When Jean Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece The Rules of the Game premiered in Paris on the eve of the Second World War, moviegoers incensed at the film’s portrayal of a dissolute French bourgeoisie attempted to burn down the theatre. The film was Renoir’s attempt to portray the social circumstances that had again failed to check Europe’s inevitable path to war. Renoir’s countrymen vigorously rejected the film precisely because it showed something about them that they weren’t willing to acknowledge.
This notion of an unwillingness to acknowledge or face up to unwelcome or unsavory truths suffuses the first issue of B.P.R.D. 1947. When scores of former Nazi officers found trying to escape suddenly turn up mutilated, the reaction of many of the former allies is to chalk it up to a sort of balancing of the scales. But as Professor Bruttenholm explains to Sergeant Maes in the second issue of 1946, there are monsters in the world and simply pretending that they aren’t there won’t make them go away.
The same idea is behind the story of the spectators burning down the opera house subsequent to the premier of Jean-Marie de Grigny’s Carnaval des Condamnés. Presumably those unsuspecting opera aficionados saw the monsters that Grigny was witness to at Baron Konig’s island party. But as Robert Louis Stevenson—and Jean Renoir, for that matter—knew, people are the real monsters and this precisely what we don’t like to acknowledge.
So we have monster stories. Of course, when they are done right, monster stories still manage to show us something of the monsters within us and one would be hard pressed to find a more consistent source of great monster stories than Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics.
One of the great ironies of the Hellboy comics is that the thing about which fans of the series complain most loudly—namely Mignola's choice to invite outside talent to help write and draw the books—is precisely what has kept the series consistently interesting and raised the overall quality of the books. Joshua Dysart, who also co-wrote 1946 with Mignola, is one of the most interesting writers in mainstream comics right now. As much as any other writer, Dysart has a perfect sense of the balance between the demands of narrative and the little bits of political and literary erudition that make a story more than a story. In 1946, Dysart recognized that the story's most interesting character was the Russian girl/demon Varvara and the high points of that series generally centered on those moments where her terrifying ambiguity was most apparent.
Both Varvara and Dysart are back in 1947 and are joined by the Brazilian artist/brothers Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon. Anyone uncertain of the ability of this pair to illustrate a legitimately terrifying horror comic need look no further than the recently released Pixu: The Mark of Evil, in which Bá and Moon were joined by Vasilis Lolos and Becky Cloonan. Bá's chunky lines and expressionistic grotesquerie are a perfect foil to Moon's broad strokes and impressionistic dread. The shifts between the two artists' respective illustrations are subtle enough to be unsettling to the reader and yet not so subtle as to defy differentiation.
Somehow, Hellboy has become something of the Rodney Dangerfield of comics series, never quite getting the respect it deserves, in spite of its ever increasing quality. With creators like Dysart, Bá and Moon, not to forget Mignola himself, 1947 promises to be one of the handful of the series's truly great narratives.