Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952 #2
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Alex Maleev
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Clem Robins
Published by Dark Horse
Hellboy has always been, of course, inherently religious. There are no demons without angels, no Satan without God. And when one writes about a demon on Earth, the other stuff will always be there even if not explicitly referenced. 1952 doesn’t shine a light on the fires of Hell or the miracles of a higher power, though; instead it pokes at the themes of religion as we see it, here on Earth. The monster of the story almost looks like an Earth dwelling creature: a rare and viscous breed of baboon rather than a Lovecraftian monster of the sea. That monster has been terrorizing a small town in Brazil ala chupacabra. In fact, a footnote describes the creature as “a particularly evil demon” according to the Tapirape people of central Brazil. Anchunga. It apparently translates loosely to “demon of the bush.” This sound like some sort of demonic, B-movie, cultish Noir yet? Good, it should.
The issue opens with crosses. Lots of crosses. And that shape serves as a recurring visual motif throughout the issue. Hellboy is sound asleep under one such symbol. Outside the local priest and an alter boy venture out into the chill of the night to confront the beast. It doesn’t end well, though the boy survives. “Not here eight hours and another murder.” As the BPRD team examines the priest’s body, Hellboy is ordered to take the boy back into town. See what I mean about new situations? This is Hellboy’s first mission with the BPRD, and for as red as he is… he is much more green. At the very bottom of the BPRD chain, the other operatives even call him ‘kid’.
More is afoot than bizarre murders in this town, however. As Hellboy disappears the rest of the team is approached by a mysterious if not handsome man who uses the old fortress on the hill to shoot motion pictures. Think a South American Clark Gable, pencil thin ‘stache and all. He invites them to his re-purposed fortress so they can rule out he and his film crew’s connection to the murder(s). Here a thin layer is pulled back and it seems the fortress is up to something, though the crew opt to not go inside so we don’t see exactly what. Back at the church of the murdered priest Hellboy is chatting, rather innocently, with the nun of the place. Here the anchunga shows up again and a melee ensues. One which showcases Hellboy’s lack of skills, training, even toughness. New places. As Hellboy and the BPRD squad split up to track the creature, another layer is peeled back: someone on the team may be out to kill Hellboy.
This is probably the most Noir-ish Hellboy story I’ve read, where straight horror takes a backseat to mystery. The tone really whets my whistle. And who better to render such a tone than the impeccable Alex Maleev? He has a history with religious imagery (let’s play count the crosses in Maleev penciled Daredevil comics!), and just about everything he does has that classic Noir touch. Not hard-boiled, but foggy and shadowed. Ya know, real Noir not that Sin City shit. I kid, I love ya Frank. Maleev draws the heck out of this book with style. Shadows cross against floorboards, sinister hillsides, and uneasy faces. The buildings crackle with the haunt of the past. And Hellboy — more than usual — looks like a fish out of water. Regular Mignola collaborator and award winning colorist Dave Stewart drenches most of the book is cold tones, save for the candlelight of the church interior and Hellboy’s signature red skin. It does wonders with Maleev’s already brilliant pencils, making the sky a constant if shallow overcast, the flora soft and damp.
I should also mention that this series is (so far) co-written by John Arcudi, who is very familiar with the Hellboy and BPRD universe, having written several different side series for Mignola over the years.
Overall this series is well worth checking out for any fans of Hellboy certainly. Or even if you are intersted in the tropes and overall tone of classic Noir. Actually it would be a good companion piece to The Fade Out or even Brubaker/Philips’ previous Fatale. It is religion bathed in Noir. Crosses in shadows.