Friday, April 06, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #96: Rise of the Black Flame by Mignola, Roberson & Mitten

Another day, another Hellboy spinoff. It's not quite that frequent in the real world, but it certainly can seem that way. (And I did just talk about The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed yesterday.)

Rise of the Black Flame is another unnecessary book, which fills in backstory that wasn't required the first time around. Of course, all fiction is unnecessary if you think of things that way -- but this is material that explains how one character got the beginning of another story when we already had "he was subsumed by some alien evil power," and that was good enough.

Again, for me basically every single "mainstream" comic is totally unnecessary -- who does Spider-Man fight this month? which character will have a shocking death touted in press releases three months ahead? does any of it track back to anything at all from the original creators? -- so this is a very minor complaint. Rise of the Black Flame is more original than any Superman story from the past ten years, for example. But it's still a sign of the rot at the heart of comics: this is a medium utterly speciated into the narrow niche of delivering exactly the same thing on a weekly basis to a purportedly adult audience.

So, yes: two British cops in Burma in the early 1920s follow the path of some kidnapped girls, learn of a shadowy evil cult next door in Siam, meet up with two female paranormal investigators -- one of whom has a link to Sir Edward Grey of Witchfinder fame, to keep the world-building knitted together -- and eventually find their way to the sinister temple crouching in the jungle where an aeons-old cult is ready to finally summon The Great Darkness. Do they manage to foil the incarnation of the being who later becomes a major antagonist to Hellboy? Of course they don't -- we already know that.

Christopher Mitten is another solid artist for the Hellboy universe: he's more towards the realistic side than creator Mike Mignola, with maybe some echoes of long-time B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis. And Chris Roberson, the current major story collaborator with Mignola, knows this world about as well as anyone not in Mignola's head can -- it's all smooth and well-told and connected.

But this is, in the end, another villain origin story. Those are never particularly necessary to begin with, and this one even less than usual. It has nice atmosphere and tells a solid adventure story, but it just takes us to the place we always knew it was going.

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