This latest issue of “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed” shows the alien visitor at his most human.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Paul Grist
Colored by Bill Crabtree
Lettered by Clem Robins
The visitor alerts the BPRD as increasing numbers of Ogdru Hem attack, and the challenges of being an alien on Earth take a toll.
Mark Tweedale: Throughout “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed,” I found it at its most interesting when it strays from Hellboy, and even from the big mythology stuff, and instead focuses on the smaller and more intimate moments of the alien visitor’s stay on Earth. So this issue, which focuses on the life he has built for himself as Michael Mathers proved to be my favorite issue in the miniseries so far. I guess some would find this issue a little small in its scope, but I found it a very rewarding read.
Brian Salvatore: I couldn’t agree more. This issue was a tender look at love and growing old, and while we got a few little interludes from Hellboy, Abe, and Liz, it was really about Ruby and Michael, and it was a beautiful and heartbreaking story. This is the single issue with the most nuance in the Mignolaverse since John Arcudi left.
Mark: I’m going to go ahead and drop a spoiler warning. This is an issue where everything serves the ending, so it’s impossible to unpack this issue without the context of how it ends. First up, I have to mention how well the art and writing go together in this issue, especially the way the volume of text in a given panel is reflected in the detail of the art. It creates very strong moments of punctuation in the story. Take this moment from the opening page. Michael comes home, chatting about his day. Notice that in each panel, the background behind the speech balloons are busy… except for the last panel. In this panel, Michael says a single one word, ‘Ruby,’ and it’s such a tiny speech balloon, punctuated by empty space all around it.
This sort of visual enhances what Roberson was already doing with the writing and it continues throughout the rest of the issue, with space and negative space always used to accent a pause, a silence, or an empty feeling.
Brian: There was a nice little subtle bit of storytelling in place here, too, or perhaps this is just me projecting my own feelings onto the book. The times we see Abe, Liz, and Hellboy together are, what I consider, ‘the good times’ they had together. These are the days that they would miss later in the run. This is before their world started falling apart, but literally and figuratively. That’s juxtaposed with Michael watching Ruby slip away, as he looks fondly back on their time together. Again, maybe that’s just my perception of the early ’90s as the ‘good old days’ for the Bureau gang.
Mark: I hadn’t considered that, but now that you mention it, I absolutely agree. My reading of it was more about Michael unwillingly letting go. In prior issues, he simply decided again and again that Hellboy wasn’t ready. Since then, nothing has changed for Hellboy, and yet Michael steps back and lets him handle things because Ruby has become more important. And his journal entries reflect this too, which had started off as strictly mission reports, but over time have been slipping in more personal details. In this issue, it slips altogether into Michael’s outlet, his coping mechanism for what’s happening.
And he needs that, because he doesn’t really have Ruby as his support anymore. He’s her support instead, even to the point of not being himself. He simply becomes what she needs from moment to moment. There’s a sadness there, but also a beauty in it too. And I love, absolutely love, the way Paul Grist depicts these moments. They aren’t big and showy―they’re small and honest. Michael leaves one room as Michael and enters another as Ruby’s mother. And yes, there may be more Ogdru Hem threats looming out there in the world, but that pales to the importance of being by Ruby’s side… even if she doesn’t recognize him any more.Continued below
Brian: Just to clarify, yes, Michael is letting go, but I thought the juxtaposing of that with the Hellboy ‘golden era’ was a nice touch.
Yeah, Grist is an unmatched talent when left to do his thing, and this issue felt the most like Grist getting to do what he is great at. The action even felt the most like “Jack Staff,” with a little humor tossed into punching werewolves and skeletons. Grist’s work doesn’t appear as labored over as most of the Mignolaverse artists, and the looseness helps ground the story in the more mundane aspects of daily life.
My personal favorite pages were the ones that, in the wrong hands, could have really gone into overwrought territory, which were the pages about racial prejudice. Grist’s art took a real turn in those pages. Everything had a sharper focus and, due to it not really being sequential, it acted as a tableau. I wouldn’t have wanted a full issue of that, but the few pages we got were really stunningly beautiful.
Mark: Again, I have to agree. And I think it really helps that this is all grounded by Michael processing his feelings and admiration for this woman he loves, while at the same time acknowledging that she is transient.
Over our reviews of the last three issues, I’ve spoken at length about Roberson’s writing on this series. Sometimes it’s worked for me, other times I’ve struggled with it. The most frequent criticisms I’ve leveled at Roberson is that of either too much dialog or relying too heavily on dialog to tell the story. Certainly “The Visitor” #4 is a very talky issue at times, but neither of these problems can be found here—in fact I think that retroactively, I understand better what Roberson was setting up in previous issues.
Throughout “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed,” Michael Mathers has been constantly keeping a record for his peers in space. They started as these incredibly dry walls of text, and over time his personality began to emerge. The detachment disappears and we start seeing the connections instead.
And then it stops.
The absence of dialog seems almost overwhelming, punctuating Michael’s loss more than words ever could. Frankly, I’m a little speechless myself. Any words I use to describe the final pages of this issue feel woefully inadequate and inarticulate. A big part of why this works is obviously in Paul Grist’s art and Bill Crabtree’s coloring, but it’s also Roberson writing for a specific collaborator. In this issue it shows how much he understands what’s great about what Grist does. Each page of this issue has such distinctive rhythms and visual ideas, and I feel like this is the sort of storytelling you can only get from a writer that’s in sync with their artist. Roberson’s writing here is clearly meant for Grist specifically. The greatest strength of this issue is the way the components work together to accentuate what each collaborator brings to the page.
Brian: We are just a mutual admiration society today, because I totally agree as well. It is hard to believe that this is the same Roberson who butchered that Ashley Strode story with Mike Norton last year. Perhaps, as you said, he was writing specifically for Grist here, as opposed to the “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” stuff, where he may not know ahead of time who is taking which arc. Whatever he did here, I hope he keeps it up.
Anything else to add before we grade this?
Mark: Yeah, I have to go on a bit of a Grist and Crabtree love rant.
There’s this bit of recurring imagery Grist has been using since issue #2, which is a vertical panel of the Mathers’ house as an establishing shot. He’s used it to show what the house looks like throughout the seasons. In this issue, it’s used to show the oncoming winter of Ruby’s life, but also to show the impact this is having on Michael. Look at the house in the summer in prior issues, now look at it in this issue; the grass is overgrown. In the final winter panel, the sidewalk is covered in snow where in previous years it was always shoveled clean. I love this stuff. It says so much with so little.Continued below
Then look at what Bill Crabtree does with this stuff. He takes the establishing shot of the house and the season and uses it as a springboard for the colors in everything that follows up to the next establishing shot of the house until we get to the end when everything is coated in white.
And then Michael lays the lilies on Ruby’s grave. Lilies have been a major part of the Hellboy universe for a long time, growing in King Thoth’s garden where he kept the angel Anum’s hand. The lilies growing out of Hellboy’s blood was seen as a sign of the divine. But in “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed” they’ve been recontextualized to represent a sign not of something divine, but as something human that is as beautiful as the divine. Honestly, the level of visual storytelling in this issue blew me away.
Brian: I’ll get in on this love fest a little bit, too.
Grist is possibly the best pure storyteller in the Mignolaverse ranks aside from Mignola himself. This issue unfolds at a perfect pace, and everything is given room to breathe. The scenes with Ruby always begin with Michael either out of the room or far away from her, exhibiting the distance that now exists between them, and then you see Michael do whatever he can to cut that distance. Until we see her at the end, passed away on the couch, that he can no longer bridge the gap between them.
Small details like that remind me of the old cliché that comics can do things no other medium can, although that is usually relegated to concepts that would be impossible to film due to budget or special effects limitations. But something like this, due to the static nature of panels, can illustrate these ideas in a different way than a film couldn’t.
To me, this is an 8.5 comic. It’s a great installment that will really help the miniseries overall.
Mark: I’m going with a 9, because this wasn’t just a great issue, it was an issue that reframed sequences in prior issues, elevating my enjoyment of “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed” as a whole. The team works so harmoniously together here. This issue was an utter pleasure to read.
Final verdict: 8.75. A truly moving issue.