“Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land” clearly owes a lot to its influences (such as the original King Kong), but it manages not to be beholden to them. Mike Mignola and Thomas Sniegoski found a fascinating way to embed this tale in the historical tapestry of the Hellboy Universe, connecting it to a whole host of story threads, while carving out a niche that is all its own. Craig Rousseau’s art, which is strikingly different for a Hellboy story, accentuates the innocence of its lead—there’s no doubt, this is a Hellboy story, but it’s a Hellboy story unlike any other.
Also, spoiler warning for the entire review, because there was a lot we had to talk about.
Written by Mike Mignola and Thomas Sniegoski
Illustrated by Craig Rousseau
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Hellboy, the Professor, Scarlett, and the Ohnar are all in danger when an ancient evil awakens. The vampire Vesperra and her undead legions are too powerful for Hellboy and his companions to face alone, but Scarlett has an ace up her sleeve that will give them a fighting chance.
Mark Tweedale: OK, first up, I’ve gotta say—you totally called it, Vesperra is from the Hyperborean age. In fact, she may even predate it. Nicely done, James.
James Dowling: Thanks! They leaned HARD into that prehistory, and I’d say this issue really clicked for me because of that. tonally, It is what I wanted this whole series to be. Weird transient reality rituals that feed straight into pulpy place-out-of-time tropes, all with this comic of age story to pull the reader through. It’s engaging on its own and as a part of the wider tapestry in a very identifiable way. Plus Vesperra can turn into a big ugly bat which is kind of sick.
Mark: I can’t remember if there were giant bats in the original King Kong, but there certainly were in the Peter Jackson version…
I got really sucked into the history with this issue. Early on, Professor Bruttenholm mentions that Vesperra and the city of Ohnar-Dem may predate the Hyperboreans. If that’s the case, then the Ohnar were probably among the first of the lesser spirits that populated the world after the war of the Watchers and the Ogdru Jahad and the Ogdru Hem. The Ohnar, if it hadn’t been for Vesperra, would perhaps have become what Hyperboreans did.
But this brings up a whole host of questions, because Vesperra is now the oldest vampire we’ve ever seen in the Hellboy Universe, apparently predating even the cold people. That’s mindblowing to me, because it throws so much of what I thought I knew into question.
James: Yeah, I remember just taking a step back and having to even figure out if something could pre-date the hyperboreans. I really love that idea of this fledgling city that spent so many of its earliest years fighting to survive just so later peoples could thrive. At first I remember finding it a tad gimmick-y, as if Mignola and Sniegoski were making a story feel more important by sliding it to the front of the timeline. However, as the issue progresses you start to see a very purposefully delineated history. Now I’m just itching for a comic about the first ever civilization trying to hold off Vesperra’s vampiric invasion. It’s this great idea of something that was old when the world was new.
Mark: That’d be fun. But then, I’ve been itching for several prehistory series for some time now…
At the same time, all the history we get here is just vague enough. I mean, Professor Bruttenholm is guessing about the time period Vesperra’s from, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know about this place. He may have known about Hyperboreans back in the 1940s, but I don’t know that he knew about the Hyperboreans that taught prehistoric humanity, so perhaps he’s mistaking the overlap of these two cultures for something from an earlier period. Still, it’s an interesting implication. “Pre-Hyperborean” is immediately evocative.
James: My only other gripe with it is that, even if he’s not properly comprehending it, having Hellboy exposed to and learning about all this so early does slightly cheapen the revelatory nature of “Hellboy: The Island” later on, in which we the reader were finally spoonfed this prehistoric plot. As you’re saying it though, it makes Bruttenholm’s arc far more interesting—this is a spanner in the works that he’d be obsessed with solving.Continued below
Mark: Oh? I’m not sure what you mean about ‘The Island’ here. Hellboy would’ve learnt about Hyperborea from Professor Bruttenholm. So far, aside from the Vesperra stuff, Bruttenholm is only getting confirmation of things he’d already thought were likely true.
James: You’re absolutely right, the story is still as tight as it’s ever been. I guess it’s just running the same risk that all prequels do. Thematically, the more a protagonist is exposed to a story element, the more it arguably weakens the novelty of the initial ‘point of contact’ moment in the original text.
But aside from that I absolutely love how every character has found this perfect groove as a part of their team dynamic here. It’s a more cohesive book because of that synchronicity and it definitely feels like the section of narrative the creative team were most excited to handle.
Mark: Yeah, it’s racing too quickly to the finale though. I want to spend more time with these characters! The thing is, this whole story takes place on an island that’s in a bubble apart from the rest of the world, but it also feels like it’s apart from the rest of the Hellboy Universe too—after all, when “B.P.R.D.: 1947” starts up, it’s not like Scarlett Santiago is there. We know Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm go back to the world, but everything else in this story stays on this island.
Honestly, it kind of reminds me of “Flight 714 to Sydney,” that Tintin book where all the characters go on their most bizarre adventure ever and then get their minds wiped by aliens at the end, because the Tintin series couldn’t really go back to its usual stories if they didn’t. There’s just so much big stuff on this island, I feel like the final issue is going to do something drastic to separate the island from the world again. I’m hoping it doesn’t get destroyed, because that’d really suck for the Ohnar.
James: If this ends with some kind of ‘what happens on the island stays on the island’ moment, I’ll feel robbed. Then again, there’s nothing that says Scarlett wouldn’t stay on the island to protect it even after Vesperra is, presumably, gone. Still there is SO MUCH here and I do not know how they’re going to put the genie back in the bottle.
Mark: Man, I’m seeing the parallels to LOST not too… Best not go into that. We’ll be going on forever.
So let’s talk about the art, because I know you had some things you wanted to mention.
James: Oh yeah, Rousseau and Stewart are at their best here. Even from the cover we see this rich coloring divide between the cold blue/purple tones of the temple and warm red/orange tones of the exploring Hellboy. It’s just this perfect encapsulation of the heartfelt childlike imagination that he’s filled with and the apparent danger of an increasingly dangerous environment. It’s the best cover yet, as I say every issue.
Mark: Ha! I’m of the opinion that the fourth issue has the best cover, so we’ll have to talk about that next time!
James: Something about the interiors just clicks here too, the general caricatures feel more defined, especially in the opening expository sequence with Vesperra and the cave paintings. From there, the heavy reds of the flashback lead straight into the equally primary tone of Young Hellboy, just the color progression into all these familiar Dave Stewart hallmarks (including that familiar monstrous lime green) made the whole issue feel perfectly cohesive. Did you have a favorite sequence?
Mark: It’s the Vesperra vision that Scarlett has for me. I know a lot happened this issue, but after I read it, that’s the sequence that kept bubbling up in my memory for the next few days (whether I wanted it to or not).
James: In our last review I talked about how engagingly Rousseau uses silhouettes and in this issue it becomes increasingly essential to the story, and even more engaging because of that. In the moment where Spin and Marty emerge from out of their silhouettes and are replaced by Vesperra’s zombies, it’s so perfectly tense because you can almost miss it. It’s such a simple way to give a scene depth.Continued below
Mark: That stuff is great. It plays with our expectations in the best way.
Actually, speaking of expectations, this is something you mentioned in your review of the first issue, about how ‘The Hidden Land’ is clearly riffing on King Kong, but back in that first issue you felt that it made the story live in the shadow of its influences to a degree. But I feel like each issue further we get into the story, it throws all these extra bits in that get me so excited. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the homage, but I admit to a certain extent it made me feel like it couldn’t surprise me. But, after our review of “Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land” #2, it really sunk its claws in. I found myself thinking, “My god, I need a Scarlett Santiago spinoff now… and a Vesperra prehistory story…” ‘The Hidden Land’ is a story that suggests more stories.
It may also be because the more I read of it, the more I wish this were a five or six-issue story instead of just four. There’s just so much thrown at us so fast.
James: Yeah, on one hand I enjoy the very headstrong pace that the story format gives this issue, but more signposting and differentiating through twenty or forty more pages could have really benefited those first two issues.
You’re absolutely right about this being a story that’s stronger in its implications than direct narrative though.
Mark: As much as ‘The Hidden Land’ draws on King Kong, the breakneck pacing makes it feel like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I had that impression right from the first issue with the plane crash that just rapidly led from one thing to another. The further we get into the story, the more I’m convinced of the similarity. Storywise, very different, but mood and pacing, very similar.
James: I cannot express my sheer level of hype about apes vs vampires for the last twenty pages of the final issue. This is approaching Wendigo vs Jaguar levels of excitement for me, like everything about Un-Gaaah versus Vesperra here is made to build excitement. It’s amazing how quickly this gorilla protector has outshone the kid with his name on the front of the book.
Mark: I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Hellboy’s just along for the ride in this story—I think maybe that’s a big part of why it feels so different. As for the fight, I’m dreading it. I don’t think it’s going to end well for Un-Gaaah. There’s a progression in the covers, and that last one has Hellboy so sad and broken. Plus this is clearly an homage to the deleted insect ravine sequence from the original King Kong, and I guess when Peter Jackson brought that sequence to life in his remake, it stuck with me because it was such a stark and grim turn for the story. I can’t help but associate those feelings with the insect sequence now.
I’m not sure if this is a plus or a negative. ‘The Hidden Land’ draws so heavily from its influences, I can’t help but bring in all these extra elements from those influences too. (That said, I’m glad this story got rid of the monstrous natives trope. That was something I can happily live without. The Ohnar are much better.)
James: (Oh yeah, Spin and Marty steal this issue.)
Mark: Anyway, my point is the legacy of King Kong has me expecting tragedy in the finale.
James: I’ve always been thinking that this was a story that begins at an apex of childhood wonderment and ends in sobering tragedy, which has absolutely been the trajectory of this narrative arc so far.
The best way the issue handles this thematic shift is through the use of implied violence. Most of this story feels like it’s from Hellboy’s perspective, so having the reader never see Vesperra slash Un-Gaaah and only perceive the fallout is a great way to show how much and little Hellboy is willing to view. Yet right after we get this half page spread leading into that bloodied mouth of Vesperra which, just like the jawbreaker spectacle of last issue, is this moment of violence that bleeds through atonally into both Hellboy and the reader’s view. It’s a great way of establishing the shift in mood.Continued below
Mark: This is where Rousseau’s work really shines for me. The story wouldn’t work if that shift weren’t so palpable. I mean, if you look at how violence is shown in the first issue to how it’s shown here, there’s a definite shift towards the consequences, rather than the actions.
We should probably wrap-up. Again, this is a 7.5 for me. As much as I’m enjoying the story, I wish Hellboy was a little more engaged by what’s going on. It’s definitely ramping up to that in the final pages though. And Rousseau’s art is such a pleasure. This is “Young Hellboy” and he brings all the energy that title suggests.
James: I actually think I’m more engaged than you after this issue. It did a lot to pique my interest, so it’s an 8.5 from me. The mixture of increasingly confident art and colors with a story that has found its niche just left me so excited for the finale. More monster, more island, more fun.
Final Verdict: 8 – The biggest downside of the issue is that wait for the next.