The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed: My Thoughts
By Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Paul Grist, Bill Crabtree
I said this in my review of Hellboy Volume 7, that I really hoped Mike Mignola puts faith in himself and tries to “go further.” Hellboy has always had a sense of melancholia, of times gone by, regret and almost of the living dead. But Mike has never cashed in on that. He always went the other way, with a lot of flashy fights and a rush to go from one scenario to another. And I enjoy that, because the stories are really good, but there are such fascinating characters here that it always felt a shame to me that they never got to breathe. I wanted to hear Abe, Liz, Hellboy talk, just talk, not deliver exposition or discuss objectives and plans, but just talk like friends and discuss how they’re doing. I really wanted Mike to have faith in his writing skills, that he could keep our attention without explosions or exposition or bloody Hellboy getting beaten the fuck up but still being so so cocky.
The Visitor is what I have wanted from this universe. It is almost unconcerned with plot. There is his own life story here, but most of the time here is spent just going through the major events of Hellboy’s life. Except this time, we are pulled out of the action, the urgency and we get this beautiful poetic prose, full of kindness and hope as it quietly strolls through it all. All the bullets, the blood, the monsters. The Visitor is like a prophet. He knows everything that is going to happen. He isn’t surprised by the violence. He doesn’t even care. He is surprised by the kindness.
So what we get, is this beautiful emotional beat, where we look at Hellboy’s soul. There is no “Shut up, let’s fight” here. Hellboy has survived so long ignoring his destiny, blazingly choosing his own path. We see the kindness within him, the pure goodness and urge to help others. It’s beautiful. It is so beautiful to me. The Visitor constantly muses on the nature of good and evil. He is in the truest sense of the word, an alien. Always, he has lived in solitude, never fitting in, always observing, thinking. I am so glad this book goes there. It has to go there. So, we see the Visitor falling in love with a black woman. I have seen so many people being turned off by the social issues present here. But well, what art isn’t political. How many black people have we seen in Hellboy before this? For a series with an outsider, an outlier as a protagonist, how can you just ignore the implications? It was a very unexpected twist for me, honestly. Because when you think about it, the visitor being white is such a brilliant thing to use. 99% of Mike’s characters are white, I had just assumed and moved on with that(really the only colored people are guest appearances by natives). To subvert that and bring this on, and build on it, well, I just loved this so much.
The prose is so beautiful too. The whole arc here is so subtle in a way, so uncharacteristic of what Mignola himself would do. Chris Roberson, take a bow man. How does goodness exist? Is it inherent? These are such philosophical questions, Mignola would never confront this, a touch wrong and you could appear pretentious, but the writing is absolutely perfect. This is not a sermon. This is an alien mulling over human ideas in his personal diary. He doesn’t know where he will end up, he is just documenting his thought process. This could easily become chaotic, distracted from the essential plot or too wooden, acting as filler to the action on the page. But it’s not. All of it beautifully complements each other. The art is so sweet and cute, it has the impressionistic vibe of Mignola but it trades the horror of the shadows for this melancholic, NOT GLOOMY, this feeling of already knowing what is going to happen and just accepting it.
I must talk about Ruby. Is it a very simple portrait? Yes. But it is perfect, it doesn’t overstay itself, it doesn’t unnecessarily add subplots or ideas. The whole book is very economical, which is necessary if you want to be good when you have so many philosophical ideas to handle here. Ruby is an amazing plot device honestly. She grounds the alien, brings solace to his confusion over humanity’s chaotic differences in behavior. She is the emotional core to this story. Hellboy is just a device to push the momentum forward. Did I say Ruby is a plot device? Well everything is, but Hellboy is just the legs of this story, Ruby is the heart to the Alien’s brain.
What surprised me honestly (I mean besides all the rest of the surprises), is also how the Alien deals with human villains. He is at once, extremely sympathetic to them(stopping short of just begging to them to stop their childish behavior) but also he basically kills them. It is a shocking juxtaposition and it just made me think a lot. The Alien isn’t a hero you should adore, I admire the writers’ absolute belief in themselves here. They know that they don’t need to make you obsessively like and agree with him all the time. It’s a beautiful way to showcase the guy’s flaws, he maybe kind and helpful, but he is like a giant with ants, a little offhand step and he could crush them. I love how he grows, I love how the comic stays, it fucking breathes with Ruby and their conversations are amazing. The love is so sweet, so pure, I just. It’s beautiful. You need to be a special kind of fearless to know when to let the love just take control of the panels and when to cutaway, before it just becomes a sugar trip.
Anyone who read like upto Conqueror Worm, knows how this is supposed to end, even before the first page. The brilliance and the fearlessness of this is that the writers don’t care. As all the best stories, it is about the journey. The alien accepted his death right in those very first pages. That was never his concern. He lived among us for so long, even his kind thought he had gone too native. Maybe that’s the beauty of it. He was the Visitor everywhere except for his wife, who in her own way, was the same as him. And both of them were more human just because of that reason. That’s beautiful.