"Hellboy and the BPRD: 1953 – Beyond the Fences #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Paolo Rivera
Colored by Dave Stewart
2016, 32 Pages, $3.50
Comic released on February 24th, 2016
The 1950s were certainly a simpler time without all these Snapchats and smart phones. It's this quaint bit of Americana that serves as such a great juxtaposition to horror. How can a quiet, small town in California be home to some monster going bump in the night? That's what Hellboy and the BPRD are here to investigate. Something's been abducting children over the past few days and they aim to find out what.
The setting of sleepy Rosemead, California, is a place you'd never expect to hear about missing children. The group is walked around town and shown to a construction site where a pretty gruesome piece of evidence was picked up. This is the first real scary shot in the book, and it comes right after bright and sunny scenes on a bright sidewalk with kids running all over the place. To turn the page and find what's left of a human leg is startling and effective. It instantly gives you an idea of what's at stake here.
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As with most of the BPRD titles, Beyond the Fences has a near constant feeling of dread. You may be able to forget about it for a moment, especially when the characters are out in the light of day, but you're always reminded that these folks are here to find a monster. There's a heartbreaking sequence where Hellboy finds the torn collar of a local boy's dog that cuts right to the bone.
The team here is pretty lean with just Hellboy, phychic Susan Xiang, and Jacob Stegner. They have a great dynamic. Stegner is the hard-nosed veteran leading the bunch, with Xiang as the rookie and Hellboy as the eager new recruit. They bust each other's chops, but when it comes time for action, they're primed and ready to go.
Paolo Rivera's artwork in Hellboy and the BPRD: 1953 is incredible. There's this “aw shucks” tone through the early pages of the book as the team goes through the town. The look and feel of the pages hit with a nostalgic flare, helped in no small part by Dave Stewart's colors. Towards the end of the issue, Rivera delivers a breathtaking double-page spread filled with assorted monsters rampaging at agents firing wildly. If you had to picture the end of the world, this would be close. It's terrifying. When I turned the page, I let out an audible “Damn.”
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It wouldn't be a Mignolaverse comic without effective use of shadow. That's certainly the case here. As night descends on the town of Rosemead, shadows loom and Hellboy and the BPRD are in their element. My favorite panel is this quiet one where the team is walking down the street in the dark, with Hellboy standing in the light of a solitary street lamp. They're marching forward, preparing to hunt down whatever beast is lurking out there in the woods and there's this silent moment before they get there that's beautiful.
This issue features two solid covers that are definitely worth tracking down. The regular cover by Rivera is like something out of The Saturday Evening Post. It's akin to a Norman Rockwell painting, featuring Hellboy smoking a cigarette as a group of kids clamor around him. The variant cover from David Mack is downright gorgeous, with a splash of red brandishing the BPRD symbol over Hellboy's silhouette.
You should know by now that if a book has the name “Mignola” on the cover, it's something you should be reading. Hellboy and the BPRD: 1953 – Beyond the Fences is no different. It's filling in some of the vast history that Hellboy had before meeting his untimely end a few years back. There are references to the previous stories in this series, but the book stands on its own with little prior knowledge needed. Any monster fan should be eating this up.