Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has always been a very important character to me. I’ve just always been so drawn to Mignola’s world. A beautiful collage of different mythologies, stories, and tones. Often, the joy of reading Hellboy is in seeing plot threads pay off years later; it’s one big sprawling saga. However, I find myself most often drawn to the shorter, smaller one-shot stories. Hellboy is such a malleable character and works exceptionally well in short, concise, and tightly constructed narratives. So I was very excited to get into Hellboy and the BPRD: Time is a River, a new one-shot by Mignola with art by Márk László, colors by Dave Stewart, and letters by Clem Robins.
Before getting into this, it’s important to understand that this issue operates as a sequel to The Miser’s Gift, a short story in the Hellboy Winter Special of 2019. That story had the same creative team and is important for this one shot, so I would recommend reading it if you wanted to read this one. The basic gist of it is that Hellboy is called in to help a man who wandered onto a ghost street in Budapest. Hellboy helps him and an older man named Lajos to get back to that street to return a coin to a ghost. Pretty typical Hellboy stuff. However, by the end of it, Lajos is trapped on that street. This issue follows Hellboy as he tries to bring him back to the land of the living. So this issue follows on from that earlier story, but it’s not essential. This one-shot gives you all the context you need, and it’s pretty approachable for those with no experience with the character.
The real stand out in this issue is László’s gorgeous art. The Mignolaverse works at its best visually when it tries to look stylised but retains an incredible amount of detail. Duncan Fregrado and Guy Davis are two excellent examples. László manages to fit into that wonderfully here with strong cartooning but a great eye for texture. That cartoon comes across best in the strong performance on display in each panel. Ol Hellboy is often a very stoic and stern character, and that lends itself to the character being depicted as statuesque. Here, however, László gets to push Hellboy into the more animated territory, with a longer and more elastic face. That elasticity also extends to the environment. The ghostly Budapest has a wonderfully spooky and expressionist aesthetic. It’s almost like something out of Doctor Caligari, with buildings bending and stretching, defying the laws of physics. This issue also has an incredibly strong atmosphere with a lot of fog, smoke, rain, and other elemental factors. It gives the story a mournful and dreary atmosphere that perfectly suits the story Mignola is presenting.
Dave Stewart is, of course, a Hellboy mainstay, and his colors shine here as they always do. The moody bluish hues of the ghostly Budapest contrast wonderfully with the loud red that Hellboy brings into each image. It also works wonderfully as a companion piece to Miser’s Gift, which has a warmer palette with an emphasis on fire instead of water. It makes the two stories a great duology, with the two distinct halves adding to a complete whole.
The writing here is great as well, but it’s hardly Mignola’s best. He has crafted so many stories with this character now that it’s difficult to really find things to criticise. It’s a honed style of story with Hellboy grumbling amidst a horrifying new environHellboy and the BRPD: Time is a Riverment. I don’t think any of the other characters are particular standouts, but it’s enough to keep you invested. I wouldn’t say it’s the best Hellboy by any means, but it’s still very good Hellboy, which is still better than most comics, so you be the judge. It’s clear that this was made to be a showcase for Laszlo and in that it succeeds. I’m hoping that Mignola recognises his talent here and brings him on to do more work with the character in the future.