We get to see a very different side of the alien visitor in this issue. This miniseries just got a lot more interesting…
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Paul Grist
Colored by Bill Crabtree
Lettered by Clem Robins
Explore one of the strangest mysteries of the Hellboy world…
The visitor continues to monitor Hellboy from afar while attempting to navigate American society as an alien in the 1960s.
Brian: Well Mark, it’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these, and it’s good to be back!
“The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed” is in line with a lot of what we’ve seen since Hellboy died—replacing his current day tales have been a series of stories set at various points in his past. Both of the first two issues use the titular Visitor as a lens through which we can see Hellboy’s actions, and that appears to be the ‘point’ of the miniseries. Before I get into my thoughts on the issue, did your enjoyment of this issue differ much from your thoughts on the first?
Mark: It did. I was in two minds about the first issue. I enjoyed the original material, but when it crossed over into past “Hellboy” stories, it didn’t work for me. “The Visitor” works best when it’s doing its own thing… which is what this issue does. We get a real sense of his life here, and for me that made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the series. The story becomes much more interesting and Paul Grist is suddenly freer—I really felt he was uncomfortably confined in the final pages of the first issue.
When the Visitor is watching Hellboy that’s when the story is at its weakest, but that’s only three page of this story. The rest is wholly new. But before we talk about this issue, I’d like to talk about the last, and hear what you thought of it.
Brian: You and I are in aligned on how we felt about the first issue, more or less. I’m a big fan of Grist’s work, and I think, when given the chance to not have to ape someone else’s work—he does a really nice job here. I’d be all about this series just to get a look at his artwork, if we’re being honest.
But, and again, I’m trying to give him a chance here, but I haven’t fully enjoyed an issue of the Mignolaverse that Chris Roberson has co-written thus far. I feel that John Arcudi was a master of giving an artist a script that let them do more than half the heavy lifting of telling the actual story. Roberson’s scripts are not that way; they are so incredibly verbose that they make the reading experience far more of a slog than an Arcudi-penned book.
Luckily, that was kept to a minimum here, but I felt that the verbosity was replaced by what you talked about, in regards to showing past events without really adding anything else to the story. Part of that is that the Visitor is so stoic and quiet for most of his time on page, that Roberson is forced to somewhat limit the dialog. But I did feel that, overall, the issue was slight, and lacked the spark, for lack of better term that most great Mignola books have.
Mark: Personally, I found the overall structure redundant. We have a story that begins with an alien sent to kill Hellboy, and he starts to… but stops. And at the end of the issue, the alien again attempts to kill Hellboy… but stops. The issue was bookended by the same moment. Both moments need to be addressed, because they’re both major pieces of the “Hellboy” mythology, but I think it was a case where the story was on rails and couldn’t really divert from the course.
This issue gets to forge its own path, and it was a breath of fresh air. I’m going to drop a spoiler warning here, because it’s impossible to talk about more than the first handful of pages without saying too much.Continued below
The first and most important thing for me is that this issue is actually interested in the Visitor as a person. He even gets a name, Michael Mathers (an M.M. just like Mike Mignola). I loved seeing his home life and how domestic it was. It kind of reminded me of when I first started reading “Hellboy”. The B.P.R.D. would send Hellboy on a job and he’d show up and be like, ‘Hey, I’m Hellboy. I’ve been sent to fix your haunted sink,’ and people were like, ‘Ah, glad you’re here. It’s in the kitchen.’ No one ever went ‘Holy shit, you’re some kinda demon thing!’ which is what you’d expect. Instead, Hellboy was treated like a plumber.
And Michael Mathers is treated like a guy with an office job that occasionally travels for work. He comes home, kisses his wife, and asks how her day was. Suddenly “The Visitor” clicked with me and I really liked it.
Brian: Like you, the domesticity of Michael’s home life really stuck with me this issue. There is something really sweet about the interactions between he and Ruby, and how at ease they are with each other. Again, the script is a little on the nose with the town boys making an issue of Ruby’s race, but the idea of two outsiders finding comfort in each other is a trope as old as time itself.
I also liked the misdirect—or, at least I was misdirected—when Michael returned home, and was in his alien form. I expected Ruby to scream, either because Michael hasn’t been totally honest with her, or perhaps it was one of his fellow aliens looking to collect him. But no, she was cool as a cucumber, essentially telling him to stop making her life difficult, and get his shit together. It was great; that scene, to me, did more for the series than any other thus far.
Mark: Yeah, that was my favorite scene too. And Grist’s work really shines with this sort of material. Ruby’s only shown in a few scenes, but he brings her to life instantly. And tonally, she’s very different from the rest of the story, so there’s a spark whenever she’s on the page. It’s rather fitting when we have Michael talking about how there’s a spark in humanity, and he clearly sees it in Ruby, and it’s a spark he fears has faded from his own people.
Plus, Ruby makes Michael more interesting. Looking back, I think I would have rather skipped the scene with Hellboy killing the dragon from issue #1, and instead had it told in flashback through a conversation with Ruby. After all, Michael is someone that saw something in Hellboy, a monster, and likewise Ruby saw something human in Michael, an alien. It could have been an opportunity to deepen the relationship and attack the scene from a more personal level, doing something new with the scene.
Aside from the opening scene in issue #1, I kind of wish the series started with this issue. It’s just much, much stronger.
Brian: Agreed, this issue felt like it was telling a new story, instead of simply rehashing what we’ve seen before.
One of my favorite things about the Mignolaverse is the ability for artists to drop in from vastly different styles and somehow, they just slide into the aesthetic so completely. Grist’s work is nothing like the other Mignolaverse mainstays—maybe he’s closest to Mignola himself, in terms of his minimalist approach—and he doesn’t even Dave Stewart to add his signature touches to the book. Yet Grist and Crabtree make the book feel apiece with other Mignolaverse stories while still feeling like its own thing.
In that way, it almost reminds me of “B.P.R.D.: Vampire,” where the Bá/Moon twins took on their little corner of the Mignolaverse and made it their own. This character, though drawn by three artists before Grist, now solely belongs to him.
Mark: I’m glad you made that “Vampire” comparison. “The Visitor” is certainly very similar in that regard. As soon as Grist had new material to work with, he made this book his own.
And the same is true for Bill Crabtree. The previous issue didn’t have enough for him to stake a claim to the material—it was perpetually stuck in Dave Stewart’s shadow. Here, there’s no such problem, and in fact the differences between his approach to coloring and Stewart’s makes the story stronger, especially with the domestic scenes. We’re seeing a corner of the Hellboy Universe we’ve genuinely never seen before and having the colors feel a little alien and yet so welcoming works wonders for “The Visitor.” The art came together beautifully.Continued below
Brian: Agreed on all counts.
So, the one scene I wanted to really get into with you was when Michael stops the Ogdru Hem summoning. You’re the more astute Mignolaverse student—have we seen something like this before? It feels familiar to me, but I’m having a hard time placing it.
Mark: We’ve seen a lot of scenes like this over the years, some going back as far as the era of Gall Dennar and the T’shethuan shamans. These people are summoning disembodied Ogdru Hem spirits, but they never succeed at getting to the point of fully bringing them back. This is actually part of a prophecy. After the fall of Hyperborea, it was said that Sadu-Hem would be the first to awaken and begin the end of the world, an event that happens in “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction” set in May 1994.
That hasn’t stopped people from trying to stir the Ogdru Hem, something which becomes more and more frequent after Hellboy is summoned to Earth in 1944. And apparently Michael is a big part of the reason people failed to wake the Ogdru Hem or give form to the Ogdru spirits.
I found this to be a good way connect Michael to a major part of the Hellboy Universe mythology, while still carving out a corner that’s just for him. He is so much more than just a Hellboy observer, and it highlights how alone he is.
Brian: Yeah, I agree. I actually think that this satisfies one of the issues that I have with these sort of ‘fill in the blank’ stories that we get sometimes. Take the “Star Wars” ongoing from Marvel—because it is set between two distinct and well known films, there’s only so much you can put in there, and there’s only so much that can happen to the characters before it seems like it hurts the narrative.
So, to have Michael be this hidden observer, who has helped out over the years in this significant, but understated way, is a good way to give the story some heft, without trying too hard to make Michael all of a sudden the linchpin to the entire Hellboy mythos.
Mark: Yeah, I didn’t need to know more about an alien watching Hellboy and seeing his humanity. The scene in “Hellboy: Conqueror Worm” is so evocative, that’s all you need. This issue of “The Visitor” steps out of “Hellboy’s” shadow. But it doesn’t come out of left field either. There’s a precedent for everything that’s happening, only now this aspect of the Hellboy Universe takes on a personal level. I cannot overstate how important it is that these additions are driven by character.
And Grist emphasizes this with such understated elegance. There’s this technique be uses throughout the series where he replaces the background with solid black, so that all there is in the panel is the character. It’s such a powerful way to set Michael apart and make the reader feel his story.
Brian: Grist’s work really hammers home the idea that this is a story about outsiders. There’s a loneliness and longing to his work that alienates (pardon the pun) the central character from the world around him, which works incredibly well here. Michael, Hellboy, Ruby—each is a part of the world, but none feel truly at home in it.
When Grist’s work highlights their humanity and isolation, I love it. When Roberson makes random people on the bus insult a homeless person to show their lack of empathy, it rings hollow. I’m really trying to be open minded about the post-Arcudi era, but the scripts have all left a lot to be desired.
Mark: I’m having less of a problem with the transition, though I’m still finding it rocky. I do find myself bothered by the tendency to over-explain. The people on the bus insulting a homeless person didn’t bother me (I find public transport has a habit of bringing out an ugly side of people). There’s a bluntness to it though. I wish there was more suggestion in Roberson’s scripts.
That said, this issue was pretty smooth for me. And moments like Ruby returning home to find Michael without his disguise and talking in his alien language were executed so well, especially the way the page turn was used. I don’t know if the sound effect ‘smek’ was written in the script, but whoever was responsible for that touch, well done. My usual script concerns were either simply not present this time or in a mild form. Plus the issue ended with a scene that ticked a lot of boxes for me.Continued below
Brian: Yeah, I agree that this was one of Roberson’s better issues thus far, but I agree with your assessment of his need to over-explain things. To me, that bus scene was just the least creative way to express that exact sentiment, especially because the next scene does it so much better.
Anything else to add before we grade this?
Mark: No, I think that’s it for me. I loved this issue of “The Visitor.” Though it wasn’t without flaws, the high points were considerably high. I’m giving it an 8.
Brian: I’ll go a tad lower, and say 7.5, but that’s no slag on the issue—this was a solid installment, and I’m looking forward to #3.
Final verdict: 7.75. A marked improvement over the first issue. It finds a way to remain connected to the rest of the Hellboy Universe without being beholden to it.