In today’s First Impressions: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Alex Maleev’s Hellboy and the BPRD, Jorge Corona’s Feathers, and Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s Lady Killer.
With Mike Mignola’s Hellboy franchise celebrating its 20th anniversary last year, it probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that diving into the property now might be intimidating for the novice reader. Between the original family of Hellboy-branded miniseries (and their sometimes confusing array of trade and hardcover collections), there are also the BPRD and Abe Sapien comics to take into account and, for the completists, there are deep cuts like the Lobster Johnson, Sledgehammer 44, Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder, and The Amazing Screw-On Head titles.
Still, the Hellboy Universe isn’t particularly resistant to lateral entrants despite its long publication history, original lore, and web of character relationships. With perhaps the exception of some of the BPRD: Hell on Earth storylines, the Hellboy Universe books are generally new reader-friendly. This can be attributed to a number of factors: The franchise’s relatively modest collection of recurring characters, its consistent internal logic and continuity (created by a small core group of creators that includes Mignola, John Arcudi, and Scott Allie), and of course, polished execution that never loses sight of the “every comic is somebody’s first” ethos.
After years of expanding the Hellboy Universe, however, Mignola and Arcudi have gone back to the franchise’s roots, reuniting Hellboy with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in a new comic entitled (naturally) Hellboy and the BPRD. The ongoing series is now up to its third issue, but how does this all work out, exactly? Wasn’t Hellboy dead and in hell the last time the character headlined a title?
Writers Mignola and Arcudi get around that inconvenient detail by positioning the series as a period piece spotlighting the untold tales of Hellboy’s earliest days working as a BPRD operative in the early 1950s. It’s a smart decision that plays to the expectations and demands of readers new and old: Those fresh to the Hellboy Universe won’t need to be overly familiar with the continuity to get into the swing of things, and old fans will get a kick out of seeing the personal and professional evolution of Mignola’s signature creation. As with many of the retro period piece comics in the Hellboy Universe, this will also allow Mignola and Arcudi to further flesh out the shared history of the line’s various titles, providing additional insight and context to the events portrayed in the more contemporary comics.
The inaugural storyline doesn’t seem to be straying too far from the classic Hellboy or BPRD narrative template: A team of BPRD operatives (including Hellboy, on his first official assignment for the agency) gets sent to an exotic location (Brazil) to investigate reports of paranormal activity (a demon killing local villagers). The set-up is familiar, to be sure (Mignola’s long-standing fascination with apes is also indulged in this series), but there’s enough novelty in the young Hellboy—decades away from being the brash and cocksure lead BPRD agent most readers are familiar with—feeling his way around his new teammates, the Cold War context, and a twist here and there, to keep things exciting even for the long-time Hellboy Universe fan.
Worth noting, too, is the excellent job Alex Maleev (Daredevil, Moon Knight) does with the illustrations. The Bulgarian artist—whose moody, stark inking style on Marvel’s Daredevil and Moon Knight earned him much-deserved acclaim—is a perfect fit for Hellboy and the BPRD‘s dark and brooding action-horror atmosphere. With eight-time Eisner Award-winner Dave Stewart on colorist duties, the comic is as good-looking as any Hellboy Universe title published in recent memory.
Goners and Teen Titans Go! artist Jorge Corona gets the opportunity to show the full range of his storytelling skills in Feathers, a six-issue miniseries written and illustrated by the Venezuelan comics creator and published by BOOM! Studios through its Archaia imprint.
The fantasy title concerns the adventures of Poe, a boy kept hidden away from the public by his adoptive father because he was born with purple skin covered with black feathers. There are indications, however, that Poe’s unique features may not be just some weird integumentary deformity, and that he is tied to some aspect of the fiction’s as-yet unrevealed mythology. The young Poe is irrepressible and before long, his little clandestine trips to see the world get him caught up in a wealthy heiress’ attempt to escape a cloistered life, ultimately befriending her in the process.
With issue #2 coming out just this week, it’s still a bit too early in the miniseries to meaningfully speculate where the narrative is headed, although those familiar with the conventions of all-ages fantasy fiction can probably hazard some guesses. Corona has laid down the groundwork for some socio-political intrigue with the first two issues—Poe belongs to a dirt-poor, slum-dwelling underclass while Bianca, his new friend, is a child of the city’s political and economic elite—and it will be interesting to see if he plans to do something novel and unexpected with that contrast and the metaphor of Poe’s dark skin and black feathers.
But while the story is still in the stages of revving up, readers won’t have to wait out the rest of the miniseries to appreciate Corona’s art. His style is somewhat reminiscent of that employed by artists like Skottie Young, Humberto Ramos, Ramon Bachs, and Sebastian “Bachan” Carillo—highly dynamic and heavily stylized with an emphasis on exaggerated pose and expression—and, in combination with Jen Hickman’s coloring, it elevates the comic from standard all-ages fantasy romp (for now) to a genuine visual treat.
Another veteran artist stretching her writing muscles is Joëlle Jones. The Helheim and Brides of Helheim illustrator shares co-writer credits with Jamie S. Rich (Madame Frankenstein, Ares & Aphrodite) on Lady Killer, a miniseries from Dark Horse Comics two issues into its planned five-issue run.
A black comedy set in the America of the early 1960s, Lady Killer features for its protagonist Josie Schuller, loving wife and doting mother struggling to maintain her secret double life as an assassin-for-hire in a contract-killer firm. In their subversion of the image of post-Korean War/pre-Vietnam War domestic bliss, Jones and Rich have the opportunity to address the changing sexual politics of the era, both at home and in the workplace, although at this stage in the narrative, the emphasis seems to be on playing up the comic’s ridiculously violent grindhouse sensibility. It’s morbidly fun and funny reading, but there’s rich thematic ground still waiting to be mined.
Jones clearly has an affinity for the comic’s period setting: The fashions, interior decor, and even automobile designs are rendered with quite the attention to detail, and even the casual body language of the characters harks back to a bygone era.