No doubt that audiences will be familiar with the story of Hellboy, prophesied as Anung Un Rama, the Great Destroyer. The demon-child was summoned by the Nazis at the later stages of World War II, appearing in a fireball at the remains of Bromwich Church in 1944. Spectators look in horror at the appearance of Hellboy, debating whether to kill him or spare him. Yet at a last minute behest, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm intervenes, deciding to raise Hellboy as if he was his own child.
Yet at this point in the story of The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed #1, we also note an otherworldly visitor, whose original mission was to eliminate the one prophesied to bring calamity to the world. We see the creature holding up a device, which we assume was meant to eliminate Hellboy. Yet when Bruttenholm steps in to take care of the child, the creature also decides to spare the demon-child, and to observe what path he takes during the course of his lifetime.
The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed #1 takes concepts of nature vs. nurture; fate vs. choice, and puts it into a larger universal setting. We see The Visitor struggling with these two concepts, ultimately making his choice that the child would be observed to both confirm whether the child would fulfill the destiny that was foretold of him, and whether The Visitor had made the correct decision about sparing the young Anung Un Rama.
Authors Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson take from the original story and give us, the audience who read the original Hellboy comics, a character outside of our world that sees the greater threat or the greater possibility that Hellboy presents. The Visitor is well informed as to what the fates speak concerning Hellboy and what he should become. Whether Anung Un Rama embraces that destiny or not is simply a matter of time and observation. We are as helpless observers, yet at any point in time, this Visitor could destroy Hellboy and avert the disaster that was foretold of him.
The artwork by Paul Grist is simple and two-dimensional, without too much attention to the details of what’s going on. Yet, we see in the background another story that seems to carry on through to the end. Subtle hints at an artwork that starts to take shape behind the scenes of the Visitor’s observations of Hellboy, that ends justifying its existence with something beautiful, and contrary to the expectations of fate, destiny, whatever you wish to call it. I might think that the artwork was framed in such a way with the suggestion of the writer team of Mignola and Roberson. Otherwise if this was solely a decision on Grist’s part, then he pulls off something brilliant that most poets wouldn’t be able to pull off in just words.
The heavy lines in the piece also give it a cartoonish look, akin to some Archie comic titles or old school Action Comics, yet we are seeing this style in 2017, not 1946. A lot of the artwork also is filled with hard angles and sharp edges, and have an appeal to a younger audience. I am brought to remember some of my younger days of watching PowerPuff Girls with similar thick lines. However, the colors of Bill Crabtree also are part of the minimal environment, using a very narrow array of colors on a pastel scale to maybe highlight some details of the story that help to push the narrative along, or to contrast some of the other forces at play, whether they be internal or external.
Dialogue throughout the piece is minimal, yet the undertones speak of two stories of inner conflict within the Visitor. The artwork, in fact, is very similar to the dialogue in that simplicity, letting images heavy in shadow and a contrast of brilliant light cover the pages. It makes it seem like the issue is more black and white than the more convenient grey area concerning fate vs. choice. Yet in these contrasting color schemes we see a character in the Visitor that is caught between the two extremes of what the decision should be, the dialogue and action, and the silent moments of reflection versus tense moments where he is almost pressed to take action.
A point of any critical remark would be narrowed to the lack of detail in the artwork. There are a few panels where I am left confused as to what a character might be reaching for, or some of the objects that might be in the background. Although background is just a general setting for where an event is taking place, it would be nice to get some better details on what a character had dropped, or what object just broke that helped Hellboy battle against whatever monster. The vagueness of the objects being used by the Visitor aids in shrouding him in mystery, as he is mostly a character in the very undefined background, not too important to the main narrative of Hellboy. Yet, altogether he is important to Hellboy as he served to flesh out the world that he was part of, and ultimately a part of that world that was observing him, and could at any moment remove him from existence. Perhaps in later issues more of this background world will be explored, as more of this Visitor’s intentions and background will also be explored.
The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed #1 does a light retelling of the origins of Hellboy through his young adult years. But it does it through the eyes of a visitor who maybe has no profound connection to his destiny, yet is obligated to do something about it. There is a lot of obscurity surrounding this character, and the artist/writing team does a decent job of keeping him in the shadows while trying to recount the tales of Hellboy’s youth. There are cracks also in this new character where we see the Visitor’s monologues and the struggle he has against killing an innocent child, which helps the audience maybe connect with this new character a bit more, even though he is shrouded in mystery. Although the art is a little too simplistic for my taste, I believe a lot of audiences that were fans of the original Mignola comic will appreciate this callback style while taking another look at the history from different eyes.
- Writing shows a depth of character in the Visitor to help audience connect
- Art style simple to convey the overall message
- Deeper subjects of predestination vs. free will/nature vs. nurture explored
- Art style might be too simple for some audiences
- Objects not drawn with detail/unable to tell what they are or what purpose they serve to the story
- Not enough detail about The Visitor (but I guess that might be answered in the next few issues!)