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Hell Notes: The Black Flame

By | January 30th, 2014
Posted in Annotations | 12 Comments
Logo by Tim Daniel

This month B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Reign of the Black Flame kicked off. The Black Flame’s been a part of the Hellboy Universe since he was first teased by Guy Davis in 2005, but in the eight years since then he still remains largely a mystery. And he’s definitely a mystery worth exploring…

From B.P.R.D.: The Dead #3.

Please note, this column contains spoilers for those that have not yet read up to and including Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War and B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Reign of the Black Flame #1.

HERR RAIMUND DIESTEL

There has been more than one incarnation of the Black Flame. I’ve no idea how many there have been or for how long this creature has been in the world. The earliest incarnation that I know of is Herr Raimund Diestel. Raimund’s first appearance chronologically was in the pages of Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand.

The Lobster (known to readers as Lobster Johnson) had been causing a great deal of trouble for Arnie Wald, a mobster trying to buy up cheap real estate by scaring people out of their homes. In desperation, Wald had contacted a mystic, a Siamese woman called Kamala, the wife of Raimund Diestel (although whether they are truly married is debatable). Curiously, Kamala was not referred to as “Mrs Diestel,” but as “Miss Kamala.” Keep in mind, this is in 1932, so it would seem Kamala was very much the one in charge. She was the one that spoke to Wald and his associates, she was the one that decided to take the job to get rid of the Lobster, and Raimund always took orders from her. In fact, Raimund himself rarely spoke at all, and only ever in German.

Kamala and Raimund.

Up to this point Raimund hadn’t appeared very Black-Flame-like at all. He was always wearing clothes to cover as much of himself up as possible, and nothing was burning. When he did finally reveal himself though, it was almost like he was catching up for lost time, casually igniting a homeless man warming himself by a fire.


He's certainly not human any more.
Soon whole buildings were going up in black flames. The fire department couldn’t do anything though because apparently water can’t put out black fire. Meanwhile Raimund was able to walk through it without even singeing his clothing. He is very mouch in control of what burns and what doesn’t.

When the Lobster and his crew showed up, they got a few shots off at him, not that it did any good.

As one of the Lobster’s crew members tried to ram him with a car, Raimund vanished in a puff of black smoke. This isn’t a power he’s demonstrated on any other occasion, and I don’t the Black Flame had the ability to teleport. Before he vanished, he uttered “Säugling,” a German term of affection used between couples. He was appealing to Kamala. Interestingly, Kamala was so far away she needed binoculars to see what was going on, yet she seemed to have had no trouble hearing him or making him disappear. It seems these two shared a connection far more complicated than marriage. The exact nature of it is yet to be explored.

Using witchcraft, Kamala was able to locate the Lobster’s hideout, and before long Arnie Wald and his goons showed up with Raimund in tow. Arnie’s goons were quickly disposed of and Arnie, being a complete coward, beat a hasty retreat. Raimund however was able to casually stroll around igniting things as he went, seemingly invincible. Then the Lobster shot him with a four-inch shell.

That did the trick.

Without even seeing, Kamala immediately knew what had happened to Raimund and began to sing. Her song reignited the black fire on Raimund and brought him back to life. Fortunately for the Lobster and his crew, before she could finish her song, Kamala was run down. Raimund ran to her side, devastated by the loss, and lay next to her corpse, his fire dwindling to a mere flicker.

Continued below

When the police arrived they had no trouble arresting Raimund. He made no attempt to escape. He had been broken.

A year later, 1933, Raimund was being held prisoner in the bowels of Haufftiz Castle in Germany (Presumably he was handed over by the US Government to Germany after the incidents in The Burning Hand). The prison guards in Haufftiz brought him food every day, but Raimund wasn’t eating or sleeping. He had sat in silence since Kamala’s death.

It was the silver-tongued Adolf Hilter that finally got through to him, stirring him from his grief and molding him into something else. Hitler believed Raimund was one of the Aesir. What he meant by that is up to interpretation, but I think it’s safe to assume he thought of the Black Flame as a god or god-like being. Raimund himself grew in power over the next decade. His strength was inhuman, he could fly, his fire could now be shot from his hands in jetting torrents. He was easily the most dangerous of Hitler’s agents.

Laurence Campbell draws the moment teased by Guy Davis back in 2004.

Sledgehammer came up against the Raimund near the end of the Second World War in late 1944 as seen in Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War. This miniseries finally told the story behind the photograph Johann found in B.P.R.D.: The Dead, which actually turned out to be a still from a film taken by a Mr Corrigan. Personally, this sequence was the coolest one the Black Flame has ever been in. Laurence Campbell drew the hell out of it in the best possible way.

Other than his improved powers, in Lightning War Raimund had undergone some other changes since last we’d seen him in The Burning Hand. For one, he was able to speak English, and enjoyed taunting his prey. This isn’t the thug taking orders anymore. Raimund knew he was powerful, and he relished it. That Sledgehammer could be his equal was utterly unthinkable to him.

Underestimating Sledgehammer proved to be his biggest mistake, and ultimately his end. Hilter recovered Raimund’s bones and buried him in a Nazi uniform.

MR LANDIS POPE

Raimund Diestel’s bones did not stay buried though. I don’t know when they were dug up, but in 2006 they were in the possession of a Mr Landis Pope, the head of Zinco Industries. Landis had been collecting various Nazi relics, associated with the Nazis, Project Ragna Rok, and the Black Flame. Raimund Diestel’s skeleton was the jewel of his collection, in a large, glass display case in the centre of his secret Nazi room in the headquarters of Zinco Industries in New York City. (The sketchbook for the B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs – Volume 2 omnibus shows more of this. It’s fascinating and well worth checking out.)

The secret Nazi room.

Landis was a bit more than just a collector though. He had had his Research & Development team make him a suit to imitate the appearance of the Black Flame so that he could command frog monsters. It was all fake though. The fire was blue, and the skull was a helmet. The armour itself was made to protect Landis from the frog monsters lest they turned on him, a precaution Landis thought was unnecessary. The suit worked nevertheless. He could indeed command the frog monsters and began to amass an army of them.

As he furthered his plans, Landis decided he no longer wanted to deal with questions from the board members, so as soon as he had controlling shares, he fired them in one of the most spectacularly well-executed sequences in the B.P.R.D. series.

Apparently this scene came from Mike Mignola when he was trying to think of John-Arcudi-ish scene.

Landis would not be faking being the fire for much longer though. As soon as the board members were gone, he loosed frog monsters and began a ceremony to summon the Black Flame. He and the frogs chanted around a central frog until they called up black fire into its mouth. The fire then shifted onto Landis, leaving the frog dead and shriveled. It wasn’t burnt, but rather it had sacrificed its life for the process.

Continued below

The connection between the frog monsters and the black fire is undeniable here. It clearly means something to them. However, summoning the fire was not an easy task. It required preparing a table with specific symbols drawn on it, multiple frogs, one of which would sacrifice its life in the process, and Landis himself had to chant with the frogs. When Raimund was revived by Kamala, she simply had to sing a song. However, I should point out, she was merely reviving a fire that had been put out, the frogs were calling it into the world, and perhaps even calling a spirit of some sort with it. (Ereshigal… I’ll talk about that further down.)

Once Landis had become the Black Flame, he committed an evil B.P.R.D. fans have never forgiven him for; he killed Roger. If that isn’t reason enough to hate the guy, I don’t know what is. The bastard killed Roger, damn it.

His next move backfired on him pretty spectacularly though. With his frog army he set about waking Katha-Hem from its sleep deep in the earth. As the massive Ogdru Hem rose, he declared, “The old ones are touching my soul! The power of Katha-Hem shall be mine!” However, he was mistaken and the frog monsters corrected him, telling him Katha-Hem’s power was Katha-Hem’s; Landis was just a beacon, and what would become of him after was up to Katha-Hem. This isn’t exactly what Landis wanted to hear.

The frogs tied him up and used him to light the way for Katha-Hem. All the while Landis bemoaned his fate, begging for forgiveness and mercy, and the frogs yelled at him to burn in silence. When Liz destroyed Katha-Hem, for a moment Landis seemed saved. He approached Liz, trying to get her to help him out of the suit, hastily confessing to killing Roger and telling her he was sorry. Liz was taken aback, and in that moment frog monsters swarmed Landis and dragged him away while he kicked and screamed sorries and pleaded for help. Liz watched without doing a thing.


There was some grim satisfaction in seeing Landis reduced to such a pitiful figure after what he had done, but it wasn’t to last. In B.P.R.D.: The Warning the Bureau found a drawing of the Black Flame surrounded by frog monsters in Munich, apparently being worshipped. B.P.R.D.: King of Fear revealed him at last, not at all the Landis we had seen previously. He had lost the helmet that gave the impression of a burning skull. Now revealed was his own burning mummified head, his lips stretched back from his teeth like a horrifying grin. When Landis spoke of the frog monsters he called them brethren, and he had made allies with the subterranean race formerly the slaves of the ancient Hyperboreans that sought refuge in the Hollow Earth. This changed Landis Pope spoke of grand designs, but not his own. He was humbled now, and served what he called “the Old Lords,” the Ogdru Hem. He wanted to see the world reshaped by them, to create a new and better world for humanity to die in.

These plans were not the plans he had shared with the King of Fear though, and the subterranean leader was angered by Landis’s duplicity. It would have been wiser had he stayed quiet though.

This is how the Black Flame solves problems.

This was a rather confusing way to treat his allies, but you see Landis was actually trying to woo a different ally… Abe. He declared Abe Sapien would be the centre of power in the new world, a world he was simply preparing for him. I don’t need to go on about this. You already know the kind of stuff he said to Abe. It’s become a huge plot point in the ongoing Abe Sapien series and I’ve covered it in Hell Notes before.

In the middle of this speech to Abe, Liz unleashed all her firepower and burnt out the Hollow Earth. Fortunately Abe and company had been transported to safety. And as for the subterranean race, the frog monsters, and the Black Flame, they all met a fiery end.

Continued below

THE MASTER

In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Devil’s Engine, Zinco Industries was working with the surviving members of Project Ragna Rok (Leopold Kurtz and Dr Kroenen – see Hell Notes: Nazis!) to build a body for “the Master.” Dr Kroenen in particular had had a long history of building Frankenstein-like monsters. He had built such creatures with Dr Herman von Klempt before the Second World War, and when von Klempt was destroyed in an explosion, he was able to salvage his colleague’s head and restore him to life in a jar. Truly Kroenen was capable of working miracles.

With Zinco Industries resources at their disposal, Kroenen and Kurtz constructed a body from corpses. However, restoring a dead person to life proved to be very different from creating life altogether. In frustration, Kroenen hacked up the body and began again, but the head of Zinco Industries, Mr Marsten, was growing impatient. He had already set in motion the next phase of his plans, selling off assets and liquidating his shares, leaving himself with a very narrow window to get a viable body.

By a stroke of good fortune, Zinco found a body in files they’d obtained from the B.P.R.D., a half-formed god-like man. Abe Sapien had once found some cloned bodies created by the Oannes Society, perfect specimens that were made to house the souls of humanity as immortal living nations of man (see B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls). All save one of these bodies had been destroyed, and the remaining one had been studied by the Bureau ever since, trying to kickstart its development. Their continued failure was especially frustrating to Johann who desperately wanted a body again. So when Zinco swept in talking about their work aiding the development of premature babies and organs, the Bureau jumped at the chance, begging them for help.

Of course Zinco Industries actually wanted the body much more, but they hid their desperation and played it cool. Things came together very quickly for Kroenen after that, and very soon the process to restore Grigori Rasputin to life was begun, but that didn’t exactly go to plan…


Of course, there was no way they could have brought back Rasputin. His soul had been lost to the fires beneath the World Tree (which I assume with some certainty is Hell) in Hellboy: Darkness Calls. Zinco had sought a spirit in the Abyss with the Ogdru Jahad. I suppose it is possible this could be Landis Pope, but I’m not inclined to believe this. After all, Landis seemed rather fond of the frog monsters and that certainly can’t be said of this incarnation.
Not a frog fan clearly.
For now I’m going to assume this is something else, the raw spirit of the Black Flame itself, no longer hobbled by being bound to a human soul.

The coming of the Black Flame brought about an all-new wave of disasters around the globe, raising more Ogdru Hem than ever before. Since then, New York has been cut off from the rest of the world for an entire year. No one has come out, and any kind of military approach has been destroyed. This month, in the first issue of B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Reign of the Black Flame, the B.P.R.D. and the S.S.S. have rallied together to get in there and find out what’s going on. As expected, there are plenty of monsters, but the streets are empty, no corpses. This isn’t the scene of a battleground, but rather of a place slowly starved of hope, and all of it under an unnervingly blue sky. I never thought a blue sky could be so damn creepy.

So that’s where we’re at. That’s what we know. Which brings us to…

A LOT OF QUESTIONS

I have many questions about the Black Flame, and you probably have plenty of your own. For a start, how many incarnations of him have there been? Perhaps there was one after the world went to hell when Hyperborea fell? Maybe it showed up during the caveperson era glimpsed at in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Abyss of Time? The Black Flame could have been possessing various men and women throughout the history of humanity for all we know.

Continued below

Or maybe there was a inciting event in the more recent history? We still really don’t know how Raimund Diestel became the Black Flame. Did Kamala do it to him? And what is her tie to the Black Flame? Kamala was able to reinvigorate the black fire with a mere song. What was it about her that made her so special? She was a witch, but was she the only one of this kind? “Kamala” is the name of a kind of lotus, “nelumbo nucifera.” In the Hellboy Universe there is another Lotus that is also a witch, the Crimson Lotus, an Axis agent seen in last year’s Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus. One of her Noh monkeys was in Landis Pope’s secret Nazi room, so it is possible there is an unexplored connection here, though I may be reaching a bit.

There is definitely some connection between the Black Flame and the Vril Energy Suits though. Lightning War took every opportunity to draw comparisons in plot, composition, and colour.

Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War #3 (Dead Raimund and Dead-ish Sledgehammer - Animated)

And looking back, the comparisons were already there in visual cues as early as Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus.

The V.E.S. prototype, Prometheus, and the Pope incarnation of the Black Flame.

My own theory is that black fire is Vril, the fire of heaven, that has been corrupted. And when I see images like this, where the comparison between Vril and black fire is clearly being drawn deliberately, I’ve become rather certain that I’m right.

And then there’s the biggest question, what is the spirit that’s inside the Master, the current Black Flame? Me, I think it may be a splinter of Ereshigal.

…Don’t worry if that doesn’t make any sense at all to you. The name Ereshigal has been mentioned only twice in the history of the series, and it’s very easy to miss. The first occasion was all the way back in Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. During Rasputin’s long ranting, he said, “[The Ogdru Jahad] are mighty children, heralds of pestilence, throne bearers of Ereshigal, who is Queen and Lord over the Great Darkness between Worlds.” The second occasion was when Ereshigal was invoked by the necromancer Gustav Strobyl on the opening page of Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible. So there’s not a lot to go on there. I only became aware of Ereshigal myself when I bought Hellboy: The Companion shortly after I started doing these Hell Notes columns. Even in the Companion it is mentioned only once, the name given to the darkness that the Watchers at the beginning of the world were defending against, the same darkness that filled the Ogdru Jahad and brought them to life. This spirit, or an offspring of it, is what I believe is the life force in the Black Flame.

It’s times like these I wish I could pick Professor O’Donnell’s brain. I bet he’d have some interesting thoughts on the subject. But what about you? More than any other article I’ve written, this is one where I really what to hear your thoughts and theories. What is the Black Flame? What’s he doing in New York? Can the latest incarnation fly? Put ’em all in the comments section below.


And that’s it for another Hell Notes. Thanks to Scott Allie and Daniel Chabon for helping out with this one. There’ll be another early next month about a certain 1930’s crime fighter…


//TAGS | Hell Notes | Mignolaversity

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.

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