Sunday, December 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #343: B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vols. 11-13 by Mike Mignola and various collaborators

Mike Mignola's fictional world is big and capacious; I find I come back to it intermittently and in big clumps, rather than trying to keep up with all of the strands as comics or books are published.

So this will only be the third post I've had on the B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth overall storyline, even though that's been running since 2010: I hit the first three books in 2014 and then the next seven a year later. And there have already been two more books published to finish up Hell on Earth since then -- plus one to start up the next account of the ongoing apocalypse, The Devil You Know.

(Other, related stuff: the last two Abe Sapien books this May, a bunch of earlier Abe books in 2015, and a link to random posts on single volumes.)

This lassitude may have to do with the bleakness of this storyline: Hellboy may have died stopping the immediate end of the world, and some people may be still alive, but the Apocalypse has happened and gigantic alien monsters rampage across the world, tens of stories tall and mostly invulnerable to whatever conventional weaponry is left. It's hard to root for the people fighting the rearguard action so at least a few people can die of more natural causes before humanity is inevitably snuffed out.

These three books are more closely related than the big middle of Hell on Earth was -- this picks up on the thread of some of them with the new Hulk-ish Black Flame and his rule of NYC, and actually sees our heroes of the BPRD attack him directly. (They've been so defensive so for long -- quick! go to this place where an apocalypse megafauna has appeared and kill it, at whatever cost! -- that it's surprising to see them actually plan something.) As has been usual for a while, all three books are written by Mignola with John Arcudi, and there are different art teams for each story arc.

So the eleventh volume, Flesh and Stone, with moody art from James Harren, has the usual interrelated stories -- Fenix and Panya and the rest back at BPRD HQ in Colorado, trying to run the war and start a vegetable garden (because supply chains, as I've been complaining for a few years, have got to be blown to hell by now); a strike team under Johann clears out a small town while taciturn field agent Howards get some kind of magical power boost; sometime back in prehistory, a guy who looks just like Howards gets some monster-fighting experience and, yes, a magical power boost; Russia is getting overrun with the giant monsters and deathless Director Iosif is considering releasing Varvara; and the Black Flame is doing some kind of strange experiments in NYC with his team of soldiers and scientists.

But those stories do seem to be moving closer together, even in this volume, and things happen that aren't just "monster appears, kills a couple of field agents, and is defeated at great cost."

The next book is Metamorphosis, focusing on Johann: he's creeping his men out with his habit of using their corpses during field ops, and that's not surprising. Through a complicated series of events in two time periods, he tries to enter the vril armor from Sledgehammer 1944 -- yes, every last little bit of the Mignola-verse is connected; you can't avoid reading any piece of it if you like any of it. The art for the first three issues collected here is by Peter Snejbjerg, which is a bit too crisp and standard-comics for my eye, and the last two issues are drawn by Julian Totino Tedesco, who is closer to the doom-haunted standard BPRD look.

Then End of Days feels like it's wrapping up at least some of those plotlines: Liz Sherman and Johann in his new fancy suit (Spoilers! I guess) have a big fight scene with the Black Flame in NYC, which ends up feeling like more of a win that the BPRD has gotten in a long time. But, of course, at the same time one of the actual Ogdru Jahad -- a mountain-sized creature, one of seven gods of the apocalypse, and not just their merely monstrous spawn -- has manifested in Kansas, and even the new Liz & Johann team can't touch it. The other plotlines from Flesh and Stone move forward, though -- Howards, Iosif and Varvara, Fenix and Panya -- so maybe they will together provide some hope for the last two volumes. This one is drawn by Laurence Campbell, who is the very moodiest and darkest of the current gang of BPRD artists -- that's entirely appropriate, and works well.

This is still a lot of middle -- and, worse for any potential new readers, middle separated by a couple of dozen books from any beginning. You could potentially begin at the start of Hell on Earth, ten volumes earlier, but that was very middle itself. Really, to get here, you need to start at the beginning of BPRD and Abe Sapien at the very least, and probably Hellboy. This is an intricate and detailed world, but that means that there's a lot of backstory. Every reader needs to decide if getting into that detailed world is worth it -- particularly when so many of the details are so horrific.

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