Hellboy and The BPRD – 1957: Fearful Symmetry Wastes Potential

A lackluster addition to the Hellboy mythos.

Hellboy and members from the BPRD members get together once again, this time to tackle mysterious beast attacks in India in the late 1950s. The logline from Dark Horse says, “When Hellboy is called to India to investigate a rash of mysterious animal attacks, he reunites with a familiar face. Together they search for the strange beast terrorizing a small village, but the mystery–and the myth behind it–runs deeper than they thought”. The creative team includes Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson and art from Alison Sampson and Dave Stewart, whose work I am less familiar with.

We join Hellboy as he is investigating some mysterious beast attacks in India. He meets a local professor at an Indian university who, in turn, introduces Hellboy to his teammate for the mission, doctoral student Virginia Payne. We never see the professor again after this, which is a shame because this means the story past this will be from an outsider’s perspective of India.

Hellboy and The BPRD - 1957: Fearful Symmetry

Virginia and Hellboy allude to shared past adventures, and it seems Virginia has been familiarizing herself with the culture, folklore, and beliefs of the land. Hellboy talks naively about anthropology as well as what he thinks, reductively so, of what the primary religious beliefs in India are. However, Virginia corrects him on both fronts and explains anthropology as being beyond just studying cavemen and tries to explain how there are several tribal beliefs in India. This does lend a little bit of credence to Virginia’s role in the story, but it is not too much since her explanation is interrupted by another beast attack. I won’t spoil much more here, however, I definitely want to talk about what Hellboy says right before this.

Virginia admits to feeling a little bit out of her depth solving this mystery and asks Hellboy how he goes about such cases. To this, Hellboy simply says he waits around for something to turn up and then tackles it. This straightforward pragmatism is a hallmark of Hellboy; he is no machiavellian Constantine nor a brooding hero like Moon Knight. However, the story fulfills this prophecy on more than one occasion where Hellboy and Virginia just wait around for something to happen and then tackle it. This reduces the task of solving the mystery to simply brute forcing it instead of methodically cracking it. For instance, most stories involving a beast attack would involve researching the local folklore, which would be an excellent way to highlight Virginia’s skills and bring something new to the mythos. It could’ve also involved the team methodically laying a trap, which is sort of common sense. However, none of these things happen, and in fact, the first and only person they suspect ends up being actually the person linked to the attacks. 

While how the attacks were happening is interesting, it isn’t novel. They could’ve gone hard on the metaphysical. After all, they were visiting India, and the story involved souls and dreams! The beast attacks were also tiger attacks, as implied in the cover, and there are plenty of legends and myths around those (see here). However, what we get is a pretty dry and paper-thin mystery. The action-adventure aspect is also minimal since a tiger is barely a match for Hellboy. I will skip gripes about some of the plot holes since this isn’t the sort of story that is into the plausibility of the mystery or the resolution.

Hellboy and The BPRD - 1957: Fearful Symmetry

Alison Sampson’s pencils weren’t to my taste. They fare better when depicting evocative backgrounds and splashy action sequences or montages with no panel borders. However, it’s the closeups of faces and expressions that suffer. There is a sense of uncanny valley in some of the faces they draw, and the tiger, more often than not, looks like a comedian in a bad tiger costume. Inking is definitely Alison’s stronger suit. It has a scratchy, uneven quality which works well for things like trees, jungle fauna, and thatched roofs. Colors from Dave Stewart are befitting the story, no notes there.

The logline promises a deep mystery and myth. What we get instead is a mystery that doesn’t grip you and pretty much no exploration of any local myths. Overall I would give this book a pass.

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