Pullbox Reviews Hellboy & the B.P.R.D. 1957: Family Ties

Does this remind anyone else of an iconic movie poster?

In July of 1957, a quiet little suburb in Dayton, Ohio is about to get a wake-up call. The Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense has sent two of its top operatives to solve a problem before it becomes a crisis of Old Testament proportions. It seems that someone thought it would be a great idea to publish Gustav Strobe’s Witchcraft & Demonology in paperback form, and now it’s up to Hellboy and psychic operative Susan Xiang to round them all up before someone starts spouting incantations and all Hell literally breaks loose.

This one-shot from series creator Mike Mignola & writer Chris Roberson is great for anyone who likes the world of Hellboy & the BPRD, but doesn’t have the level of commitment it would take to get through the entire regular series of titles. A tightly wound and fully contained story, Family Ties shows how comics don’t have to be wrapped up in years of continuity to be entertaining or easy to pick up. Writing what’s essentially a short story, Mignola and Roberson lay out everything they need in order to pull a reader in and carry them through the muddied waters of a paranormal investigation. Along the way, they’re able to introduce a character who’s less familiar to me in Sue, and give her a bit of an arc as she tries to keep up with Hellboy’s leap first/look never approach.

Artistically, the ongoing Hellboy and related comics have done a fantastic job of attracting talent that stays true to Mignola’s original style. Not that artist Laurence Campbell is mimicking anyone, but he honors the tone found in the early Hellboy stories and brings his own touch while keeping the world very recognizable. In Campbell’s hands, Family Ties has all of the attitude Mignola’s very left-of-center style, and he’s able to convey the layers in the characters he draws. I really wish I knew more about Sue, but to be honest I’m probably one of those readers who likes the world of Hellboy but isn’t as familiar with its history. Without diving deeply into her backstory, Campbell shows that there’s much more to her character than is told on the page. He does it through his visual portrayal over a series of panels free of dialogue, all expression and posture.

Aiding and abetting the fine work already established on this book, Dave Stewart puts the finishing touches to Campbell’s lines. Deep shadows obscure, but don’t hide, the details that are meant to show us that things aren’t at all well in Dayton. As the paranormal investigators dig deeper into the mystery, Stewart’s colors give the right accents to the story, again paying attention to the stark tone of Mignola’s original works.

Finally, Celm Robins has earned his keep as letterer on this book. There’s nothing flashy or audacious about anything he’s done here, but he helps to build a sense of foreboding leading into the reveal. As understated a job of lettering as I’ve ever seen, Robins instills parts of the dialogue with what I can only describe as whispered dread.

Family Ties is a Hellboy story that honors the immense history of the franchise, but stays accessible to readers not fully steeped in it. Fans of horror, fans of well built short stories, and of course fans of Hellboy will be able to devour this one without so much as a hiccup.

Final Score: 12/13

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