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THE GRIST OF HELLBOY

Visitor coverPaul Grist is drawing Mike Mignola’s latest Hellboy 5-issue epic, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed; and his style, similar to Mignola’s, is perfect for the task. The series is as much about Hellboy as it is about the Visitor. Assisted by Chris Roberson, Mignola tells the story of Hellboy’s early years, beginning with his arrival December 23, 1944, when he pops into view in front of some soldiers in World War II Europe, one of whom is actually an alien visitor who possesses the mysterious Prism, a card-like iphone-looking object that he almost deploys against the infant Hellboy. But he stops just as “Archie” shows up to plead for Hellboy’s life.

The soldiers put their guns down, and the alien wanders off into the forest where he communicates with his commander aboard a space ship hovering somewhere in the upper atmosphere. The alien explains that he decided not to kill “the destroyer” (i.e., Hellboy) because he was “just a child.”

“He is his mother’s son as well as his father’s, after all. The future is still in motion. There is still hope for him. Hope for redemption. He is an innocent. He cannot be blamed for the circumstances of his birth.”

The alien decides to remain on Earth and monitor the child’s progress. His commander’s space ship scoots off into space, leaving the alien behind.

For the rest of the book, we have glimpses of Hellboy as he is growing up—in 1947, 1948, 1950 (by which time, he’s broken off most of his horns), 1953 (by which time he’s joined the paranormal investigative agency), and 1954, when he goes into the woods and kills a dragon. The panels of these pages are laid out against black solids which accent an increasing number of drops of blood, falling across the scenes.

All this time, a trenchcoated figure lurks in the background, watching. It’s the alien. And as he watches lilies growing out of the dragon’s blood, he marvels: “It never occurred to me until this moment that the child might grow into a force for good in his own right. ... I shall watch how he progresses.”

And we’ll watch with him for the next 4 issues of this 5-issue run.

Mignola’s story is the usual constipated narrative, pregnant (to mix a metaphor) with lurking unknowns and half-explained knowns, exactly the sort of mysteriousness-clogged tale that could annoy more than it entertains. But completed episodes reveal the storytellers’ competence—the opening gambit, the vignettes of Hellboy’s life through the years, and the final triumphant encounter with the dragon—and the tale moves forward, promising some sort of resolution ultimately. And for that, we’ll return.

Grist’s pictures, like those of Mignola, are drenched in solid blacks and are often mute, their silence — their noncommittal presence — underscoring the unexplained by not explaining, lending to the entire enterprise a haunting atmosphere, the sort of thing at which Mignola is so expert.

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We’ll be back. Wouldn’t miss it. Especially since it promises to tell us more about Hellboy.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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