by Mike Mignola (writer), Duncan Fegredo (art), Scott Allie (back-up co-writer), Patric Reynolds (back-up art), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

The Story: Hellboy learns the weighty consequences to wielding Excalibur.

What’s Good: Mignola crafts an issue here that causes the reader’s experience to mirror Hellboy’s own. Specifically, almost to the point of frustration and monotony, every damned thing leads back to the prophecy. No matter how far we go, we’re always pulled back to, or rather pushed into, Hellboy’s supposed destiny. Much as Hellboy can’t escape this, neither can we. Despite this arc taking place in England and focusing on Arthurian legend, we somehow still find ourselves right back on familiar grounds. The grand circularity of it all is both painful and tragic, especially when Mignola at one point has Hellboy literally fight his future, something he’s been doing indirectly for the entire series. If Hellboy cannot escape his destiny, neither can we.

Mignola is also especially skillful this month in having Hellboy essentially be under siege, as influences from across the spectrum attempt to fill his ear with whispers, pushing him towards wielding Excalibur. It’s only so effective due to the two “whisperers” being complete opposites in nature and method. There’s the old enemy talking of demons and prophecies, and then there’s good old Alice, hugging Hellboy and telling him that he needs to save the world and that it’ll all work out. In many ways, Alice is the more dangerous of the two, despite being the “good guy.” She’s so comforting and so affectionate that we readers are perhaps even more convinced by her than Hellboy himself. All the voices filling Hellboy’s head fill our own, and the issue ends up feeling like a swirling mass of manipulation from all angles.

On art, it’s another great issue from Duncan Fegredo. Fantastic shots of Gothic gloom and old horror castles meet our hulking red hero, all set opposed to hellish blazes of fire. Fegredo and Stewart set up continuous dichotomies between pitch black and searing light that are absolutely fantastic, opposing the stark, haunted, and barren with the dense and cataclysmic activity of hell.

Last month, I stated my strong dislike for the back-up. Thankfully, this month’s back-up, now with Mignola at the helm and a new artist, is far superior. It was a fun, comprehensible, self-contained story that didn’t overreach and ultimately satisfied. Witch-hunt based stories are often good, if not ghoulish, fun, and Mignola certainly knows his stuff in this arena. It’s clear though, especially given the retrospective nature of the narrative, that this story is all about the atmosphere, and thanks in no small part to the scratchier, painted feel, it’s a complete and very dark success in this regard.

What’s Not So Good: Given how fast a read Hellboy always is, even though the back-up was enjoyable, I still lamented not getting a full issue of Hellboy.

Some readers may also be disappointed to learn that no decision is reached this month regarding Excalibur. Even with next month being the finale, Mignola seems to be in no rush.

Conclusion: When the reader’s experience mirrors that of an iconic character, you’re doing something right.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans