“The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed”
Dark Horse Comics
Written By: Mike Mignola and Chris Robertson
Art: Paul Grist
Colours: Bill Crabtree
Letters: Clem Robins
In June of last year, we said goodbye to Hellboy as the last Hellboy in Hell single issue of the ongoing title was released. This title concluded our hero’s tale, and brought the regular series to a close. Since then Dark Horse has been publishing spin-off/supplementary titles like “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.”, that showcase snippets of Hellboy’s exploits from his early adulthood. Monsters abound as Hellboy finds his chops and grows into the gun-toting, cigar-smoking, “oh crap” exclaiming Big Red who held his own series for 23 years. Now, Dark Horse offers yet another take on the would-be apocalypse-bringer with The Visitor, a stylised book that runs congruent to the original arc with a slightly different perspective.
The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed begins where we began, all those years ago- at the site of the summoning of Anung Un Rama: The Great Destroyer, in 1944. In the first Hellboy comic, published in 1993, we are shown the first glimpse of baby Hellboy from the perspective of the German occultists who summoned him and the American scientists and soldiers who took him in. The Visitor shows us the same sequence from the perspective of a hidden figure who was also present: The Visitor himself. Sent by a set of identical alien-type inter-dimensional beings to destroy Anung Un Rama when it presented itself on Earth, The Visitor reacts much like Cynthia and the Professor to Hellboy’s child-like and humanoid appearance- he cannot bring himself to destroy the force he was sent to eliminate. After all “he is just a child.” Despite the insistence of his clan-members (fellow aliens? It’s unclear.) that The Great Destroyer is too great a threat to be kept alive, The Visitor opts to stay on Earth and observe Hellboy. As he says, “If I have made the wrong choice, I will correct my mistake.”
Despite revisiting old material, The Visitor’s presentation of the original story feels very fresh. As a character, The Visitor can shift in and out of human form and because of this a bystander in the distance is often enough to suggest him watching Hellboy’s development through the years without altering the canon of the original story. With Mignola’s help, Chris Roberston manages to seamlessly integrate scenes a Hellboy fan would recognize, such as young Hellboy’s first attempts at riding a bike, with The Visitor’s overheard dialogue and presence. These moments are carefully chosen not only to present the reader with moments of Hellboy’s early development (as cute as those are!) but with the influence of the people around him. The reader, through The Visitor’s eyes, sees Hellboy gain the advice of his mentors and learn to take life in stride- becoming the strong, adaptable, humble creature we know him to be. By the end of the first issue, Robertson has given us and his new character a vision of a boy-turned-man in just the right way to give redemption to the sin of his conception.
Adding to the seamless integration of this new narrative is the stylized yet still familiarly minimalist artwork by Paul Grist and Bill Crabtree. The use of heavy blacks and muted greys, and of greens, and browns against the stark red of Hellboy harkens back to Mignola’s artwork throughout Hellboy’s tale. The Visitor himself carries a similar look and colour pallet to Hellboy’s partner, Abe Sapien, and I wonder if there isn’t a reference there for us to pick up in later issues. In any case, the duo do a great job of bringing their own modern flavour to the medium without changing our boy from the stocky, scowling creature we’ve cherished all these years- when Hellboy’s in a panel, he’s hard to take your eye off of, and he’s given real presence. You can see why The Visitor would have no trouble taking on the task. The letters as well, put in by Clem Robins, almost exactly mirror the fonts used in the running title, right up to the use of thick bolds for emphasis.
Overall, this team does a great job giving back to a story that is so beloved in comics while offering an exciting new perspective on an existing narrative. The Visitor is familiar but it never feels tired, instead it runs alongside the original arc and matching its pace with fun snippets of a character who is fun to read about and equally enjoyable to look at. Picking out just the right moments to re-connect the reader to the existing mythos The Visitor is a complete joy to a Hellboy fan looking to remember how the character grew from a curled-up demon summoned to bring on the apocalypse, to the gawky tween eating pancakes for the first time, to the man we watched fight werewolves and frogs and all manner of monsters. I thoroughly look forward to the next Visitor title, and am curious to see the tale from the perspective of the being who allowed Anung Un Rama to survive. 9/10
Chris is the owner of The Sidekick comic shop/coffee bar in Toronto. You can find her there under a mountain of books, doing shots of espresso off the bar.When she’s not in the shop, Chris does freelance illustration work and tours the city’s outdoor space with her dog Cooper.
Her favorite fandoms feature giant monsters.