Artist: Paul Grist
Colorist: Bill Crabtree
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
While Hellboy sleeps in the underworld, Mike Mignola and his collaborators are seizing the opportunity to explore some of the smaller characters in this universe. They don’t come much smaller than The Visitor, a member of the aliens who briefly appeared at the end of the first Hellboy miniseries “Seed of Destruction”. This miniseries connects those strange creatures to the entirety of Hellboy lore as they watch the child called to Earth and one stays behind to supervise rather than kill the little, red baby.
The Visitor’s connection to Hellboy offers the story a familiar structure: that of all Hellboy comics. Like Uatu in Marvel Comics or The Phantom Stranger in DC Comics, this alien silently watches each new event from a safe distance. He is commonly dressed as a man in a trench coat, taking notes, but never quite interfering. This setup proves to be both a strength and a problem within the first issue of the miniseries.
For readers already familiar with Hellboy, The Visitor plays out like a greatest hits album. Each event is pulled from a miniseries or short story that is easily placed. The story remains the same, and only the perspective is changed. This does pose a problem for anyone unfamiliar with Hellboy though, as the story requires a knowledge of both the plot and themes to function. While The Visitor states what has often been subtext in these stories, Hellboy and his peers are background figures, so the observations do not rest on their own. The Visitor relies heavily on context and will likely sink without it.
While the story might be troublesome for any without a considerable familiarity with Hellboy lore, the cartooning of Paul Grist will likely offer some enjoyment for anyone who flips through these pages. Grist, much like Mignola, has a definitive style and absolute control over the page. He crafts figures and scenes by discovering the essential forms in each element. While there are similarities between the two artists, it is a wonder to see how Grist reinterprets work Mignola first crafted 20 or more years ago.
It is Grist’s work that serves as a reminder to the timeless qualities of the Hellboy narrative. Even from the remove of an observer, the broad strokes and imagery still capture some magic. They might not click for some readers, but will likely inspire those to seek out the stories they do not understand. Both the origin and retelling of “The Nature of the Beast” stand out as exemplary moments. The cartooning in these instances is nothing short of superb.
The Visitor #1 is an odd comic in that it is defined by stories outside of itself. It has only begun to hint at the narrative importance of The Visitor, himself. Yet the seeds for this alien’s tale are present as well, even primarily as reflections of another story. While the trek through Hellboy history will likely continue (and to be seen through Grist’s incredible eye), it is this story that will garner more interest. Throughout the history of Hellboy comics, every life has been shown to matter, not the question is when The Visitor will step out from the shadows and into a life of its own.