Hellboy: Bride of Hell
It's sometimes hard to comprehend Mike Mignola's consistency as a creator, writer, and still occasionally, artist. He has been exploring the same sort of themes, with the same character, and with the same sort of quality writing for so many years. This time Mignola continues developing Hellboy’s relationship with the Catholic Church and his relationships to other demons but throws into "The Bride of Hell" a fascinating parallel and then, startling contrast between Hellboy's employer, the B.P.R.D, and the many other secret organizations at work in Mignola's universe.
Though it's quickly stuffed into the background, it's important to remember that the root of the story is the search for a missing girl and the missing girl's father turning to the B.P.R.D. Most of this story is Hellboy going at it alone, in the shit so to speak, but it hovers in the background of the story, only showing up on the first page or so. The B.P.R.D. isn’t even mentioned by name, just hinted at in the press release narration and made clear via the silent official drinking from his B.P.R.D. mug staring straight at the reader. It's a memorably strange intro to one of the weirder Hellboy stories.
Mignola doesn’t show the organization's inner-workings but he does make a special point to note that it is a special branch of the U.S. government and is made a shining beacon when contrasted with other organizations like the Catholic Church, the Knights of Saint Hagan, King Solomon, and the Asmodeus’ disciples. Even though Hellboy doesn’t complete his mission, the truth of the situation is revealed and solved...and it's all the more disturbing because it doesn't have a healthy conclusion.
The B.P.R.D. shines because Hellboy is its figurehead and main agent. Hellboy lives in a world of grays while Asmodeus and Hagan’s disciple, Fitzroy, live in a world of absolutes. This gets at the main thrust of the Hellboy universe: Hellboy is a descendent of the old world but becomes a hero for the modern world. It’s the cycle that every generation goes through: the young replaces the old. Interestingly, "Bride of Hell" puts all characters and sensibilities up against the wall.
This tension between the past and present, from shifting values and sensibilities to more apparent things like how the world has physically changed is what's going on in something like Ware's Jimmy Corrigan too. Each generation of Corrigans adds its own weight to the succeeding one ultimately dooming the modern incarnation to a muted worthless man-child. Hellboy sees these dying institutions for what they are--demons of the past, like relatives trying to hold him back--and sheds them off with a quip, then punches them in the face. Of course, that’s not enough to get through unharmed. Hellboy kills the demon but his mission is essentially a failure. Even though he’s a champion of practicality and reason, it’s not enough to overcome the brute force of a harsh world and he's confronted with a character he can't save...because she doesn't want to be saved.
That I can review a comic drawn by the legendary, gets-better-with-age Richard Corben and not mention the art is a testament to how strong the writing is in "Bride of Hell".