It’s the ’70s and the Visitor’s got a new cult to track down… or rather a new offspring of a very old cult.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Paul Grist
Colored by Bill Crabtree
Lettered by Clem Robins
The resurgence of a dangerous woman believed to have been killed long ago by the BPRD leads the visitor to a cults compound in the Southwest.
Forewarning, this is a pretty spoiler-heavy review, not just for “The Visitor,” but also for the end of “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth” and the “Abe Sapien” ongoing series.
Mark Tweedale: Back when “The Visitor” was first announced as a five-issue series, I thought it was pretty likely the series would be broken up with each issue covering roughly a decade of the Visitor’s stay on Earth. I mean, he was around for about 50 years, so it seemed the most direct way to handle it. And that’s pretty much how they decided to tackle this series. To a certain extent it means that each issue functions like a vignette, which when strung together give an overall sense of the life the Visitor has lived as Michael Mathers. It also means each issue has to stand alone much more than your usual miniseries.
For me, the first issue did this well in the first half, and not very well in the second half. The second issue did it very well. This latest issue though, it falls somewhere between the first and second for me. Overall I enjoyed it, but the further we get into “The Visitor,” the more I start to think the relatively linear approach to the story limits its impact. Brian, how did you find the third issue?
Brian: Well, one on hand, this is a perfectly enjoyable one-shot, dealing with the Visitor’s attempt to stop a specific cult. On the other, there wasn’t a ton in this issue that felt new or exciting, or even that built upon the mystery/story of the Ogdru Hem very much at all. While the issue had some well-done moments, I can’t help but feel that this is an incredibly slight issue, story wise.
Mark: I was really curious how much you’d get out of this, because there’s a lot of stuff in this issue that builds on the “Abe Sapien” ongoing series, and I don’t think you’re up to date with that yet. Did you recognize the statue in this issue?
Brian: I did not, no. But tell me: if I was caught up, would this issue have felt more significant?
Mark: Perhaps. The main narrative, maybe not so much, but there are some details that kind of augment the character work by giving it a larger context. “The Visitor” #3 has a lot of detail that doesn’t really seem crucial to the story unfolding here—it’s detail for detail’s sake.
The Zara-Hem statues are something we’ve seen more than a few times now. You probably remember they played a part in Hellboy’s mission to Brazil in “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952,” but they’ve also shown up in “Witchfinder” and in “Lobster Johnson.” And I expect we haven’t seen the last of these statues just yet. Hellboy’s due for another trip to Brazil before the end of the 1950s, and I won’t be surprised if he finds another Zara-Hem statue.
In the past we’ve had the occasional Ogdru-Hem that plays a larger role in the grand scheme of things. Sadu-Hem was the last Ogdru Hem to fall into slumber after the ruin of the Hyperborean empire, but it was also the first to fully awaken, serving as a harbinger for all that followed. Then it kicked off the plague of frog monsters. Likewise, the Conqueror Worm and Katha-Hem both played roles more significant than the usual Ogdru Hem. Considering the number of stories to focus on the Zara-Hem statues, I figure it is more than just another Ogdru Hem, but in what way yet I have no idea. No doubt this is actually the laying of groundwork for other stories to come.
But it was the stuff with Michael and the his long mission to tackle the Ogdru Hem spirits that had most of my interest. We spoke a little about this in the last issue, back when we thought this was a mission he’d taken on during his fifty-ish years on Earth since 1944, but it turns out he’s been doing this waaaaaaay longer. He’s been fighting Ogdru Hem spirits since the dawn of humanity.Continued below
And if the flashback sequences in this issue seemed familiar, it’s because they should be―he wasn’t the only one getting rid of Ogdru Hem spirits. Before the Hyperboreans ascended to Hyperberum, they taught a select few humans how to channel Vril using devices that seem like cruder versions of the Visitor’s device. These human protectors were the T’shethuan shamans and we’ve been seeing them more and more frequently lately, especially in “Abe Sapien” and “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth.” You would have seen Shonchin many times already—he played a major part in the defeat of the Black Flame in “End of Days.”
But it’s Shonchin’s companion that was the truly remarkable one. We haven’t been told what his name was when he was a shaman, but these days we know him as Abe Sapien.
In this issue we see the Visitor in the ancient past performing the same duties that Abe had once performed in his life as a T’shethuan shaman. The scenes are so similar, it’s difficult not to draw a comparison—especially since Abe and the Visitor share such a striking facial similarity. (Fans have long speculated that the aliens were actually ascended Hyperboreans, and this sequence gives more credibility to that theory than ever.) More importantly though, through the character of the Visitor, we are indirectly learning about the kind of life Abe Sapien once lived and, let’s face it, the kind of life that probably lies ahead for him in “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know.”
Plus, seeing the Visitor on Earth all those millennia ago adds extra weight to the ‘How and Why He Stayed’ part of this comic’s title. “The Visitor” isn’t just about why he stayed in 1944; it’s also about why he’s stayed in other times past. He feels a connection to humans that he doesn’t feel with his own kind.
So there’s a lot going on here. Does it give weight to the central conflict? Not so much, but I feel like it deepens the character of Michael Mathers.
Brian: I mean, sort of? I know I’m in the minority here, but I am far less interested in the history/mythological aspects of the Mignolaverse. It interests me, and is fun, but I would much, much rather see stories that are more character driven. That is why, to me, the absolute best Mignola stories are ones co-written with John Arcudi, as he has a knack for making each character feel significant. Sometimes, the mythology can seem like a chore, because I’m far more invested in the characters and personalities than I am the significance of each beast or tying together a perfect timeline.
That’s a big part of why I dropped off of “Abe Sapien” a few years ago; I felt that it was doing nothing for Abe, the character, and was doing much more for Abe, the concept. This is also my big fear about “The Devil You Know,” because Allie seems to love the mythology over the characters. And for some―maybe even for you―that’s a bigger part of your enjoyment. I’m not saying that’s a wrong or bad position; it simply isn’t mine.
Does that make sense?
Mark: It does, and you’re not alone. I don’t even think you’re in the minority there either.
Me, I like the context and bigger picture that you get from the mythology, but I’m a character guy first. And that’s part of the reason I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as the last. We spent more time learning about OHM stuff than we did learning about Michael Mathers.
I liked the scene at the beginning with him and Ruby, the way they’re so casual about what he does. And I liked his attitude when he deals with the Zara-Hem cult. I like that he has a certain detached quality, even though that’s something he doesn’t like about his fellow aliens.
These elements were all interesting, but there wasn’t enough of them to be satisfying. I think that’s why this issue felt slight.
Brian: I was amused by all the connections to Scientology implied in the structure of the institution. And yes, the stuff with Ruby was the most compelling in the issue. But ultimately, if the story is about the Visitor/Michael, what did this issue provide? And, even if the series is really about the overarching structure of the Mignolaverse, as you said, a lot of it is details for details’ sake.Continued below
Luckily, I am a huge fan of Paul Grist, and really enjoy his take on these characters. His work is much looser than a lot of the typical artists Mignola employs, and that looseness really helps with the storytelling. He and Mignola are very similar in that way, actually: a panel’s construction is all about advancing the story and setting a tone. While their styles are quite different, they are simpatico in that way.
How are you enjoying Grist’s art thus far?
Mark: Grist’s art is the best part of “The Visitor.” Like you said, his looseness helps with the storytelling. Some of the scenes in there are walls of dialog, but he makes it work. I was amazed at how much control of tone he seems to be able to muster with panel construction alone. Ana’s mad speech could have just been a speech, but he transformed it into the equivalent of an animal blustering, puffing itself up to make itself big and intimidating. It was really comical and over the top, especially when contrasted with Michael walking in with his hands in his pockets basically going, ‘Yeah, I get it and I’ve heard this all before. It’s not gonna work.’
In the hands of another artist, perhaps this scene would have been missing that, and for me that was the most interesting thing about it. Grist depicted this scene in a way that drew attention to the ridiculousness of the cult without the scene itself becoming ridiculous.
Did you have any more you wanted to add?
Brian: I suppose that’s as good a place to wrap this up as any. This is a 6.5 comic for me. What about you?
Mark: I’m going slightly higher with a 7. Like you said, this issue felt slight, but I certainly got a little more out of the mythology.
Final verdict: 6.75. While there is more than enough going on in terms of world building, the core plotline doesn’t have enough to it.