Thursday, June 11, 2015
Putting aside the fact that the B.P.R.D. should no longer have access to helicopters and telecommunications and manufactured bullets, for the moment, the world of Hell on Earth is about as dark as a superhero-derived comic can get. In the first three volumes of this series, we saw the B.P.R.D.'s top agent, Abe Sapien, shot and driven into a coma from which he hasn't emerged in the main series. We saw the architects of the B.P.R.D.'s greatest successes -- reformed demon-child Hellboy and firestarter Liz Sherman -- gone from the agency for different reasons. We saw the people left squabbling with each other -- ex-academic Andrew Devon accusing Sapien of being the prophesied messiah of the frog-monsters, disembodied mystic Johann Krauss and the incredibly old mummified Panya engaging in something more subtle but still clearly at odds -- while new director Kate Corrigan struggles to make any successes in a world collapsing around her. Even the B.P.R.D.'s rivals/allies, the Russian Special Sciences Service, are hard-pressed to contain the new supernatural menaces, as their current Director (Iosif Nichayko, a zombified Cold War sailor in a containment suit) struggles to contain the former director (the demon-in-the-form-of-a-young-girl Varvara) as the technology that underpins his containment spells collapses.
These seven books collect thirty-six basically monthly issues: a few scattered one-shots and mini-series at the beginning, and then the unified B.P.R.D. monthly comic from issue 103. (Those two things, though, are identical except for name: for a while, the comics market valued novelty, so each new B.P.R.D. sub-story had its own title. But then, that market started valuing continuity, and the exact same publishing program subsumed the same monthly output into a single title.) The stories move around the large cast -- those already mentioned, plus the young precognitive woman Fenix, who shot Sapien but finds her way into the B.P.R.D. by the end of this stretch of stories, and a number of other "conventional" B.P.R.D. agents, a few of which even make it to the end of these stories alive and intact. One of those agents, Howard, has an experience that may have turned him substantially less conventional, but that's not entirely clear to his teammates in these stories.
The "Hell on Earth" storyline is already about as long as "War on Frogs" was -- and that's counting the one-offs and side stories from the first storyline that really weren't about the frog war -- with no sign that it's going to end particularly soon. It may just be that "Hell on Earth" is the world the B.P.R.D. live in now, and all they can hope to do is keep that apocalypse off, one day at a time. Or, maybe, the giant monsters can be driven back, and humanity can have a little space to regroup and rebuild. I hope we see at least a little of the latter, because, otherwise -- as I said above -- I have a hard time seeing how any factories anywhere are still operating, or even how most of the people still alive are getting the food they eat every day. It's difficult to picture a functional economy in this ravaged world.
This is not at all the place to begin: I'd suggest dropping back to Hellboy, for the purist, or the beginning of B.P.R.D., for the best effect, or at the very least the beginning of "Hell on Earth" to know what's going on. But this is a series with a clear vision, followed over the course of many years, and it's encouraging to see that working so strongly in today's flavor-of-the-moment comics market.