Reviews: ra ra Rasputin – Mignola ressurects the mad monk
Rasputin: the Voice of the Dragon #1,
Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Christopher Mitten, Dave Sewart,
Dark Horse Comics
Another New Comic Book Day arrives and with it not one but two new comics from the Mignolaverse starting out with their first issues: Jenny Finn and Rasputin: the Voice of the Dragon. And being too short of time to write up both I’m plumping for ra-ra-Rasputin (although be assured at no point does the mad monk break into that song). An intriguing historical character entwined in myth and conspiracies, Rasputin has been a favourite for many a fantasy-horror writer to incorporate into their tales, and he’s particularly well-suited to Mignola’s Hellboy world, which is doubtless why he first used him a couple of decades ago in the early Hellboy stories, the infernal sorceror-priest prepared to work with a secret Nazi occult division to bring about Ragnarok and unleash The Dragon on the Earth (except instead we had the infant Hellboy delivered to Earth, growing up under the care of Professor Bruttenholm to be a protector of good, not the destructor of humanity).
This story begins before the events in Hellboy, and it looks like we’re going to see some of the events which lead to the Russian mystic working with the Nazis, in a programme that would eventually bring Hellboy to Earth. It’s 1937 as we open, in a hill-top Italian village, Rasputin on his knees praying to his distant, dark god “I am listening. Will you not speak to me once more? Send me a sign…” Since the Dragon spoke to him as he was dying in the cold, Russian river (after being poisoned, stabbed and shot first), saving him to be a vessel of its will on Earth, he has tried to serve this dark, Cthulhu-like dark god, but he has not heard its voice since, and here it feels like there is a little desperation and perhaps resignation in his voice – he was saved, his god spoke to him from the darkness on the cusp of life and death, but not, decades after he was supposedly killed, he lives but with little purpose, waiting for that voice once more, for a sign…
And then a possible sign walks into his retreat: Heinrich Himmler, the diminutive, bespectacled head of the SS and one of the architects of the coming horror of the Holocaust. Understandably Rasputin is wary of this little man in his black uniform – why would he wish to work with Germany, the “ancient enamy of my beloved Russia”? But little Heinrich persuades him that they can be of much mutual assistance to one another: he wants Rasputin’s arcane knowledge to use in the coming war, and in return he can offer the monk the vast resources of the Nazi state. Rasputin is persuaded.
Intertwined with this story is a second narrative arc, starting a few years later during the war – 1941 in Bletchley Park, the famous, once top-secret British intelligence and decoding facility that cracked the “unbreakable” Nazi Enigma code machine and developed the world’s first digital computer. And it is here that a young Trevor Bruttenholm is seconded, like many other brilliant minds of the country, to work on code-breaking and intelligence analysis for the war effort. Coming across an intercept of Nazi communications mentioned a plan “geist” (“ghost”), it rings a bell in his mind, and with a little digging in the archives he finds other messages related to it and also pointing to coordinates of a small town in England.
Is this disinformation by Nazi intelligence who know the British will be listening? Or is something going on? His superiors are not convinced, but Bruttenholm decides to do some investigation of his own, and his interest in the paranormal may give him an insight into an insidious new Nazi plan. Mitten’s art deftly switches from the dark, candle-lit cavern of Rasputin’s hillside retreat to the more mundane cavern of filing cabinest Bruttenholm exists among at Bletchley Park, and maintains a style which is Mitten’s own but still manages to nod to the iconic Mignola style of Hellboy, not too much, but just enough that it visually feels like part of that universe, aided and abetted by the great Dave Stewart once more on colouring duties for a Mignola tale.
This is absolutely huge fun for any long-time Hellboy reader. Placing Bruttenholm at Bletchley is a very nice touch – in the real history Bletchley recruited all sorts of brains, not just the obvious mathematicians like Turing, but wizards at the Times crosswords, linguists, Classicists, historians, all sorts of specialised academics and bright minds to sift and analyse the intercepted Nazi communications, and it seems like exactly the sort of place Bruttenholm may well have been seconded to. Mignola has long enjoyed mixing existing folklore and myth into the Hellboy tales, which is one of the aspects of the series I love, and mixing in real wartime history and locations into that mix adds a nice touch, slightly reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. And of course it’s pleasing to the long-time reader to go back and discover some of the roots of that world, before Hellboy arrived. This is going to be an enjoyable ride…
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