Figuring out Hellboy continuity can be a challenge. Since the character debuted in 1993, the world of Hellboy has exploded, blowing up in scale from a single indie darling into an entire comic universe. It has over ten spinoff series that take place across a vast timeline, extending all the way from medieval times to the present. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 is published as a trade paperback by Dark Horse Comics, written by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson with art by Mike Norton, Yishan Li, Michael Avon Oeming, and Paul Grist, colors by Dave Stewart and Bill Crabtree. It collects Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956, Hellboy Vs. Lobster Johnson: The Ring of Death, and Hellboy Vs. Lobster Johnson: Down Mexico Way. This strange volume takes place in one of the most eventful years of the Hellboy history, the year Hellboy got lost in Mexico.
If you’re well-read in everything Hellboy, you’re in for a treat. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 ties into fan-favorite storylines like Hellboy in Mexico and Hellboy B.P.R.D.: 1947, among others. It provides context for these storylines as well as a look at the early days of the B.P.R.D. without stopping every few pages for a monster fight. But as a result, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 lacks the brawling spirit of the Hellboy franchise. It features more dialogue-driven office meetings than supernatural scuffles.
However, the book also requires a firm grasp of Hellboy continuity outside of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. to fully understand. Mignola and Roberson’s script weaves between established canon, but never retreads old ground. If an event has already hit the page in a different comic, then the book leaves it alone. It expects you to fill in the blanks for yourself rather than rehash established plot points from earlier series. Mignola and company almost treat this book as supplementary reading. Hellboy’s story occurs almost entirely off-panel. His few appearances in Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 TBP flesh out a character arc you can only see if you have a copy of Hellboy in Mexico handy.
Of course, there’s more to Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 than just its title character. The volume features a robust cast of characters who each lead their own plotlines, including B.P.R.D. Director Trevor Bruttenholm, psychic field agent Susan Xiang, and demonic Soviet Intelligence Director Varvara. Each storyline is illustrated by a different artist, giving each member of the ensemble their own distinct flavor.
Eisner Award-winning artist Mike Norton absolutely nails it here. The book gets away with leaving so much for readers to read between the lines thanks to Norton’s deft use of body language and facial expressions. The Norton illustrated Hellboy Vs. Lobster Johnson: The Ring of Death is an absolute riot, capturing the grainy joy of black and white Luchador films. Hellboy fans of all stripes owe it to themselves to lay their eyes on this one.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 makes a fine addition to the Hellboy universe. However, longtime Hellboy fans will get need to breakout their copies of Hellboy in Mexico to get the full story. This collection goes behind the scenes of the B.P.R.D., telling a story that is unfortunately short on action but at least full of intrigue. Funny, touching, and full of lore, this volume fleshes out some of Hellboy’s most endearing moments.
Hellboy And The B.P.R.D.: 1956. TPB
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 makes a fine addition to the Hellboy universe. However, longtime Hellboy fans will get need to breakout their copies of Hellboy in Mexico to get the full story.