By Courtney Ryan. Horror is always at its peak just before reality confirms or denies our imaginations’ worst fears. That’s the tension Mike Mignola plays with throughout Rise of the Black Flame #1, a new series devoted to one of the Hellboy Universe’s most mysterious villains. If you’re familiar with the character you’ll appreciate the Easter eggs and references Mignola lightly threads throughout the book. But even if you’ve never heard of Hellboy, both the ominous theme and animated characters will prevent you from wondering from the page or worse, feeling like you’re missing something vital.

The premise is dark enough to put just about anyone on tenterhooks: young girls are going missing and there’s a bloodthirsty cult hiding out in the jungle. It’s the kind of stock nightmare that never ceases to send up shivers. Sergeant Geoffrey McAllister and Constable A.N. Sandhu are tasked with finding these doomed children and as they begin to connect the dots they encounter two peculiar women who share McAllister’s fondness for (Hellboy veteran) Sir Edward Grey. Mignola and and first-time Hellboy writer Chris Roberson introduce these characters as people we can care about while simultaneously establishing an eerie tone for their uncertain future.

Speaking of character development, this is where artist Christopher Mitten soars. By tossing knowing glances between individuals and lending them character-specific expressions, Mitten’s Mignola-esque contributions are a highlight. The setting itself is stunning; I wouldn’t mind reading a story where Mitten simply had to lead us through Colonial-era Bangkok’s twisted alleyways. Dave Stewart also delivers with colors that subtly draw our eye to crucial details, focusing on the smaller details so that even the most seemingly insignificant things (like the similarities between two women’s jewelry) still resonate.

What I find most endearing about Rise of the Black Flame #1 is how Mignola and Roberson simultaneously build anticipation for the Black Flame’s narrative while still connecting us with new characters who feel natural within the Hellboy Universe. Since the story is set in Siam we’ll likely meet the Black Flame’s Siamese wife — and there’s a good chance the Black Goddess somehow fits into all this — but I’m equally excited to see how these new characters spring to life in the face of peak horror.     

Dark Horse Comics / $3.99

Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson.

Illustrated by Christopher Mitten.

Colors by Dave Stewart.

Letters by Clem Robins.        

8 out of 10