Mignola and Rob Williams
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
Colored by Quinton Winter
Lettered by Clem Robins

The Sword of Hyperborea appears in the unlikely possession of an up-and-coming blues musician in Chicago, 1952. Even for a talented musician, Elijah Bone is a little different, and the strange voice that whispers to him has its own plans for him to fulfill. Delta blues, supernatural creatures, and secret societies collide in the conclusion of this Mignolaverse saga!

New Mignolaverse lore, written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola with collaborator Rob Williams, and featuring the art of Laurence Campbell with colors by Quinton Winter.

Mark Tweedale: I’m just going to drop a spoiler warning here—James and I are going to be diving into everything, including a detailed discussion about the final scene.

This issue introduces One-Leg Elijah Bone in Chicago 1952. So after all that whispering, the sword is finally in the city it’s supposed to be in. And he’s also got a voice in his head. There’s a lot to this character that’s implied or left at the edges—like Graf Ling de Gotha, I feel like there’s so much more to him.

However, with de Gotha, it’s easy to imagine her having all kinds of adventures and paranormal encounters. It’s so built-in to her character. Elijah, not so much. Even though he too has been touched by the paranormal, his life mostly takes place in the natural world. I mean, when he goes to rescue Margaret, he goes with his guitar as his weapon—that’s all he’s got.

And that’s how I feel about this issue in general—like there’s more to explore, but no obvious way to tell a new story that circles back to these points to explore them further. How about you, James?

James Dowling: Yeah, I think Elijah is a surprisingly passive protagonist, especially given that this is the culmination of the whole series. I found the dynamic between him and his ‘demon’ really fascinating though because of that. It reminded me a lot of Anand Rk and Ram V’s “Blue in Green,” which also features a jazz musician haunted by the demon of accomplishment. It’s a great use of allegory for how we approach success when it means compromising on certain values, that said, this issue doesn’t give a strong backing in terms of motivation for that accomplishment other than his need to get away from home and succeed for the sake of success.

Mark: I enjoyed the way that played with our expectations. It is introduced as the voice of a demon in his head, so I read his lines in light of that. But at the end, when the wolf spirit calls Elijah “Gall Dennar,” we suddenly realise who has been guiding him. It’s not a demon at all. And that changes not just this issue but everything, because suddenly Dennar’s story doesn’t end when he dies at the end of issue #1. His spirit has been lingering, and I believe it lingers still even in the final pages.

I can see why Elijah would be haunted by visions of the end of the world, since he’s pretty much seeing Gall Dennar’s nightmares.

James: Yeah, it definitely ties a bow around that opening issue, I think I read a bit more apathy there on the part of the wolf spirit though. Maybe I’m just not reading as closely, but I thought that it refers to him as Gall mainly due to this idea that all the wielders of the Sword are the same prop for it. The spirit will happily haunt Elijah and promise him success, or throw away Olssen after years of service, because they’re all just Gall to it.

Continued below

Mark: It’s certainly left very vague and open to interpretation.

James: Either way, I think those ideas can co-exist. That all those who use the Sword grow beyond their natural consciousness, and yet are still treated as vehicles for a mercurial objective.

Mark: For me, issue #1 shapes a lot of my interpretation of what’s going on here. Both Ted Howards and Gall Dennar died not knowing that what they had done had changed the world. And in issue #4, the way Gall’s nightmares become Elijah’s, I feel like that hangs on him heavily, long after death. But it’s the final pages that really make it for me, as we push out from a frog person’s eye. Why an eye? I really feel like that final scene isn’t just showing us a random fight in the future; I think it is telling us that this moment is seen. I think it gives Gall an answer to his question in the first issue.

And it’s not just Gall either. It’s Ted Howards, it’s the Hyperborean warrior, maybe it’s de Gotha too. All the souls that have become entangled with the blade. We aren’t given anything concrete though—maybe that’s just my wishful thinking.

James: I think I left this issue a lot more frustrated than you actually. That idea of holistic objective through the Sword is a great centerpiece, but it always felt fairly implicit across these four issues. For me the epilogue section did a good job of tying the story off with similar imagery, but the narrative of it was underwhelming. There’s nothing subverting what we’ve seen, just the same narrative device filling the same old role in a new world.

To a certain degree, it felt like this story wasn’t made to be a conclusion in any way other than it was the simple chronological end of these last three introductory stories. Even the Brotherhood of Ra story feels like it peters out simply because Elijah has so little rapport or history with the group and the story has to lean on a ‘damsel in distress’ moment just to inject some emotion. His connection to the sword is portrayed creatively, but the reveal of its influence on him is so retroactive that it falls flat, at least for me. If I’m feeling cynical this narrative only felt like a culmination because the story had told us that Chicago was important before, not because of any real narrative proof.

Mark: My read on it was that the sword didn’t have an influence on him. It was all Gall, no sword. When he takes up the sword in the final few pages, that’s the first time the sword has any interaction with him and in the process reunites Gall’s spirit with the sword. And I felt like that was portrayed visually through the way Elijah fights once he takes up the sword—he doesn’t just fight like de Gotha or Olssen, he uses Gall’s iconic moves hurtling the sword through the air.

James: Yeah that’s a great read on it, we’ve seen how this overwhelming influence can twist people into a shell of themselves, so it’s a really interesting read to have Gall as a lingering spirit. I also like the mention of how he fights, since we see him refer to the guitar as his ‘only weapon,’ but in the end it ends up acting as a shield.

Mark: But at the same time, this is another issue that felt too short, like issue #2. Your point about the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, that’s certainly true. We needed more pages so that it didn’t feel like such a hard right turn.

And, of course, there’s the Vril crystal, which we’ve been wondering about for months now. I haven’t spoken about it much in these reviews, because other than it being called a “Vril crystal,” we have nothing really to go on here. We’ve never really seen anything like it (except perhaps in “Frankenstein Underground”) and then suddenly it’s smashed and the HBR dies.

But Elijah is alive. And I suspect whatever the Vril power that was in the crystal has found a new life in him.

Continued below

Where de Gotha’s story was her final chapter, we might be seeing Elijah’s first chapter. I think we’ll see him show up in “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” sooner or later.

James: Yeah, I’d just be grateful to see that series pick up any of these narratives we’ve seen, especially if it led to some of the Sword users interacting. This issue did sort of prove my problem with the previous two issues being too short, like you mentioned. After issue one, each story basically acts like the first in a series, where the main objective is establishing an interesting or likeable character, rather than an engaging world or objective necessarily. But the problem is that there’s no promise of a follow up there so we’re left with a staggered story that actually trips up these incredibly engaging leads without there being a runway for future stories that can better carry momentum.

It’s frustrating to me because this is all in service of the Sword’s narrative and the overarching fight against hopelessness which it embodies, except at the end of this issue we literally see it go back on the shelf. It just feels like the epitome of an interquel, where the sanctity of continuity inadvertently sits above all else.

Mark: I feel like the sword had jobs to do. Like, maybe the Hyperborean warrior has died knowing that the evil dwelling in Atlantis had to be dealt with, so the sword needs to leave the possession of the Heliopic Brother of Ra (thanks to de Gotha) and end up in Olssen’s hands. But it’s one of those things where the yo-yoing of it being in the HBR’s possession, then out of it, the back into it, then briefly taken down from a shelf only to be put right back onto it, does muddy things a bit.

For me, I recognise that panel of the sword on the shelf from “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth—The Abyss of Time,” so emotionally putting it back on the shelf feels like it being placed into Ted Howards’s hand. But it’s definitely not going to feel like that for everyone. New readers won’t have any emotional connection there. And readers with a distant memory of ‘The Abyss of Time,’ even if they know why it has to go back on the shelf, aren’t going to have the emotional component. And that is exactly the sort of problems interquels struggle with all the time. It’s very difficult to connect the dots without repeating other stories, but if you don’t repeat those moments, then you run the risk of something feeling like just a thing that happens.

Personally, I’m mostly satisfied here. There’s a part of me though that wishes I could’ve had two issues with each character though instead of one.

James: Yeah, to its credit “The Sword of Hyperborea” is an interquel that has the chance to book-end itself, which keeps the story from ever feeling incomplete. The problems only come from a lack of interrogating the great concepts it sets up for itself.

Mark: I wanted to take a bit to focus on the art. We spoke about the reoccurring circle motif in the first issue, and I loved that the final page brings this back, completing the circle. For me, the sword frame in the circle took it to another level and gave me a rush of emotion.

There’s no dialogue in this scene, but Campbell’s composition tells us what we need to know about what’s going on here beyond just “frog person picks up a sword and fights a monster.”

James: Yeah it’s a really strong image that hammers home the fact that strong symbolism is the core objective for this story. Image above all. I think it’s pretty easy to assume I hated this issue from what I’ve said so far, which isn’t really true. Everything in this issue was really well put together on a technical level, the frustration comes from when that technical achievement fails to fulfill the wider story up to this point. I think the art here encompasses that at points.

This story has such a strong visual language; the contrast between heavy reds and cold blues, the use of surrealist cityscapes and the balance between dense environments and foggy negative space is really pleasing. I really loved how deftly this was all set up in the opening, like the use of shadowing to have Elijah appear to be bleeding from the knees, it’s evocative color mixed with really well framed art.

Continued below

Mark: Oh, yeah, having all the reds associated with the end of the world was a nice touch, especially when Elijah himself is wearing a red suit so that no matter what, in every single scene, you can feel him carrying the end of the world with him. That’s strong emotionally-motivated and story-motivated coloring.

James: However, the problem is that it rarely feels like what we’ve had before. We don’t get any of that great radiant gold coloring we saw from Winters in earlier issues, and Campbell’s circle imagery doesn’t reappear until the end. It’s just frustrating to end on such a visually engaging, yet disparate, style when we’re looking for something that can encapsulate everything prior.

Mark: I can’t say I feel the same way there, because there’s a threshold in this story where Elijah crosses from one world to the other, and so I felt like those elements were held back so everything could rush in when the threshold was crossed. That moment, stepping from one world to another, was one of my favorite visuals in the issue.

James: Oh yeah it’s a strong visual moment, and I think the image above even feels authentic for the era, bringing in the nascent surrealist patterns and images just starting to flourish as soul and blues music took over. (There’s a great conversation to be had as well about how this story alludes to the appropriation of that music too.) I think it just suffers from similar pitfalls that previous issues had, so much was held back for the latter half of each issue that you leave feeling like the story had only just taken off as it ends.

Though I felt at points that for a story centered on music, Williams style could feel a degree too static. But that’s probably more of a personal preference. Portraying sound in comics is always a touchy topic.

Mark: I thought it was an interesting choice to portray the music entirely silently. It invites us to entirely read into it. So at the first performance, when the audience is waiting for Elijah to play, I read into it. The music had a power over the audience because of Elijah’s demon at work. On a second read through, I knew there was nothing supernatural about Elijah’s music. It is his own talent, and Gall is actually just pushing him on.

It read very differently the second time around, and it makes me aware of Gall’s presence there as a silent observer. Does showing the music another way change that? I honestly don’t know. Like you say, sound in comics is a touchy topic, and I think with music even moreso. I’d be interested to hear how other readers interpret this scene.

James: Yeah, it definitely takes the most freeform approach to the content, which makes it just as easy to dismiss it as it is to draw a deep well of meaning there, it comes down to the observer. You could almost argue that about the issue as a whole, it has a far more passive style of presentation. We haven’t seen another issue as minimalistically oriented as this since issue #1, this just takes a risk by doing it without the creative context readers could bring to the familiar story of that first issue.

Mark: I love reading visuals, so in this regard, the issue was playing into my biases. For example, this whole issue leads Elijah to the sword, and so in the first panel that we see him, he’s walking along a road shaped like the sword’s blade.

This sort of panel composition blurs the line between writer and artist so much. I’m continually impressed with the way Williams and Campbell play off of each other.

James: It’s saying so much with so little. It really feels like Campbell has an acute knowledge of all the symbols at his disposal and Williams is more than ready to incorporate that thematically.

Mark: I must say, after I finished this issue, I didn’t just go back and think about it and the three that preceded it, I also thought a lot about “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know.” Part of that is simply because of that ending with the frog people fighting the monster; there was the sense that some things never change.

Continued below

Except that they do. Throughout the years of reading Hellboy, we’ve seen so many Ogdru Hem show up, then die. . . except that they don’t really die, because their power stems from the Ogdru Jahad. So they become Ogdru spirits only to be reborn into new bodies. Ogdru Hem were this immortal, ever-present dread. But that’s no longer the case. The power of the Ogdru Jahad was taken by the Osiris Club, so the Ogdru Hem became mortal. So later, when Hellboy tells Liz “Do it” and she burns the world, she destroys all the Ogdru Hem permanently. And the Ogdru Jahad’s power? That ended up in Hellboy and he used it to remake the world. It’s fitting, considering that power originated at the dawn of creation and it was always meant to make the world, but Anum snatched it from the heavens and made the Odgru Jahad instead.

The whole thing is circular, and because of the circular motif throughout this story, it’s impossible for me not to connect all those elements together. The frog people with the sword at the end has this extra hit now, because whatever monsters are left, Gall Dennar’s life and Ted Howards’s life left them all they need to deal with it.

So, yes, some things remain the same. There are always more monsters to fight, but in this context I can’t help but feel hopeful about the new world. It completes the circle. It is what it was always meant to be.

James: “Sword of Hyperborea,” alongside “Acheron,” does really feel like the first glimpse into the new world and storytelling principles of the Hellboy Universe post-“Devil You Know.” There is a huge degree of narrative urgency lifted, since that circle has been closed, but it gets to be a little more creatively loose to compensate. We get these mediations that really feel like artistic culminations, victory laps for the most influential artists of the Hellboy Universe (which Ben Stenbeck will hopefully get too with “Koschei the Deathless in Hell”).

Mark: (YES. I can’t wait for “Koschei the Deathless in Hell.”)

James: I do wonder if this all could have been closer to the forefront if they chose Gall Dennar and the New World narratives as the two core narratives, with the character intros as short interludes, but at that point I’m assessing this story for what I wish it was rather than what it is, which is never fair.

Mark: In many ways, “The Sword of Hyperborea” feels like a tease. . . but then I have to remember that it is a tease by design. This is Rob Williams’s first story in the Hellboy Universe, and it’s clear that he’s setting up characters and plotlines he intends to use in future stories. He’s already working on more. So, yeah, I need more Graf Ling de Gotha (and the Hellboy Book Club podcast fervently agrees), I’d like to see more of Elijah Bone. I’m giving this an 8. The visual storytelling in this issue is fantastic. And I’m sure I’ve missed things too, so I look forward to reading and hearing what others have to say about it. Rather than feeling unsatisfied with any element here, I feel enticed.

Bring on more!

James: I think I’m either more impatient than you, or just am less forgiving, but this was a frustrating conclusion for me, despite the obvious creative prowess of its creators. “The Sword of Hyperborea” #4 is a 6 for me, it falters in the areas that were already low points for the series, despite being uniquely eclectic. If you aren’t already itching for more of this story it has every possibility of leaving you alienated.

Final Verdict: 7 – Your mileage may vary here. In many ways, “The Sword of Hyperborea” struggles with being an interquel. It begins in the end of one story and ends in the middle of another; it’s reliant on elements outside of the story for emotional beats to land; it gives a taste of characters, but withholds a satisfying bite. But there’s also so much to dig into here, and it taps into the communal aspect of the Hellboy Universe. This is a story that’s meant to be talked about with other readers and open up possibilities.


//TAGS | Mignolaversity

James Dowling

James Dowling is probably the last person on Earth who enjoyed the film Real Steel. He has other weird opinions about Hellboy, CHVRCHES, Squirrel Girl and the disappearance of Harold Holt. Follow him @James_Dow1ing on Twitter if you want to argue about Hugh Jackman's best film to date.

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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.

EMAIL | ARTICLES


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