The Mignola-verse is a tantalizing one to explore since it’s so macabre and positively littered with monsters. One of the newest stories from the universe has come out in collected format, focusing on Hellboy villain Rasputin. This prequel series aims to flesh out important characters in a World War II setting.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
With the World War II raging, Hellboy’s future guardian Trevor Bruttenholm enlists with Britain’s Military Intelligence, where he uncovers a collection of strange messages. Believing it to be an occult language, he follows his hunch and is thrown into a world of animated corpses, deadly mystics, and Nazi agents. The treacherous journey leads him face to face with the man who will bring Hellboy to Earth–Rasputin!
Why does this matter?
As the solicit put it, “The two men responsible for Hellboy face off!” As a prequel series, this story fleshes out Bruttenholm’s early days while revealing how Rasputin attempted to gain power but was thwarted along the way. This is also fun historical fiction at its finest. Check out Roberson’s thoughts on the series.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This series balances out the interesting backstory for the characters while throwing in monster action and Nazi killing heroics in an entertaining way. The pace of the book keeps you informed and delivers on the action when necessary. Writers Chris Roberson and Mike Mignola have got the ball rolling, and Bruttenholm is going full-on secret agent spy here which somewhat begs for a movie adaptation. Not only must he parachute into Nazi-occupied France at one point, he must also infiltrate a secret research facility and take on monsters (he seems to fight a monster in every issue). Along the way, we get a backstory on a Nazi researcher who wants to raise the dead and a backstory about a supernatural expert whose Indian descent has made his superiors assume he’s made it all up. I’m not as well versed in the Mignola-verse as I might like, but the ramifications of the events in this book are pretty obvious.
Mitten draws a strong series, especially the opening pages with Rasputin, and he’s quite good at capturing twisted imagery amongst a normal looking world. There’s one panel, for instance, that has a character’s head twisted way too far that’s deeply unsettling. This is in the foreground cast in shadow as Professor Bruttenholm walks unbeknownst to this murder. The monsters have an unhinged sort of feel that makes them at once scary and weird. Take for instance the zombies closer to the end of the book which has their jaws breaking off and their skin nearly oozing. It’s a monster we’ve seen a thousand times, but Mitten is able to give it a unique spin that makes you question what it is made of. There’s also some interesting Egyptian stuff going on that looks sharp.
This collection also comes with a sketchbook with notes by Katii O’Brien. It’s a nice extra as she reviews some of Mitten’s early line work. The collection also comes with all the covers some of which are truly beautiful.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This is going to be best read by Hellboy fans who are tapped into the roles of Bruttenholm and Rasputin. On a certain level the story feels a bit uncertain since Bruttenholm and Sandhu end up being observers rather than agents of change, but maybe that’s on purpose to show how humans can’t get the job done. Overall the story flows nicely but there can be some heavy exposition moments that drag things down. Luckily there’s always another monster around the corner to kick things up a notch.
Is it good?
This is good historical fiction with a heavy dose of monsters. It’s a series that could easily find its place as a TV show or movie as it plays with a rich history from Mike Mignola’s mind.