Welcome back to another Hell Notes, Multiversity Comics’ monthly annotations for the Mignolaverse (which just got a bit bigger thanks to the addition of Frankenstein Underground! Sorry, I’m still excited about that).
Since the closing of the Plague of Frogs cycle, B.P.R.D. has seen a distinct shift in its focus. The hordes of frog monsters had been the Bureau’s problem, and it had gradually spiralled out of control into the apocalyptic events that are unfolding all over the world. Now the problems they face are everyone’s problems, and that has led to the series to adapt a broader perspective, still telling stories with everyone’s favourites from the enhanced talents taskforce, but also from the point of view of the regular Bureau agents and the people living everyday lives in a world gone to hell.
But what is life like for the everyday person? It’s a question that was explored in yesterday’s rather fantastic issue of B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth. It’s not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, but I found it to be the most effective exploration of a mundane person’s perspective since B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Gods. So this month, that’s what I’m going to explore, the world as it is for the people living through the ending of it all.
Spoiler warning. This covers events all through Abe Sapien and B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, except for yesterday’s issue.
B.P.R.D.: King of Fear brought an end to the Plague of Frogs cycle on a scale unlike anything we’d seen before. The Hollow Earth had been scorched by Liz Sherman, killing the Black Flame, the subterranean proto-humans, and the remaining frog monsters. But this victory came at a terrible cost.
All across the globe there were volcanic incidents, especially in South-East Asia. In the immediate aftermath, the islands Borneo and Sulawesi were completely wiped off the map. Zinco Industries immediately stepped in to help with the recovery in these areas, though their true motives for doing so were far from noble as they fortified their company for the coming changes.
In California there were other problems. An Ogdru Hem had emerged from the Salton Sea and planted itself on top of the ruins of Niland. The creature was spewing a red gas into the air, which drifted as far as Mexico. The affect this gas had on humans was not exactly desirable either…
Eventually it stopped spewing gas and the Salton Sea Monster became dormant. With no real way to hurt it, it was decided to simply leave it be in the face of all the other problems the U.N. and the B.P.R.D. had to deal with. It was was put low on their priorities list. Over time there were people that stopped seeing it as a monster and instead saw it as an engine of change, a god creating a new world.
Ben Daimio and Abe Sapien got onto this one early before it could become a fully formed Ogdru Hem, but things like this were likely happening all over the planet. These weren’t slumbering Ogdru Hem that had been awoken like the Salton Sea Monster, these were the Ogdru Hem that had been killed long ago during the creation of the world by the Watchers. They were resurrecting themselves, and drawn to vulnerable, desperate people. Ben made an observation about the end of the world here that is still true. Yeah, there are monsters everywhere, but the real war is in people’s minds. When people willingly give themselves over to this stuff, to become a tool of this cataclysmic engine, then the human mind and soul is where the real fight needs to happen.Continued below
This is most clearly seen in the various cults springing up all across the world. Tyler Crook’s B.P.R.D. debut featured one of the most notable examples of this. At the time, Liz was living in the Sugar Hill trailer park in Washington state with two guys, Todd and Jeb. Liz was completely unaware that her roommates were both mixed up in some kind of crazy cult along with virtually all the other residents in the trailer park.
But this wasn’t the same as the cult worshiping the Salton Sea Monster as god. Todd thought those people are crazy. That’s right, he thought they were crazy when he was doing things like this to his poker buddy:
Sooner or later these things get out though, which led to the cult members hunting down the Sugar Hill residents not a part of the cult and lynching them… Well, trying to. Liz soon put a stop to that. As for the cult members, whatever they were worshiping, it was changing them. Once they’d given it a foothold in their mind, they weren’t even human any more. Ultimately this cult was scattered, but there have been signs its still kicking around, even spreading as far as Texas.
Then a volcano that wasn’t even there before erupted in Houston. There was no warning whatsoever, except from one sixteen-year-old girl, Fenix Espejo. How she came to be in Houston is a bit of a mystery. She used to live with her family by the Salton Sea, and she may have even been there when the Salton Sea Monster emerged, but since then she became separated from her family. We know that her mother at least is dead. Perhaps they lived in Niland and were all killed when the Salton Sea Monster perched itself there.
It wasn’t hard top run into trouble either. Following the eruption in Houston, a new kind of monster, hammerheads, began to appear. A subterranean creature that could burrow through the earth, these creatures could easily emerge out of nowhere. Nobody could see them coming.
Except for Fenix. Fenix’s group was able to avoid the hammerheads and other dangers, as well as find free food and clean water. Because of this, Fenix became somewhat of a legend among the Bedouins. All over Texas graffiti stating “Fenix saw this coming” started to appear. And then Fenix got sick and her precognitive abilities were suddenly no longer as reliable as they had been. She was unable to foresee an attack from hammerheads and as a result, some of her people died, something she still blames herself for.
In the aftermath, she was approached by Abe Sapien, and shot him.
I consider Gods to be one of the best B.P.R.D. stories, and a big part of that is the way it makes the reader look at the B.P.R.D. as an outsider. In the first issue, no one from the B.P.R.D. even makes an appearance until the final page, and after all the weird stuff they’ve seen, it’s a reminder how to these people Abe looks like just another monster.
In Southern England things were particularly bleak. A storm had overtaken the country and raged for several days. They had no way of knowing it, but it was the mere fallout from a war raging in the fairy realm. If that war had been lost, it would have been so much worse. Even still, millions died, London was utterly destroyed, and almost everyone was leaving. But where buildings had once stood, flowers began to grow. Hellboy’s death in the fairy realm had transformed the country, and all over the world people dreamt of the world’s last garden in England, and travelled there.
What happened to England after that is unknown. It’s gone, but not destroyed. I think perhaps it drifted into the fairy realm, but honestly, that’s just a wild guess.
But things don’t always go back to normal when the monster is killed. In Seattle they had an incident with an Ogdru Hem in Pike Place. It didn’t last very long, so it can’t have been fully formed, but it really messed the place up, and I mean more than the usual destruction. When clean-up crews came in, they became ill, some dying, others mutating. This illness spread rapidly. The Institute of Biomedical Research teamed up with the B.P.R.D. to study the problem, but they’d never seen anything like it before. The illness somehow showed characteristics that were both bacterial and viral.
A couple of months after the initial attack, Seattle had become one of the worst disaster zones on the planet. It has become a dead zone, separated from the rest of the world by a federal cordon. Seattle has been overtaken by fungal growths and swarms of giant, unearthly creatures like locusts.
So there were a lot of bad things in the world, but since the initial incident in the Hollow Earth, things had mostly plateaued. Then Black Flame returned, and with him came a new wave of disasters in Utah, Beijing, Seoul, Vladivostok, Paris, Lisbon, Rampayedik, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Boise, Tampa, Raleigh, San Francisco… This time it wasn’t just one Ogdru Hem that was awoken, but many all over the world: Moscow, Saint Louis, Doyonek (in Russia), Alma, Chicago, two in Saitama (Japan), and three in New York.
In order to rescue him, Rebecca had to murder Lucas’s mother in front of him. This was a necessary cruelty though. Lucas would never forgive Rebecca for as long as he lived, and as she herself noted, hopefully that will be for a long time.
Meanwhile the Salton Sea Monster had started laying eggs and marched off to San Diego. Many of the eggs were destroyed by the military, but the ones that weren’t were worshiped by the emerging cults of the area, and people began making “pilgrimages” to see them. Since then all the Salton Sea eggs have been destroyed, though there may be more in San Diego.Continued below
While Utah was hit by some pretty bad earthquakes, Salt Lake City was making a rapid recovery. All things considered, things were actually getting better there for a while. That was until they discovered one of the doctors in the Sidney C. Greaves hospital was testing the effects of biomaterial he had recovered from disaster zones on dead animals to reanimate them, turning them into twisted monsters. When that wasn’t enough, he started testing it on patients and hospital staff. Fortunately Liz Sherman was one of the patients at the hospital, and she soon took care of business. Hopefully since then Utah has continued its recovery with no further problems.
But the real centre of this mess was New York city. Cut off from the rest of the world for over a year, Manhattan Island is run by the Black Flame and Zinco Industries. After the disasters that followed the Black Flames return, a militarised Zinco appeared with food and medical supplies. Most people were happy to work for Zinco, but the people that were suspicious of them were shot. Now most residents of Manhattan work as slaves for Zinco Industries. People are killed for stealing food, even for something as small as a frost-damaged pea pod.
Outside of Manhattan, people died in droves in hospitals. Others tried to leave by boat, but were taken by the monsters in the water. And still others waited for rescue, but as months passed, they gave up hope, so they took the only way out that was available to them…
There are pockets of resistance, similar to the one led by Mr. Pichard seen in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Reign of the Black Flame. They’re hunted by Zinco soldiers, but have been able to keep their noses down. Mr. Pichard’s group managed to get by thanks to some hyenas they captured that proved effective in scaring off the few Zinco soldiers that stumbled across them.
Manhattan is filled with monsters, such as hammerheads and swarms of creatures dubbed “crickets,” but also growing Ogdru Hem. These creatures grow slowly, and consume each other as they grow so that only the strongest survive. The B.P.R.D. and S.S.S. scouting mission in The Reign of the Black Flame turned Manhattan Island into a battleground, killing many of the Ogdru Hem. Perhaps some people escaped, but most certainly didn’t. For now, they continue to be Zinco’s slaves. Mr. Pichard and his group have since joined up with the Bureau, and Fenix Espejo has become good friends with the youngest member, Andre, so we should see them again in the future.
In the Abe Sapien ongoing series the focus on the lives of everyday people doesn’t just mark a shift in focus like it has in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, it’s part of its mission statement. Abe is able to explore their world on a much more intimate level. He hears all kinds of rumours about what’s going on across the country. An Ogdru Hem incident in Alma led to everyone within a hundred miles going insane, mumbling and immobile. In Georgia they have these crab-spider men that sing in beautiful voices like Linda Ronstadt and eat people. And it’s been said that vampires have mixed with some kind of poison fungus that’s infecting people. Abe was in a tube at B.P.R.D. headquarters for four months, so as he explores he knows little more than anyone else if these rumours are true or not.
In Phoenix a militia calling themselves “The Spring Steel” has taken over. They apparently protect the city from monsters, but their version of “protection” usually involves attacking anyone they don’t like and killing anyone that tries to get into the city. It seems to me that in Arizona people are more afraid of the militia than they are of the monsters.
Arizona also has a bit of a zombie problem. While helping deal with an infection in Payson, Abe came across some of these zombies himself. A group of youths were squatting at the local golf course and dropping by the cemetery to exhume bodies. The local chief of police chose to trust these kids. After all, the world was hard enough on them without him adding to their worries. Abe disagreed with this decision and the pair became so engaged in a feud with each other, they failed to save the town. Everyone in Payson was eaten by zombies or fled just in time. As for the wandering band of zombie-makers, presumably they’re still out there.
Abe Sapien: The Garden explored everyday life like nothing else in the entire Mignolaverse. There has never been a story that got so intimate with the regular people in this world. In the story, an unnamed man had a woman kept prisoner in his house. He was waiting for the water that would turn this place into a new Garden of Eden, and himself into a new Adam, and the woman into a new Eve. As a child this man had been abused by his father, a man who was afraid of his own mortality and what would happen to the world come Judgement Day. These twisted religious teachings of the father infected the son. As he grew to be a man, he came to realise that his father was a criminal, and in helping him had made him a criminal too. In his anger, he murdered his father, committing one of the deadly sins.
That murder haunted him ever since. No matter what his father had done to him, there was no excuse for what he had done, and he longed for salvation. When he saw Saint Louis fall on the news, it didn’t seem real. He didn’t believe this was the Judgement Day his father had spoken of until it hit closer to home.
Which brings me to the woman. Grace had recently divorced from her husband and had taken her daughter, Gloria, and was living in Gallup with her sister, Sadie.
And then the disaster in Gallup hit…
The man found Grace in that car. He pulled out, tied her up, and marched her away until he found the house, where he believed he could finally attain the salvation he craved. He tied her up in one of the rooms, and then he waited. And all the while Grace fought to keep herself thinking about what had happened, to stop her mind wandering back to that car.
When Abe came along, the man decided he must be the serpent, and shot him. Wounded, Abe was forced to defend himself. The man was left either dead or unconscious at the house. Abe found Grace tied up in the house, and ever since she has travelled with him. Grace hasn’t spoken about what happened to her, and she’s been afraid of her own reflection, where she’s been seeing her daughter staring back at her.
She’s tried to change her reflection by shaving her head, but still her daughter was there. And in her dreams she’s had nightmarish conversations with her sister.
Abe has no idea about any of this. He believes whatever is wrong with Grace has to do with her being kept prisoner by that strange man in that horrible house.
In Rosario, the town where Fenix Espejo shot Abe, Garce and Abe found people gathered around the site of the shooting. This site was known to release a red gas that turned people in mutants, just like the gas around Chicago, but still they stayed in the hope that Abe would show up. They believed Abe was connected to the changes in the world and that when he came, they could learn from him. Most of this was spun from a guy called Gene, whom Abe had met at the Salton Sea worshiping the eggs there.
As for Gene, he was eventually made to face his own shortcomings. He had kept people in a dangerous place with his nonsense tales, and he was responsible for so many becoming mutants. He tried to shift the blame away from himself, but eventually his guilt overtook him. Angry at himself, he tried to kill all the mutants, to save them from their fate. It was a stupid, suicidal act, one that he was saved from by Abe and Dayana, but it was also a turning point for him.
At the end of the latest Abe Sapien Grace and Abe joined Dayana, Gene, Tuck, and the others as they headed to Burnham, a coastal city in Texas (you can find it on the B.P.R.D. map). Ever since the volcanic eruption in Houston, Texas has been a dangerous place to live, but Burnham is somewhat of an oasis, safe from the dangers of roaming monsters, and eruptions, and zombies. It seems too good to be true really. No doubt there is much more to Burnham than Abe has been led to believe…
And that’s all for now. This story is far from finished, and with people like Grace, Gene, and Dayana joining Abe, and Andre, and the other members of Mr. Pichard’s resistance joining the B.P.R.D., we’re getting a better picture of the everyday person all the time. You can look forward to more in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Flesh and Stone, a five-issue arc starting next month with James Harren on art duties, and Abe Sapien: A Darkness so Great, a five-issue arc set in Burnham beginning in December. A Darkness so Great will be something a little different with each issue focusing on a different character and the art alternating between Max and Sebastián Fiumara, so no doubt we’ll know the supporting cast a lot better by the end of it.