Yeah, it’s been a while since we got one of these. So long, in fact, that the next volume has already been solicited for release this June. With a new volume due so (relatively) soon does “1954” deserve to be lost in the shuffle? I don’t think that any story featuring Hellboy deserves that fate, even if some of the tales collected here are some of the most conventional by Mignolaverse standards.
Things kick off on a promising note with “Black Sun” as Hellboy and B.P.R.D. biologist Woodrow Farrier arrive in the Arctic to investigate a mysterious attack on a research station there. The survivors can’t agree on whether or not they were attacked by a rabid polar bear or something worse, and when Hellboy and Woodrow go to investigate they find something stranger. It gets even weirder from there before things take a turn for the familiar as our protagonist comes face-to-face with the people behind this and echoed my sentiments perfectly by saying, “Not these guys again…”
Stories involving “these guys” are a dime a dozen at this point in the Mignolaverse’s existence and the revelation of another offshoot of their weird research agenda doesn’t have the excitement it once did. Even if this time “these guys” do have flying saucers. Mike Mignola and co-writer Chris Roberson try their best to square the existence of this group with the rest of the series’ canon with lots of exposition, but the best parts of the story are the eerie and suspenseful first half and the bits where Hellboy starts smashing stuff in the second. It does have some nice art from Stephen Green as he makes the settings stand out and does an excellent job of capturing Hellboy’s self-assured, deadpan confidence.
“The Unreasoning Beast” features art from Patric Reynolds, no stranger to “Hellboy” or the Mignolaverse in general. His scratchy linework works well for this ghost story that has Hellboy and Agent Xiang investigating a ghost monkey haunting a suburban family. It’s pretty straightforward as far as these things go, and you’re likely to figure out what’s going on as soon as Hellboy does. I liked the bit at the end where Mignola and Roberson wring some nice drama about what to do regarding the boy which sends this okay story off on a nice note.
“Ghost Moon” follows Hellboy, Agent Xiang, and Agent Muraro on an assignment to the Kowloon Walled City so they can assist one Roland Childe, head of the Sino-British Importation Distribution, regarding an artifact of immense power that went missing along with one of his co-workers. Things quickly take a turn for the supernatural as the group finds out that this artifact has some strong ties to the Chinese afterlife with two powerful emissaries showing up to see that it’s returned to its proper place.
This is a lot closer to the quality I’ve come to expect from “B.P.R.D.” stories. Even if does get bogged down here and there with exposition, it’s still a jaunty supernatural adventure with some good action and nice twists. It also furthers plot threads from the previous volume, letting us know that there is some kind of overarching story being told there. “Ghost Moon” also features fantastic art from Brian Churilla that’s filled with lots of great little details -- witness his version of the Chinese afterlife’s underworld -- and great energy throughout.
Closing out the volume is “The Mirror,” from Mignola and artist Richard Corben. Now, Mignola and Corben have done some of the all-time great “Hellboy” stories together, including “The Crooked Man” which also gets my vote for the scariest Mignolaverse story I’ve ever read. This one… is fine for an eight-pager. It has Hellboy investigating a cursed mirror, learning a lesson, and getting a vague warning about his future. As a story, it’s pretty standard issue. Corben’s art does elevate it as he brings real menace to the supernatural bits. Particularly when the ghosts try to take pieces out of our protagonist.
“1954” is pretty easy to sum up in the end. It’s one for the converted, not the newcomer. People like me who have followed the Mignolaverse for quite some time will be forgiving enough of its flaws to get some enjoyment out of it. We’ll also hope that this is just a momentary downturn in quality and that things will get back on track for “1955.”