‘A Force For Good in His Own Right’
Writer: Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson
Artist: Paul Grist
Warning: Spoilers for The Visitor How & Why He Stayed #1
The Visitor How & Why He Stayed follows the Hellboy story we all know and love, but with a twist. Way back in 1994 readers will remember aliens in Hellboy: Seed of Destruction and The Visitor offers an insight into the role they have played throughout Hellboy’s life. Far from a secondary player, The Visitor seems to have played a very crucial part as voyeur and protector.
The initial panels open with white flowers etched amongst darkness with an ominous edge. Jagged as they are these flowers are beautiful in their own way. Paul Grist continues to play with the reader throughout; drawing and colouring commonplace objects with menace, perhaps affecting the way we experience them. And this has always been Hellboy’s moral lesson; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is a theme that is skilfully drawn throughout this awe inspiring first edition. Grists use of panelling is highly innovative with lines breaking away to full page images and panels that co-exist with moments occurring in the blank space behind. Just as The Visitor exists outwith Hellboy’s main narrative he often walks outside the panels that contain our main character. The panels really have been utilised to their full storytelling capacity in this first issue.
Thus follows Hellboy’s classic origin story as he is summoned to earth and saved by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm despite the initial exclamation of ‘Shot it! Kill it! It’s a Demon from hell come to destroy us all!’ from the allied forces. However, this is an origin with a twist, adding another layer to the narrative we know and love. Also lying in wait for Hellboy is a shapeshifting alien armed with a deadly weapon. In a split second decision this mysterious character decides against destroying the demon child professing to his superiors that ‘his nature us not yet revealed… The future is still in motion. There is still hope for him. Hope for redemption.’
The Visitor is so committed to his decision that he chooses to stay on earth to monitor Hellboy’s demonic tendencies. This is where the first drop of blood falls through the panels cutting a black chasm through The Visitor’s head. The dripping blood continues to cut its way through the panels in the proceeding pages. This continued drip appears as ominous when it is in fact proven to be anything but.
The Visitor follows Hellboy throughout his childhood into adulthood watching carefully for any demonic behaviour. As a third person spectator, The Visitor welcomes the reader into some of the most touching moments of Hellboy’s childhood and adolescence. It’s almost like looking through a photo album and it generates a warm, fuzzy sort of feeling that offers nostalgia for seasoned fans and a lovely window in for new readers. The blood continues to drip in greater quantity throughout these scenes generating a sort of foreboding curiosity.
As Hellboy enters adulthood he is the quick witted, brash and loveable character we know from the pages of countless comics. Hellboy is now a protector of humankind who battles the supernatural. As we move toward the penultimate panels we see Hellboy battling a particularly ferocious dragon that very nearly defeats him. This is when The Visitor steps from voyeur to active participant in Hellyboy’s life. Rather than watch, he helps; delivering a death blow to the dragon that holds Hellboy in its grasp. Hellboy is oblivious to any helping hand and walks away believing he has defeated the Dragon himself.
This is when Hellboy bleeds. It drips to the ground in great quantity as seedlings push their way up through the soil. The flowers return to bookend the issue as The Visitor is again forced to reconsider his assumptions. The Visitor muses, ‘it never occurred to me until that moment that the child might grow into a force for good in his own right.’
The previously ominous blood becomes a source of life and peace as white flowers spring in its wake. Again, we are forced to reconsider any previously held assumptions as we stand with The Visitor, our 3rd person voyeur who navigates the Mignolaverse in a similar way to the reader. Despite this moment of revelation we still do not know The Visitor. Who is he? Why did he spare Hellboy and why does he save him now? Who are these aliens and why are their numbers dwindling? What kind of person sacrifices their own life to follow a demon child? I have no idea and I am so looking forward to how this narrative unfolds in issue #2.
This first issue, in so many ways, is just stunning.