It's shaping up to be a big year for Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe. The Wild Hunt, possibly the most important story arc in the character's 15-year history, continues next month, and the first issue of B.P.R.D. 1947 drops this week. Several spin-offs are in the works, some tentatively scheduled for release later this year. For the moment, though, the spotlight belongs to Sir Edward Grey, a character first introduced 13 years ago in the pages of Hellboy: Wake the Devil.
Sir Edward's first solo title finds him prowling the gaslit streets of Victorian London in search of whoever—or whatever—is responsible for a series of ghastly murders. His investigation will eventually put him at odds with the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, a naughty secret society responsible for much trouble-making in the Hellboy universe.
Set in London circa 1879, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels finally gives Mignola an opportunity to explore Victorian supernatural literature, a genre he's loved since reading Bram Stoker's Dracula at age 12.
"Everything I like, I try to bring into Hellboy," Mignola said, referencing his fondness for occult detectives. "Just like I created Lobster Johnson to represent the pulp heroes of the '30s, Edward Grey represents characters like William Hope Hodgeson's Carnacki."
In the Service of Angels is the first Edward Grey series to find its way to print, but it's not the first that was conceived. Original plans would have tossed Grey directly into the Old West for his inaugural mini-series, but Mignola and collaborator John Arcudi decided it would be best to establish the occult detective in his native environment first, grounding him in classic Victorian English conventions—"pubs, fog, Ripper-like murders, spiritualism, etc.," Mignola says—before chucking him into John Ford territory. The second Sir Edward mini-series will indeed transport Grey to the American West, and is currently in development.
"As I get a clearer sense of the Hellboy world, as we create its history, I like to establish certain important characters to represent certain times and locations. So, through Grey we'll get to see late 19th- and early 20th-century England and America. We've touched on Victorian England in B.P.R.D. recently and this gives us a chance to add to that. We haven't seen anything of the American West in Hellboy so I'm very excited about that. It all goes to building this world and its history."
Though Mignola has plans to return to the drawing table as early as next year, the task of illustrating Sir Edward's first solo venture falls to New Zealander Ben Stenbeck. Stenbeck, who found his way onto the short roster of Hellboy artists last year with the one-shot B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man, evokes Mignola's trademark style without emulating it. While his work is more cartoonish than what Hellboy fans are accustomed to, his heavy inks and angular lines make him a natural fit for the series. Stenbeck's attention to detail (Mignola has referred to him as a "research hound") gives Witchfinder a nice visual depth, and effectively realizes the fog-and-gaslight atmosphere that Mignola has conjured for the tale.
While Witchfinder is obviously aimed at Hellboy fans, Mignola points out that it will also be accessible to new readers. "We will see some familiar faces in the series, but you won't have to have read any of the other Hellboy stuff to know who they are," he says.
Witchfinder is the last major expansion to the Hellboy universe that Mignola is planning. "If all this is a chess game, he is the last major piece to be put on the board," he says. There are no definite plans for a third Witchfinder series, but Mignola hints that Grey will eventually become a very important character in the Hellboy universe. He hopes to someday write a series of shorter stories where Grey would assume a favorite role of occult detectives: holding court amongst his peers, recounting his various adventures over brandy and cigars.
Hellboy fans have much to look forward to in coming months, including the first installment in a series of Lobster Johnson minis that will begin in 1930s New York. Another solo story is in the works for Abe Sapien, and Mignola has big plans for B.P.R.D., which "is going to have to deal with some very huge changes that are coming." B.P.R.D. 1947, which debuts this week, introduces the first real B.P.R.D. agents. "I'd love to see more stories about them—and also in those stories we'd get to see more of young Hellboy."
The Wild Hunt continues next month with issue #5, scheduled to drop on Aug. 12. Mignola promises a major upheaval of the Hellboy universe. "We are in the middle of the most important series we've done," he says. "And by the end of it Hellboy will be changed forever."