Hey, have you folks heard about this Hellboy character? It's okay if you haven't -- there's a big #1 on the cover of this comic I just read, so I assume he's pretty new. Trust me, though, he's a character you're going to want to watch, because despite a name that seems pretty lousy the first time you hear it, this is pretty good stuff.

Seriously, though, as much as I love Hellboy and the world of the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), I'll admit that I haven't been keeping up with the ongoing adventures over the past few years. I'm sure they're good -- I'm sure they're great, because it's rare that Hellboy isn't, and Hellboy In Hell is viewed very favorably here at ComicsAlliance -- but it's one of those situations where I've fallen behind and it's at the point where there's so much I've missed that it's hard to get back into it.

And that's exactly why I was looking forward to Hellboy and the BPRD: 1952. On sale now, it tells the story of Hellboy's first assignment with the BPRD, which makes it the perfect jumping-on (or in my case, jumping-back-in) point, and not only is it ridiculously good, but it feels fresh and new in a way that's almost impossible for a 20 year-old franchise to pull off.

 

 

One of my favorite things about Hellboy as a character has always been how utterly unimpressed he is by everything that he encounters. Why wouldn't he be, right? He's a paranormal investigator who is also an actual cloven-hooved demon whose origins are shrouded in infernal mysteries, who has a giant hand made specifically for punching ghosts and a handgun the size of a loaf of bread. On top of that, by the time we join up with his adventures, he's been around for fifty years, investigating all manner of haints and spookums. He's been around and seen it all, and most of the charm of the series comes from the balance between the moody atmosphere and genuinely terrifying imagery and Hellboy's world-weary, almost bored attitude about punching out werewolves.

1952 flips all that around. While Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Alex Maleev and Dave Stewart are certainly following from the events of previous similarly-named B.P.R.D. series like 1947, it represents a starting point for the transition into stories about Hellboy. It's his first assignment in the field, and the way that they present him, as this completely fresh, optimistic rookie surrounded by more seasoned BPRD veterans, completely inverts the formula that the book was built on.

 

 

To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of Maleev's art, but he and Stewart really do well here, particularly in how Hellboy is presented. As usual, he's the brightest thing on the page, this big red attention-grabber as a visual reminder of why his name comes first in the title, but more than that, he looks exactly as he always does, right down to a very modern-looking B.P.R.D. t-shirt. Everything about the visuals of this book look like the standard story of Hellboy and Co. walking into a ghost story and sorting everything out, but the attitudes of all the characters feel both perfectly natural and completely different than I expected.

While the spooky stuff only shows up at the end, it's the character work that really makes the book. Hellboy's wide-eyed optimism at being in the field is contrasted against the rest of the team, whose attitudes range from affection to mistrust and curiosity.

 

 

It's a simple way to build tension and heighten the horror aspects of the story, but it also reinforces the idea that this is a time in Hellboy's life where no one was quite sure what to make of him. And, to go along with that, a time when Hellboy was fully capable of failing, something that adds an element of fear to the story that's largely absent in those atmospheric tales of Nazi Gorillas getting socked in the mouth. It all comes through beautifully, so that by the time the talk of ghosts and goblins comes in at the end, it's already a book that's compelling and engaging from the start.

Like I said, it's pretty rare to find a Hellboy story that isn't great, but it's downright incredible to find one that's great in an entirely new way, and that's exactly what's going on here.