At what point does the Hellboy franchise reach the point where you can describe a story as 'a good Hellboy story'. After all, I know what to expect from 'a good Batman story' (crime, shadows, and fisticuffs), I know what to expect from 'a good Superman story' (truth, justice, the American way, and fisticuffs), and so on. And suddenly, Hellboy is a brand with 23 years of comics, two films, two cartoons, and a whole lot of spinoffs. Which is to say, a Hellboy story is a known quantity with familiar rhythms, story beats, and twists. Mike Mignola's grumpy, large-hearted half-demon always ends up in pulpy fistfights with occult monsters. Hellboy's adventures will always split the difference between tragic folktales and dime-store fantasy novels finding a tone all of their own. This isn't a bad thing and doesn't mean every Hellboy is the same, but it means you can't open up a new story without having the frame of reference of adventures past. As such, Hellboy and the BPRD 1954 won't blow any fans minds, but it will serve as a pleasant reminder of why this character and these stories are still fun, 20 some years later. The conceit of the Hellboy and the BPRD minis (of which this is the third) has been that they tell the stories of Hellboy's first few years as an agent of the Bureau. It's an excuse to tell the short one and done stories that made up the early half of the Hellboy core title before the scope became so apocalyptically large. 1954 see Hellboy and enthusiastic agent Farrier journey to an island in the Arctic Ocean where a group of researchers are being attacked by a yeti-like monster. I would have expected the story to mine some claustrophobia from the deadly terrain and lack of sunlight as seen in Whiteout or 30 Days of Night, but at least in the first issue, Mignola and Roberson seem to be taking a lighter approach, using the setting as a means of slightly altering the usual Hellboy monster formula.
A lot of humor is mined from the relationship between Hellboy and agent Farrier (who, as it quickly becomes apparent, is more Bill Nye than he is Jason Bourne). Farrier thinks the monster is likely a new and possibly mythic species of animal (his specialty) while Hellboy casually and correctly posits it's a mutant polar bear. It's a spin on the buddy cop relationship, with Farrier as the young, naive recruit and Hellboy as the world-weary Pro which is made much more amusing by the implicit knowledge that Hellboy is a fairly young agent himself.
As things progress there are a few fun twists in the store which is especially welcome as a typical downside to Mignola comics is a slow building first issue. But what really makes this issue a rock-solid entry into the Hellboy mythos is the art by Stephen Green. His work is clean, stylish, with a good use of negative space making the issue flow smoothly throughout. He also manages, what is to me the mark of any great artist on a Mignola book: he manages to draw Hellboy right. In the hands of many artists, including some great ones, Hellboy looks too realistic (making his horns and underbite look grotesque and silly) or too stylized, making him look like a cartoon parody of Mignola's original designs. In the hands of Green, he is once again a brawny monster fighter with a weathered face and oddly soulful eyes.
All in all, I enjoyed Hellboy and the BPRD 1954 #1 more than any of the Hellboy spinoffs of late. It takes the traditional Hellboy formula and simply executes it well which, as seen here, is enough to make for a pretty darn great read.
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Hellboy and the BPRD 1954 #1 Writers: Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson Artist: Stephen Green Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital