Reviews: The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed, a Hellboy tale
The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed #1,
Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Paul Grist, Bill Crabtree,
Although Mignola finally wrapped up his main Hellboy story arc a while back there is still a lot of spaces to fill in from Hellboy’s history. We’ve been getting some of those recently in some delightful mini-series (like Hellboy and the BPRD 1952, reviewed here, and the 1953 and 1954 tales) which tell stories in the gaps between the events of the already published tales. With The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed we’re getting more of that, but from a different perspective – the mysterious alien character (who can assume human guise) that we’ve glimpsed briefly over the years in Hellboy stories. Here we finally get to learn what his mission was, what brought him to our world, his connection to Hellboy right from his first appearance.
We start, appropriately enough, with the very young Hellboy’s arrival, summoned to Earth by Rasputin, as Profesor Bruttenholm and other paranormal investigators, aware the Nazis are up to some desperate, last-ditch supernatural plan to avoid defeat (Project Ragna Rok) and a group of US soldiers watch and wait. When the demonic figure appears in a blazing ball of fire the soldiers raise their weapons, one calls to shoot the demon from Hell and another soldier, standing apart from the rest, quietly observing, holds up a strange device… But as the Professor realises this strange entity, whatever it is, is only a child, he holds everyone back. And the mysterious soldier – our alien observer in his human guise – lowers his device and sneaks away.
He was sent there by others who has learned that Rasputin intended to being Anung Un Rama – who we would dub Hellboy – to the Earth to set in motion the freeing of the ancient, malevolent Ogdru Jahad and bring doom upon mankind, with the boy destined to grow up wearing the crown of the apocalypse, the instrument of the ending of the world. And he was meant to exterminate that threat the moment he appeared in our world, but the professor’s show of compassion stays his hand, and he reports back that he decided the creature is an innocent youth and he cannot justify killing it now when it hasn’t done anything wrong. He elects to remain behind, knowing he can’t return to his own realm for a long time if he doesn’t go now, but decides to stay and observe. If, his instinct – and the professor’s – is proved wrong he can still kill the creature.
Of course we already know that he doesn’t, but as this first issue we get to see why he stayed his hand, seeing him in the background, unnoticed by Hellboy, watching, taking stock of the sort of man the boy is growing into under the guidance of his adopted human father, Professor Bruttenholm, from young boy learning to ride a bicycle, play with his dog, read comics through to the tough supernatural investigator and protector we know. This allows us to revisit some key Hellboy moments but from a different perspective, as the Visitor beholds the evolution of Hellboy, brought up as a son, with love, guidance and compassion, and starts to think not just his initial idea, that the child need not necessarily be doomed to his dark destiny but could be redeemed, but that the grown man he becomes could actively be a force for good in the world, a champion “standing to protect the people of this world from the horrors that are to come”.
There are some lovely nods to Hellboy’s history here that old fans will love, seen from a different angle as the Visitor watches, including HB’s battle with a dragon in 1950s England, and throughout the symbol of the white lilies, like the ones which grew from Hellboy’s spilled blood during that battle, a hint at the light inside a creature initially destined for darkness (there’s more than a little of the nature versus nurture debate here). It’s terrific to see Paul Grist on art duties here – he’s long been a favourite of ours here on the blog, and his style is absolutely perfect for the distinctive Mingolaverse look, ably assisted by Bill Crabtree’s colour palette.
This is some seriously enjoyable reading for any long-time Hellboy fan, not just filling in gaps in the back story but letting us re-experience some of that history from a different perspective, so adding to our understanding. As with many Hellboy tales it left me with an urge to go back to some of the older stories and re-read them in light of the new story, which is no bad thing, and which, I think, is one of the strengths of Hellboy, that the tales are so re-readable and take on a different timbre after reading newer stories, a gift that goes on giving.
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