After a three month wait, we get “The British Paranormal Society: Time Out of Mind” #4, the conclusion to Simon and Honora’s Noxton adventures—but it’s an ending that also opens up a Pandora’s box of new questions.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Andrea Mutti
Colored by Lee Loughridge
Lettered by Clem Robins
Simon and Honora discover first-hand the otherworldly nature of Noxtons standing stones and their tragic history. As they unravel the mystery, a local secret bred from otherworldly influence giving way to misguided faith—and the horror it’s resulted in—becomes clear.
Longtime Hellboy writer Chris Roberson brings you the final chapter of the new Mignolaverse series, featuring acclaimed artist Andrea Mutti, and colors by Lee Loughridge.
Kate Kosturski: Well, Mark, this finale has been a long time coming. If I am right, it’s been three months since issue #3, which ended with us wondering what has a hold on Simon and Honora. And just when it seemed one mystery was solved, the stones end up laid in place for another. (Pun intended.)
Was there enough closure with the Noxton story for you? Did it perhaps feel anticlimactic? Or is there a larger lesson within it on the fallibility of man, and man’s attempts to play God, to control phenomena that cannot be controlled? I ended up looking up a lot of Christian scripture after I read this issue over as a result, attempting to find some parallels there.
Mark Tweedale: The three-month wait between issues certainly affected my experience of this final issue. The first three issues set up this terrible cult around the fallen angel, “the Grey Man.” And it was playing into a lot of familiar iconography from other Hellboy Universe tales. The sacrificial stone was very reminiscent of stones we’ve seen in other stories where people were sacrificed in worship of Ogdru Hem spirits. With enough blood spilt in their worship, those spirits can regain physical form and slip from the cracks between worlds into our own world again.
As for a fallen angel, it could have been any one of a dozen different terrible things. Top of the list worst though is an actual fallen angel, either a Watcher or one of the other Greater Spirits—so we’re talking about something that could potentially be as bad as Lucifer himself.
Kate: This brings up an interesting question to this still fairly rookie Hellboy reader: how much Christian symbolism/Christian iconography comes into play in Hellboy stories? And how subtle (or not) is it when it appears?
Mark: I could easily write an essay about that! In the Hellboy Universe, most religions have fragments that are true. For example, the story of Adam and Eve and their temptation by the serpent is a retelling of the fall of Hyperborea, where King Thoth is Adam, Hecate is Eve, and the Fruit of Knowledge is a pair of Watchers that Thoth kept in his private garden, which were consumed by Hecate and then vomited up and their blood used to write the secret knowledge of the universe on the walls of a Hyperborean temple. (This led Thoth to curse Hecate into her half-snake form, thus making her the serpent in the tale too.) The iconography of the tale of Adam and Eve is often used as a way to indicate those primal forces that led to the fall of Hyperborea are in play in a scene.
But you can also say the same of the Zimbabwean story of Makoma, where the dragon Makoma fights is the Ogdru Jahad and Makoma’s hammer is the Right Hand of Doom. Usually, when these stories are evoked, it’s through the lens of the culture Hellboy is in, so in a British village in 1910, it’s through the lens of Christianity and Anglo-Saxon paganism.
On top of that, the comic is also a reflection of the culture it exists in, so you might see Christian references used as metaphor at times, but no more than I expect you’d see in the average American film. In the “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible” cycle, a cross is often shown behind Abe as he searches for his past. You can read into what that might mean through a Christian lens, but it’s also pretty explicitly referencing two events from Abe’s past, one involving a church and the other involving a crucifixion, which have a monumental effect on him and both represent aspects of himself he is not acknowledging. I think when people read this universe too heavily through a Christian lens they can often miss the forest for the trees though.Continued below
Kate: That last sentence is good advice for myself as I explore this universe more, so thank you.
Mark: As I mentioned before, the previous three issues had elements that could’ve been linked to another number of major horrors—the fallen angel, the sacrificial stone, possibly Ogdru Hem—and then issue #3 ended with that reveal of the aliens, and everything we know is turned on its head. Every time we’ve seen those aliens, going all the way back to “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction,” they have been in the service of good, working against the Ogdru Hem. How could they be at the center of a murderous cult?
Then I had three months to think on that. And before reading #4, I did a reread of the previous three again, and I found that they read better knowing what the twist was. The story gains subtlety and becomes even more compelling.
Kate: I may also have to reread this series as well, to see now if I can pick up on those subtleties.
As a new reader, it certainly was a left turn I did not expect, and it did almost feel like the easy way out, if you will. I had a feeling that the introduction of aliens was not something by chance: if there is one thing I have learned reading Mignola books, it is that they are an exercise in the concept of Chekhov’s gun. It was that thought, and Simon and Honora’s conversation in the final pages, that didn’t leave me feeling too cheated.
But if I wasn’t looking for those, I could see myself being annoyed that in the end, it was really just aliens.
Mark: I think there’s also an element of the importance of things changing as you gain context. I remember when reading issue #3 for the first time, I found the final sequence really awkward when Honora and Simon charge into the group of cultists and somehow everyone just stands around and lets them talk. But the second time around, going straight into issue #4, it made a lot more sense. Of course the cultists aren’t fighting them. From their point of view, it makes more sense to just wait them out. Let them stand in the right spot and then go “divinely insane.” From their point of view, nothing changes whether they interfere or not.
However, it does highlight how reviewing a story like this issue by issue can work against it at times. If I’d reviewed issue #3, that scene probably would’ve hurt its overall grade. But with the complete story, that scene helps sell the ending, and it’s part of the reason it works for me.
Kate: This gives me the idea of rereading some of these series in collected trade, and reconvening for a Part II of sorts to see if our feelings change based on the format.
Mark: I can definitely see how people may find the ending anti-climactic, but I didn’t. ‘Time Out of Mind’ is only the first story in a series, and that central stone feels like a tease for something much bigger to come. It’s truly the key to everything. In those first three issues, the weirdest thing about the story was there were all these warning signs connecting the cult to some of the most powerful elements of the Hellboy Universe, and yet this cult had been operating for countless centuries without summoning an Ogdru Hem. Considering the forces at play, the cult was obscenely tame. But now that we know what the central stone is, that it was used as a weapon to fight an Ogdru spirit, that it likely has some power to channel Vril or extinguish Shakti, it becomes clear that this stone was the one thing stopping this cult from becoming something so much worse.
But, yes, I can see how after a three-month wait, ending the story by talking down the cult is probably going to annoy some readers. I’m also curious how a new reader might parse issue #4. If you’re not very familiar with the Hellboy Universe, is this ending an extreme change in direction? I can’t imagine the alien thing will mean much to someone that doesn’t have at least a little familiarity with them and their history.Continued below
Kate: I didn’t find it too much of an extreme change in direction just for the reason you described: my own lack of context. Now that I know this is a change from previous understanding of the motivations and nature of the aliens, it does color my interpretation of the final issue differently, and highlight—as you said—the central stone’s significance to this story and stories that will come next.
As a fan of the show Outlander which also has its own stone circle with its own mystic powers, I thought a lot about the parallels between these mysteries, and how characters in each of those worlds end up affected differently.
What I also found interesting was Simon and Honora’s discussion back at Oxford, around the idea that Lowell was a “sensitive.” A more modern term for that would be empath. And knowing that tells us Simon and Honora can disconnect themselves from the psychic/spiritual phenomena that they study. But will that be their downfall eventually?
Mark: That’s always been their weakness going right back to the first story they appeared in. They can be so interested in the science at play that they can overlook the human element. Sarah Jewell was always good at bringing the human aspect back to their attention, but now they’re on their own. That said, I think we can see how they’ve grown since the 1880s in this ending, as Simon and Honora recognize the misunderstandings of the Noxton folk. I feel like past Simon and Honora would’ve been more focused on flinging accusations, but they’re able to talk down the cult precisely because they acknowledge the human aspect while the cult’s priest tries to quash it. This makes all the difference and sways the Noxton folk to their argument.
Kate: I agree that Simon and Honora did a fine job taking down the cult leaders, and the villagers. That reveal could have turned very ugly very quickly, but they had the rational thinking to defuse the situation.
But leaning hard into science, swinging too far to that side of the pendulum, can have dangerous implications, just as it was for Lowell being a sensitive. When you go too far to one side, you forget the other. Focusing on the science takes out that there is a human element at play in all of this, and you can make conclusions and decisions that turn out not to be in the best of human interests in the end.
There’s also something I think about when I think about the name they had for the fallen angel: the Grey Man. I was curious to see if this ghost also existed in our real-world lore, and it does! There is a legend similar to the Grey Man in Scotland called Am Fear Liath Mòr, and those who sighted this Grey Man had similar reactions to that of Lowell.
With that in mind, and the final conversation between Simon and Honora, I think the Grey Man will be making a return appearance to this world sooner rather than later.
Mark: It also plays off the Green Man, which would be the more conventional pagan figure in contrast to Noxton’s more obscure Grey Man. This is part of the reason I enjoy listening to podcasts exploring the Hellboy Universe. People respond and write in with all these extra details. It really makes you appreciate the world building that goes into it. And it can make you see things you didn’t realize were there.
On that note, I have to point out something that had been right under my nose that ‘Time Out of Mind’ brought to my attention and switched on a lightbulb. All this time, I’ve assumed the aliens were interstellar aliens, but the memory in this story of the Ogdru spirit tearing a hole in space, and a stone fired through that hole landing on prehistoric Earth suddenly made me realize they’re interdimensional aliens—they are from an Earth in a parallel universe. (Suddenly the aliens referring to Earth as “the Core World” back in ‘Seed of Destruction’ makes so much more sense.) So this connects them to stories like “B.P.R.D.: 1948” where the Project Enkeladite tests blasted a hole through to another dimension, and to “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth—The Broken Equation,” where Japanese scientists were able to pull a creature from another universe into our own.Continued below
And considering that in the Occult Cold War plotline of “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.,” Susan Xiang is having visions that involve Enkeladite and the alien Michael Mathers, I think it’s very likely Chris Roberson is laying groundwork for something connected to all of this in his upcoming 1960s stories. Perhaps the Bureau may pay a visit to Noxton in future?
Kate: Indeed, I don’t think we’re done with Noxton quite yet. While it looks like the cult died out with the pullback of the curtain revealing just what it was, all it takes is one who still believes for it to live on.
The beauty of this story is how it serves fans on so many levels. For someone like me, who has a casual but growing interest in Hellboy, it’s a well-executed adventure story. For someone like you, well versed in the lore, you not only have that adventure story, but you have layers upon layers of these subtleties.
Mark: I must say, “The British Paranormal Society” surprised me. Given that it’s set in a largely unexplored era with leads that are relatively unknown, I assumed this series would very much be its own thing for a while. This even extends into the artwork, where colorist Lee Loughridge isn’t trying to make the book look like the usual Hellboy Universe style. I wasn’t expecting it to tap into the deep lore, but I’ve enjoyed that this last issue has given me something to ponder over.
Speaking of the art, you can really feel Andrea Mutti cutting loose here. After drawing so much of Noxton, he seems to be having a lot of fun drawing prehistoric Earth and aliens in a parallel universe and everything else here. These are visions that have driven people mad, so it’s great to see these pushed so dramatically. Loughridge makes sure to use palettes in this sequence we haven’t seen in the story before too, which immediately transports us to another place.
Kate: I agree with you on Mutti cutting loose. He fits in well with the Hellboy art style, but doesn’t constrain his own style either throughout this series. But the real star for me throughout this entire series has been Lee Loughridge’s colors. He uses desaturation so well to create an uneasy sense of peace, and when she shifts tone and intensity, such as in issue #3, it blazes forth beautifully. And the two work together so well, playing off of each other to enhance the themes and tone of the script.
All this said, Mark, shall we grade this issue?
Mark: I’m going with a 7.5 for the issue, with the caveat that ‘Time Out of Mind’ reads better all together.
Kate: I will also go with 7.5. The artwork is great, with a compelling script that brings things for old and new Mignolaverse fans alike. But a story like this is best appreciated when read in trade or single issues closer together, and the three month break between issues #3 and #4 may not have done anyone any favors.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – While “The British Paranormal Society: Time Out of Mind” may have started of as a rather peripheral story for the Hellboy Universe, in this last issue it shows how much more there is really going on, which will probably end up making it a good story to revisit a few years from now.