So it begins, “Cometh the Hour”, the final arc of “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth” and the last “B.P.R.D.” written by John Arcudi.
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Kate and Panya argue over abandoning BPRD headquarters, while in New York City Johann and Liz fight a seemingly unstoppable opponent as the Ogdru Jahad spawns dozens more monsters by the hour.
(Mild spoilers ahead)
Mark Tweedale: I haven’t wanted to face the end of Arcudi’s run on this title, so I picked up this issue with a curious mix of emotions. I’ve been wanting to stall this moment and yet I’ve been unable to contain my excitement for it either.
This arc picks up a little over a week after “End of Days” and things are bleak, and I don’t just mean that in an end-of-the-world way. So many characters are broken and more are breaking. This isn’t going to be a story about winning and saving the day; it’s going to be about survival; it’s going to be about which limb to cut off in order to face tomorrow.
Brian Salvatore: You put that really nicely, Mark, and I agree: this is a book that I’ve been putting off reading, because I don’t want to believe that we are in the home stretch of this series. Yes, I know that the world of the Mignolaverse will continue, but “Hell on Earth” has been such a spectacular ride — the moment where the Mignolaverse became something bigger than I ever thought possible, to be honest. And coming to the end, it feels very final. Sure, I would think some characters will survive, but I don’t know if anyone comes through in a way that leaves them resembling their former self at all.
One thing that struck me right away was that, of all of the characters that we care about that are presented here, Liz is the only one who seems really hopeful. That struck me as really interesting. Not that she’s a character without hope, but she’s not the person you would expect to be rallying the spirits right now. Kate, historically the character that has been the one keeping the team together, is a mess, so much so that Panya looks absolutely sunny in comparison.
And then there’s Iosif, who I’m sure we’ll have lots to say about later.
This issue flew by, and yet so much was going on. Part of that pace was established by just how wonderful of a storyteller Laurence Campbell has developed into. Not that he was ever a slouch, but his work here is really extraordinary. He has adapted little Mignola-esque touches — the small panel inset, showing a small object or focusing on a seemingly inconsequential detail — and amped his work up to another level.
Mark: Since the beginning this has always been a book about broken characters. Roger, Liz, Hellboy, Abe… they always carried something invisible on their shoulders (which is why any Hellboy Universe artist must be capable of drawing weary heroes). Over the years we’ve seen character after character break and pull themself back together again, but I don’t think anyone has done that more than Liz. Liz has been falling apart since childhood; she ran away from the B.P.R.D. thirteen times over twenty-three years at one point, but she always came back, a little more broken than before. In “Almost Colossus”, there was a sense that she wasn’t just dying because the Vril had been taken out of her, but because she’d lost the willpower to keep going.
But something happened to her when John Arcudi took over writing Liz. Instead of coming back to the Bureau even wearier than before, she came back angry. And then she got broken again… and came back even stronger. This has happened numerous times throughout Arcudi’s run on the book, and I get the sense that when she broke in “End of Days” it was for the last time (at least while Arcudi’s writing her). Liz doesn’t think this is a battle she can win, and yet her spirit remains undefeated. For me, as a long-term reader, this is immensely satisfying.Continued below
On the other side of that coin we have Kate Corrigan. Kate is a character that has never broken. She’s come close — very close — in the past, but she’s never crossed that line. However, it’s been on the horizon for some time. Ever since the beginning of “Hell on Earth”, all the way back in “New World”, Kate’s been showing signs that she’s struggling to cope with her monumental duties. With Tom Manning at the U.N., she’s practically the head of the B.P.R.D. and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t stop situations escalating from bad to worse. Throughout “Hell on Earth” we’ve seen Liz, Abe, Johan, Fenix, Daimio, Devon, and Enos crack.
So to see Kate — my favorite character in the series, an absolute pillar of strength — crack in this issue was heartbreaking. And Laurence Campbell drew the crap out of that moment. He pulled back from the scene, emphasizing her isolation with the silhouettes against white; it was a choice that really worked for me. I love it when the composition takes on the qualities of a character’s inner life.
Brian: It is interesting to look at Liz and Kate and the yin and yang of the book. While they have both been featured players in the book, and with Arcudi really been peeling off characters over the past 3–4 years, it becomes even clearer that these two women are the key players right now, and they are doing very different things. Liz wants to keep fighting, while Kate physically can’t anymore. As you said, it is heartbreaking.
This issue also brought us back into Johann’s head space — the fantasy behind his eyes that allows him to play fetch with a dog while burning monsters alongside Liz. It is amazing that Johann’s mental power is such that he can be living two lives at once, and not just lives that are inconsequential. He is both in a contemplative and a combative state, and seemingly winning battles on both fronts.
Mark: For me Johann is a character that’s not just broken; he’s shattered. I think being this cut off from reality shows how fragile he’s become. He dreams of being human again, but it’s a fantasy of what it is to be a human. He wants something that never really existed and can only exist in his head, and in the face of reality he’s retreating further and further into his fantasies.
Let’s get into heavy spoilers now.
Speaking of characters that mirror each other, Iosif is certainly the flipside of Johann. Like Johann he’s shattered, but instead of being lost in fantasy, he’s lost in a nightmare that has become real.
Brian: Both men in containment suits are being led around by women with far more power than anyone imagined. This part of the book had so many amazing possibilities, allusions, and hints, but I have no idea how much to believe/understand as really happening, versus allegory or foreshadowing.
Seeing Iosif and Varvara walk towards the clearly abandoned Hell was a really interesting moment. Due to Hellboy’s destruction of all of its inhabitants, is Varvara going there to take over? Do you believe that to be her goal, to become queen of an empty Hell?
Mark: No, I believe she’s there to claim the powers of Hell. For the most part, I believe the powers of Hell were governed by the Citadel of the Fly. Varvara is now the sole remaining lord of that house. What power is left in Hell after “Hellboy in Hell” #10, I don’t know. The Great Army of Hell is off limits though, since the Right Hand of Doom is required to bring it to life. Varvara hasn’t been interested in Hell for centuries though. Whatever she’s doing in Hell, I believe ultimately her designs are for Earth.
By the way, I LOVE seeing Varvara loose. As a villain, I find her one of the most compelling that the Hellboy Universe has ever had. And she’s the kind of character that artists seem to delight in drawing. Varvara’s character lends herself to a theatrical approach to acting. You see this in the panel when she tilts her head downwards and her eyes change. It reminds me of a soliloquy moment in a Shakespearean play. That combination of Varvara being both threatening and playful makes for interesting art.Continued below
Brian: Varvara is such a fun character, because she appears to be pure evil, while being wholly likable at times. I’ll tell you this: she’s certainly scarier than she has any right being, due to her visuals. When she slipped on that ring and transformed into a demon in the more visually recognizable sense, it was a huge moment, for the simple fact that she finally looked as she is. This would be like if we only knew Hellboy as the young kid with the huge horns; there would be a disconnect between who he is supposed to be and what we got to see in the comics. We finally get Varvara as the demonic, insane creature that she really is. I can’t wait to see what happens to her and Iosif.
Mark: We’ve seen Varvara a few times in her demonic form, but always in flashbacks. Seeing it in the modern plotline makes it so much clearer she’s back to full power. I loved that.
Brian: I know you want to talk about Panya and her role in this issue, so have at it.
Mark: Yeah, Panya is a character I was so suspicious of originally, but now I look at her very differently. The reveal in “Abe Sapien” that she knows what’s going to happen, and knows she can’t change it, puts her in a different light. But more importantly, she has become attached to people that she knows are doomed. We saw back in the “Plague of Frogs” cycle how she genuinely cared for Liz, and gradually that’s extended to the rest of the cast. She has this grandmotherly affection for Fenix and Kate. Knowing what lies ahead, she knows when to let a person step back, like when she let Devon leave his post. Nothing brought this home quite like her conversation with Kate. Panya knows Kate is fighting a battle she can’t win and she needs to let go. Seeing her trying to talk Kate down, I was surprised how much Panya has changed for me.
In the past I’ve found Panya to be an interesting character, but emotionally distant. I’ve been invested in her impact on the plot, but not really her emotional journey. That changed with “End of Days”, and it’s a change that made this issue a richer experience for me.
Brian: Panya is a character that is absolutely tough to define / relate to / understand, but to me that has always made her an exemplary agent. While, yes, she took a shine to certain characters, you always got the impression that there was something else going on; almost as if she was playing her own game, and being a part of the Bureau was only a small part of what her ultimate goal was.
I think, now, we see that’s not exactly the case, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Panya is one of the characters to carry over to the next incarnation of “B.P.R.D.”, because she strikes me as a character that can survive anything.
I don’t know where this would happen (maybe in “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.”?), but I would love to see an arc dedicated to Panya; not necessarily her origin (though a proper telling of that would be fascinating), but just some pre-Bureau adventures.
Mark: I used to think it’d be great to see Panya in “Witchfinder”, but while putting together a Hell Notes column I realized the timeline doesn’t allow for it. Sir Edward and Panya narrowly miss each other.
If we do explore her past, I imagine it’ll probably be a flashback nested within a modern story.
Brian: Anything else to add before we grade this?
Mark: I’ve nothing more to add. This was an issue primarily about atmosphere and character. There were no big plot revelations here, but I found everything deeply satisfying, so I can’t go less than a 9. The writing and art here were in synchronization, building on and complementing each other in a way that I’d missed in the last arc. It’s the sort of thing I’ve probably taken for granted on this series before now. I guess now I’m hypersensitive to how smoothly the elements work together.
Brian: Yeah, the last arc colored my enjoyment of this arc quite a bit; whereas there, I felt that there was ever-present fluff in need of trimming, this was the opposite. I felt like every word, every brush stroke, was well earned and beautiful. This is what the Mignolaverse can be; this is a 9, for sure.Continued below
Final Verdict: 9. An excellent beginning to a game-changing arc.