A lot of Hellboy one-shots don’t need much context. They’re a big red guy tromping through classic ghost tales or folklore. But for this comic? There’s a year in the title. Which sets it in a fairly specific point in Hellboy’s life, building on subplots Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. comics have had running for years. All built around a mystery that calls back to a one-page backup from an over decade-old comic. Newer readers can still have fun, but this one goes out to all the lore-heads.
Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson keep their team-up going strong, focusing here on a fairly classic team for the comic itself – Hellboy and his surrogate father, Trevor Bruttenholm. The comic begins when Hellboy visits Bruttenholm at his Brooklyn office, hoping to reconnect in the face of Bruttenholm’s frequent absence from headquarters. Bruttenholm suggests they investigate a local haunting he’s been following as a hobby. And so, the two investigate the mystery at a leisurely pace, hoping to find the identity of a ghost haunting a mass pauper’s grave.
Each installment in the 1957 series of one-shots has focused on Hellboy’s relationship with a different member of the B.P.R.D., but the Hellboy/Trevor dynamic is both the comic’s longest running and most emotionally charged. Though the overwhelming feeling here is one of distance – both Hellboy and Trevor are dealing with recent loss they feel they can’t tell the other about. That the story’s core mystery concerns the forgotten dead weighs on both of them, coming through in moments of silence and frustrated aimlessness. But as the mystery continues, Hellboy starts to show more of his wonder and enthusiasm for his childhood heroes, while Bruttenholm remains a jaded adult.
It’s also worth mentioning that the story reveals Hellboy was present for what was previously a throwaway joke in a one-page backup story. It is in service of what’s ultimately a sweet story about wondering how we’ll be remembered when we’re gone, though one has to wonder if it was necessary to insert Hellboy into yet another minor part of the universe’s history. It makes the world feel smaller. Of course, this is the fate of many long-running universes – most readers are connected to the characters above all else. Background details can be about unnamed strangers, but stories are going to be about characters readers like. So tell a story about a previous background detail, and a beloved character will probably get involved. Tell enough, and the universe will start to shrink.
Stephen Green is on art duties, and pulls off the unenviable task of making an issue of mostly dialogue visually interesting. He always manages to make the characters feel lively, whether its young Hellboy reading a comic, jaw agape, or an auctioneer quietly adjusting his glasses. He draws a rugged, scarred Hellboy with wild sideburns. It’s a fun take, and works well for a Hellboy who’s been around the block but isn’t quite as world-weary as he will eventually become. He also does a good job when it comes time to draw the supernatural, as his ghost is a sketchy silhouette, smeared and speckled like it was made of ink.
As for Dave Stewart’s colors and Clem Robins’ lettering, both are Mignolaverse regulars who maintain their high standards. In the page above, you can see how the sky briefly turns electric blue to compliment the unearthly green of the ghost, the letters trailing away as it fades into darkness. Both creators have been integral to keeping the feel of the Mignolaverse titles, which is incredibly important for a universe that puts mood front and center.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1957-Forgotten Lives helps the reader get a feeling for where Hellboy and Bruttenholm are at following the events of 1956. The ghost at the core of the narrative gives them a chance to reflect on recent losses, both acting as a sort of recap and stage-setting for whatever stories come next. It’s a chance to check in with the characters before the next big Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. plot starts up. Though I’m glad we’ll be getting a few more one-shots first – I’m always happy to spend a bit more time with these characters.