By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 08/12/2013 11:00 am EST
Publish date: August 7, 2013 Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Now this is more like it!!! B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Vol. 6: The Return of the Master delivers a tale that unifies many of this series’ storylines and adds some special touches of humor. This provides a renewed sense of hope for the long-time reader. I realize that I am talking about a book that is chronicling the apocalypse, but I can’t help feeling that there is a glimmer of light at the end of this demon-encrusted tunnel.
I have been whining about B.P.R.D. for the past few months and a colleague who is a tried-and-true Mignolaphile suggested that my problems with B.P.R.D. coincided with the departure of Guy Davis as the primary series artist. That may very well be the case. This is not to say the fill-in artists haven’t done a terrific job, it’s just that Guy Davis, along with co-writers John Arcudi and Mike Mignola, have made a lot of comics together. Perhaps the chemistry has just been a bit off.
If you are a regular reader of the Mignolaverse, you know what happens in this 5-part story just from the title alone. For those of you who want to know what is going on but can’t afford to purchase or don’t have the time to read the previous 35(!!!) volumes, here is all you need to know:
The Master is Rasputin—an evil villain who was responsible for bringing Hellboy to Earth during WWII. He was eventually thwarted and killed, but that has never stopped a mystical supervillain before. In the years he lay dormant, the Earth has gone to doo-doo thanks largely to the awakening of ancient gigantic monsters that were hibernating under the surface of the earth. Things got bad (major cities completely destroyed…) and the number of Earth’s superhero protectors sadly thinned out a bit. Hellboy has died (really), while Abe Sapien is in a coma and may very well be of a member of the evil Frog race who got the whole apocalypse in motion. So, this leaves a lot of regular Joe and Jane human-types—all agents and foot soldiers of B.P.R.D. —to stave off the hellish enemies and keep the collateral damage as low as possible. This is the Reader’s Digestive recap and I am barely scratching the surface (Hello!!—35 previous GNs!!).
But it is not the bloody horrific action that brings this trade to life; rather, it is the well-rounded characters that advance this story arc. We have a 16-year-old girl named Fenix and her pet and constant companion, a Rottweiler named Bruiser. She has an incredibly vital meta-ability that the B.P.R.D. can certainly utilize and, like any 16-year-old stuck with a bunch of grownups, she is angry and, like anyone living through this Hell on Earth, she is terrified.
Most of the issue’s action focuses on Sal Tasso, a B.P.R.D. veteran who has “been there, done that” and even worked with “the big red bastard” (Hellboy). Sal is assigned to lead a well-armed but greatly over-matched B.P.R.D. battalion into battles with REALLY BIG monsters in the foothills of Scotland.
And everyone’s favorite corporeal spirit in a containment suit, Agent Johann Kraus, has two very moving scenes. Between the crisp dialog and the artist’s invisible manipulation of Johann’s mask, our bodiless spirit comes across as the most human and (dare I say it?) three-dimensional of the bunch.
Late into the story, we peek in on a B.P.R.D. staff member—a communications technician—who reacts to the crisis at hand in the same human way any of us would in similar circumstances. This chilling sequence is shown from above. As we look down on this scene, Mignola and company make us sympathetic voyeurs. It is a difficult scene.
We even get to eavesdrop on two Nazi scientists complaining about being outsourced and how all their hard work on this HUGE project will get overlooked by the big boss. Welcome to the 21st century!
In other words Mignola, co-writer John Arcudi, artist Tyler Crook, and of course the amazing coloring from Dave Stewart put a human face on the resistance, and it is the depth of character that provides a welcome sense of humanity that has been missing from B.P.R.D. for the past two dozen issues. And it all works! I haven’t even mentioned Peter or the Russians or head spook Agent Corrigan (you’ve got to love that name). There is a lot going on and the storylines mingle beautifully.
None of this characterization and depth of feeling is forced upon the reader. Amid all the chaos and bloodshed and world-ravaging carnage, the emotional connection emerges more as a mood—a sense of optimism—that humanity can and will survive this nightmare. And as hard to believe as this may seem, the story arc stops (not ends, mind you) on something of a high note. But bigger trouble is a-brewing.
OLD FART ALERT: In a way, the B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth series reminds me of the James Robinson penned “Grand Guignol” storyline from Starman. Things are bad as they can possibly be, and yet we all fight on to save our home whether that home is Opal City or our own Hell on Earth. And if you are familiar with that marvelous series from the ‘90s, then you know I am giving Mignola and company a big mainstream compliment.
I genuinely look forward to the next volume. God, I hope that Bruiser survives. The little scenes (sometimes it is just a single panel) that feature the dog and Fenix are quiet and beautiful.
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.