The glorious thing about the Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe is that it is a vast and wondrous place, full of interesting stories. These tales can be told in a variety of appropriate styles. New ideas and new avenues of exploration abound. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953 (also known as Year Two, following on from the 1952 series) is one such opportunity, telling the story of Hellboy’s early missions at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.
A mysterious creature hunts the children of an idyllic suburban town, and the BPRD get more than they bargained for when their investigation begins to seem strangely familiar.
Beyond the Fences is a story set after Hellboy’s first mission, which was in 1952. We all know that Hellboy came ‘through’ in 1944 and was adopted by Professor Bruttenholm. In this book, Chris Roberson (iZombie) co-writes with Mignola. Pencils are by artist Paolo Rivera (Mythos), with colours from regular Hellboy collaborator Dave Stewart.
When you open the comic and get to the story, the first thing that hits you is the style. This isn’t like any other Hellboy comic I’ve read. It is much more late Golden Age/early Silver Age than I was expecting. But that is clearly deliberate and it works. So what you have is a traditional Hellboy story told in a style appropriate for 1953. We’re introduced to a variety of B.P.R.D. characters from the off (Dr Sandhu, Susan Xiang, Jacob Stegmer) with little exposition dialogue boxes. It’s neat how Hellboy isn’t given a biog, but still gets his dialogue box.
Six children have gone missing. Speculation is of a cult or even the beautifully drawn Jersey Devil (Hellboy v the Jersey Devil – that I’d like to see). So off go Hellboy and the team to investigate. Meanwhile, a Dr Boucq at the Institute of Technology in Pasadena is acting a little odd. The encounter with the security guard is right out of an old fashioned book both in terms of writing and artwork; almost Action Comics! Back at the investigation, and Hellboy is signing autographs for polite children in pigtails and short-trousers. Dogs are also missing. Hellboy is interested enough to look into this further, and finds a broken dog-collar. The team, all dapper in trench-coats, spot the weirdly acting Boucq in the perfect 50s US suburbia. They don’t know him at all, of course, but his behaviour arouses suspicion. Does he have anything to do with this mystery? This is the Lynchian underbelly of suburbia… what happens beyond the white picket fences.
There is an interesting scene towards the end of the book when Xiang is transported to a world that is perhaps a little more familiar Hellboy territory – fantastical monsters and demons fighting an upstanding army. It contrasts so well with the rest of the art work; it brings everything else into focus. The story itself is fairly perfunctory – there’s a set up to a mystery that the B.P.R.D. must solve, with Hellboy gaining notoriety while learning the ropes. But it is the art that elevates the story and keeps the reader interested. Witness the police car and the motel. The way Boucq pulls at his collar. The pencil ‘tash on Stegmer. Details are everything and Rivera nails them here. Stewart’s colours are masterful as ever, especially the psychometric visions. We’re left with an intriguing conclusion, nicely drawing us into issue 2. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953 – Beyond the Fences is an interesting inclusion in Hellboy’s backstory, and a great lesson in artistic style.
Publication Date: February 24, 2016
Title: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953 – Beyond the Fences
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson