Friday, December 03, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 303 (12/3) -- B.P.R.D.: King of Fear by Mignola, Arcudi, & Davis

The plot arc that ran through most of the earlier volumes of B.P.R.D. -- everything but 1946 and 1947, essentially, though a couple of those books are a bit more miscellaneous -- comes to an end in this fourteenth book. But don't despair! Writers Mignola and Arcudi promise that the next arc -- "Hell on Earth" -- will be bigger and more dangerous.

King of Fear does feel very transitional, beginning with one aftermath and ending with another, and it spends much of its time moving its characters around like chess pieces, to get them into position for the next round of big moves on the board. That's unfortunate; this was supposed to be the big finish of the current arc, and it instead turns into a whimper that falls in between two stories.

There is closure for the spirit of Lobster Johnson, and something happens to the title character -- who we see only for a while here, and most of that time he's soliloquizing like a Bond villain, all but wringing his hands together and cackling [1] -- but King of Fear ends up being a loose collection of scenes that move us from one status quo to another, like an upper-editorial-mandated change in a Big Two team book. (Luckily, the B.P.R.D. don't move to Detroit in the middle of it and take on a colorful Latino character; that would have been far too much.) I suspect that when Mignola and Arcudi came to write this arc, they discovered that they had both too much (changes and reversals) and too little (actual plot moments and events), but whipped what they did have up into a froth and hoped it would come out fine after all.

The souffle of King of Fear doesn't fall, precisely, but it's less thrilling and meaningful than the recent volumes, feeling more like serial comics and less like a book and a story of its own. For the end of an arc, this is not particularly satisfying. There are many fine moments in King of Fear; some are the equal of anything in the series so far. But those moments do not coalesce as they should; it reads as if half of it should have been in The Black Goddess and half of it held for New World. It's not bad, but it's not really a thing it itself to be anything.

(For my reviews of older B.P.R.D. and Hellboy volumes, consult the archives.)

[1] The last few volumes, with Memnan Saa and now the King of Fear, have been an unfortunate feast of megalomaniacal villainy, and both have been deeply insistent on the fact that the B.P.R.D. will be the ones to bring about (rather than prevent) the magical apocalypse. It's tediously like all of the Hellboy villains that continue to tempt him to turn heel and embrace his horns, though less specific and duller.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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