The latest volume of the title character’s early years with the organization features a three-issue miniseries advancing its running plots bookended by two one-off issues, courtesy of regular writers Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson. “Secret Nature” comes first and features the slick art of “Thief of Thieves” Shawn Martinbrough who shows that he can handle a demonic throw-down as easily as a heist gone wrong. The story itself is pretty standard issue by “Hellboy” standards, nods to the racism of the time and “Abe Sapien” boogeyman Gustav Strobl help keep things interesting, but it’s Martinbrough’s work which carries the story. Fortunately the division of labor is a bit more evenly handled in the second story, “Burning Season,” as Hellboy, Prof. Bruttenholm, and psychic Susan Xiang investigate what looks to be a case of spontaneous human combustion in the Florida woods. It’s not that simple, of course, but the explanation behind it and the methods the team use to deal with it were unexpected in a good way. Paolo Rivera returns to the pages of this series for this one-off and again delivers detailed work that makes me wish he’d show up more often around these parts.
“Occult Intelligence” is the centerpiece of this volume and it follows three different plot threads. The main one involves Hellboy and some of his B.P.R.D. buddies stopping off at an Air Force base in the Marshall Islands on the way home and finding themselves smack in the middle of some secret experiments being run by a shadowy government organization and a Russian agent’s plan to interrupt them. Meanwhile, over in England, Susan works on honing her precognitive abilities, and Prof. Bruttenholm hits up some old friends to find out who else aside from the B.P.R.D. is investigating occult activity in the world. It’s solid work, with the Hellboy bits delivering some satisfying action and conspiracy drama while Bruttenholm’s activities connect the main story to a plot point set up in the previous volume. Only Susan’s plotline feels a bit extraneous as it feels like it’s there to set up future storylines. We do get some excellently loose and wild art from Brian Churilla tying it all together leading to a volume that, even if it doesn’t excite me in the way the best Mignolaverse stuff does, still has me interested in seeing where it’s all going.