Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953–The Witch Tree & Rawhead and Bloody Bones
By Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart
This issue of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. gives us two stories for the price of one; The Witch Tree and Rawhead and Bloody Bones, both done by the same creative team, and both bring to mind some of the older Hellboy issues and the way creator/writer Mike Mignola used to handle that series. A few mini-series, a few one-shots, but all part of one larger story that Mignola eventually reveals at the end of it all. It’s funny what you miss without even realizing it.
This issue, taking place in England in 1953, oozes that classic Mignola feel. Paranormal, crazy legends that most people thought to be made-up tales to frighten children, great art, and all wrapped up in a nice, bite-size serving that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of anything in the Mignolaverse. Mignola is the master of those quick stories that add layers, even if they’re small, to his world while not requiring you to read fourteen issues and ninety-five different crossovers just to get the big picture. You could almost pick up Hellboy at any point in the original run and just start reading. Most of it gets filled in for you, or you’ll pick it up as you go. The only exception might be when artist Duncan Fegredo jumped on to do art, simply because that was the start of the giant arc that eventually saw Hellboy die (shut up, it’s not a spoiler, there is a book named after what happened for Odin’s sake). Though, thinking on it, you’d still be able to follow all the epicness, you just might miss some of the threads that Mignola ties into the story from way back. Regardless of where you want to start, the bottom line would be to read it. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. absolutely works if you want a get a taste. Bet you can’t have just one.
Ben Stenbeck, who you might recognize better from the book Baltimore (which isn’t part of the Mignolaverse and is co-created and written with Christopher Golden) is a killer. He is a killer and should be locked away! Okay, maybe not. Maybe that was just a fancy way of trying to tell you just how damn good this guy is. His work on Baltimore was something else; his work on the Mignolaverse book, Frankenstein Underground, might have been even better, but now working with the root of the entire ‘verse, Stenbeck kicks it up even further. A magnificent Hellboy, with all the perfect Mignolaverse-esque blacks and backgrounds and, frankly, feel; you can’t go wrong with someone like this. It’s all his own style, sure, but he’s another one of those guys that just belongs on these books, working with Mignola. There might not be a bigger complement possible.
Speaking of one of those guys that belongs with Mignola, Dave fucking Stewart, ladies and gentlemen! The colorist that should have an award named after him (namely the Eisner for best colorist, because he’s only won it like fifteen times) and the guy that makes the Mignolaverse look and feel like it does. Artists are great, they certainly help maintain that look that Mike brought in all those years ago, but Dave Stewart keeps it in line; the color choices, the flat look, everything. He’s probably tired of being praised so highly here, so let’s keep this short and suffice it to say that there might not be another colorist in comics that can top him, there’s just something magical about what he does. Sorry, everyone else.
So, recap: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953 (awesome rhyme, by the way) is a book, and series that you can easily pick up off the shelf on a whim and be satisfied with the story inside. It has fantastic writing, fantastic art and color skills for days. It’s a book that should be on all the “Best of” lists, and certainly a book that should be read first off the pile every week it’s out. After reading this, you’ll be so satisfied that you’ll actually want to go back for seconds, and thirds and eventually you’ll be just as addicted as the rest of us. Maybe there should be a disclaimer on these books…