The end times are here! No…really.
Written by Mike Mignola an John Arcudi
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
The impossible will happen!
The stakes have never been higher going into the final massive story of Hell on Earth as the Black Flame tests the limits of his power.
It is rare that an issue that feels so scattered and yet so driven and excited. If you asked me to summarize this issue, it would be a hell of a task: um…Panya and Fenix work together again, Liz is getting better at gardening, Johann is blowing shit up, the Bureau HQ is being targeted by monsters, O’Donnell and Howards are getting tight, Iosif flashes back, the Black Flame shows up for a hot minute, there’s a bunch of fucking ghosts in the ocean, and Argent, Kansas gets hit by (seemingly) an Ogdru Hem egg from space – or at least does in Fenix’s vision.
That’s a lot for any issue, but this is something that “B.P.R.D.” does every year or so – we get an issue/arc that reminds us who is who, and where everyone is, storywise, and sets up the chess pieces for the next big push. These issues are very necessary for a book with a cast this large, but it still feels a little bit like a cheat – instead of hinting at what is to come, just come out and start the next story already.
In a book that usually has a smaller cast, this issue was a tall order for Laurence Campbell to illustrate and, as usual, he killed it. The scope of the issue is massive – from the innocence of Iosif’s time with his granddaughter to the ghastly image of thousands of ghosts coming from the sea, to Johann using the Vril energy, to the cover, set in space. Campbell starts the issue off showing things in relative peace, and as it goes along, everything gets a little bit less neat and tidy, and starts to unravel, and his art reflects that. He’s not just tasked with drawing simple scenes full of dialogue, he has to convey a massive amount of information in almost every panel he draws.
He is especially impressive when drawing Panya, Howards, and Johann – three characters that rarely show emotion – and yet, he manages to express their feeling and motivations in a near perfect way. Campbell typically isn’t the artist you think of in the Mignolaverse when you’re looking for subtle facial expressions, which makes the issue even more impressive. He is truly doing the best work of his career right now, and it is something to behold.
There are two sections I’d particularly like to focus on: the first is the idea that monsters are moving towards the Bureau’s HQ – this can’t be random, can it? This means that either these creatures are more in control than they appear, or something else has taken hold of them. Either option seems a possibility right now, and luckily, it seems like the Bureau is more prepared for this than they’ve ever been in the past, with both Liz and Johann able to destroy monsters in a much easier way than anyone else can. Does the Black Flame speaking of his power coming from all over the universe tie into Fenix’s vision at the end of the book? It seemingly has to, right?
But by far the most interesting development brought up in this issue happens during the scene where O’Donnell is trying to talk with Howards. He’s trying to understand what how Howards has been so proficient in battle, and it appears that he found the, or at least an, answer: he’s been shaving the stones he uses in battle and, seemingly, mixing the shavings into his water and drinking it. It isn’t clear if this is something he has always done, or if he is trying this to get even stronger. Regardless, it is a really interesting turn for Howards who, while awesome, has been mostly one dimensional for the past year or so.
This issue teases a bunch of new mysteries and developments – seriously, what’s with the ghosts? – and doesn’t really give us anything all that concrete to hang our hats on, but we know that this is the ‘beginning of the end’ for “Hell on Earth,” and that this time next year, we’ll be wrapping up John Arcudi’s time on the book. This issue seems to be laying out the pieces for the last year of this incarnation of “B.P.R.D.,” and while it is a book that is a bit stretched thin, it is still a hell of a ride.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – A satisfying, if brief, view into a number of Bureau stories.