Here we are, at the end of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know,” the end of the “B.P.R.D.” series as a whole, and the end of Hellboy’s journey first begun way back in “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction” in 1994. There was only one way to mark such an epic occasion, so we’ve brought together the entire Mignolaversity team. This is going to be a long one, folks!
Spoiler warning: We will be discussing the entire issue, not holding anything back. This review is pretty much wall to wall spoilers.
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
After fifteen years of B.P.R.D. comics, the series reaches its explosive conclusion!
Mark Tweedale: Before we dive into the main body of the review, I wanted to check in on how everyone’s been finding “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know,” especially since we haven’t checked in with Mike Romeo and Brian Salvatore for a while, and David Harper’s last review was for “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth—Nowhere, Nothing, Never.” So much has happened since then!
David Harper: ‘The Devil You Know’ reads to me like a cycle of “B.P.R.D.” that was conceived after everyone involved had planned one thing and then arbitrarily decided that it was actually time to end things in fifteen issues. I have no insight into what the actual process was, but that feeling results in a fifteen-issue run that holds the turbo button down as it mows through a plot checklist to get to the final issue, at which point, they hit the brakes as hard as humanly possible. Outside of the art, it has felt to a certain degree like an impression of “B.P.R.D.” as much as an actual, honest to goodness final cycle.
That’s not to say there haven’t been good points. They’ve just been mired in atypical pacing, a seeming desire to check off necessary plot points above all, and limited characterization, outside of the intermittent beats that hit.
Christopher Lewis: I found “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” to be a very different series than what I was used to reading. There was a lack of real character moments, with the exception of the three-issue Fiumara run that had some great moments between Hellboy, Abe, and Liz. The pacing went from being slow to overly rushed, and there were some odd callbacks to previous stories (most notably Rasputin showing up). I agree with David that the arc felt like they had a checklist of things they wanted to have happen and crammed them into fifteen issues (in my opinion, premeditatively the size of one hardcover book).
The area I enjoyed the most has been that the series was heavy with Hellboy Universe mythology, which I love. The final issue being great in this sense as it hit all of the key things I hoped to see happen with the end of the main narrative.
Brian Salvatore: There have been a few moments that have felt very much like the “B.P.R.D.” I’ve always loved, but for the most part, this cycle felt like an echo. I don’t think it was intended that way, but I think it felt like the “real story” ended with the end of ‘Hell on Earth,’ and this was just the epilogue of the grand story. Between the length, the odd pacing, and the aforementioned checklist mentality, it felt like this was someone rushing to the finish line instead of giving us a full cycle to digest all of this.
Think about how many characters were summarily killed with very little fanfare. I know that was sort of the point, but one of the things I loved about prior stories was how death came frequently, but came with emotional consequences. Because of the pace, we got a lot of action, with relatively little reflection or character development.
Mike Romeo:I wasn’t a fan of this cycle. Sure, cool things happened like the Hellboy reveal, but it all felt like flash and no substance. I mean, Frankenstein shows up and gets one panel. It’s like you’re supposed to say, “Wow, neat!” and then just run along to the next underserved plot point. I almost want to excuse all of that by thinking, “OK, this is the end of the world and things are unraveling at an out of control pace.” Which could work if this wasn’t entirely a work of fiction that is controlled by human beings that can do anything they want.Continued below
I chalk it up to the way Allie writes. But I’m sure we’ll get to that in a few, so I don’t wanna blow through my list of grievances just yet.
Chris: Something I continually think about is would this arc have been better if it was told in more than fifteen issues (like thirty)? That way there would have been more time to let things breathe and events wouldn’t have felt so rushed. After reflecting, I honestly don’t think it would have mattered mainly because without John Arcudi we would not have gotten the character moments that defined the first 147 issues of the series.
I also remember an interview Mike Mignola did last year where he said if Arcudi is gone then he wanted to wrap up the main narrative (essentially what became ‘The Devil You Know’ in like six issues to put the thing to rest, but Allie said there was a lot of stuff still to do so they came up with an outline of what they wanted to hit with ‘The Devil You Know’. That being said, this series feels like a compromise between the two of them to keep the fans happy, sell an additional omnibus, and also end the series quickly. Maybe I am not being fair as Arcudi left before the main story was finished and these guys had to figure out how to close it down, but this is the impression I took from Mignola’s statements.
Mike:I think I agree with Chris about lengthening the cycle, but then we run into having to write an exact number of issues for the second omnibus. And the way things shook out, I don’t know that fifteen more wouldn’t overdo things a bit. Allie can really meander when he goes long on a series out of necessity. I don’t know how many people can recall the “Abe Sapien” series Mark and I reviewed, but we sorta had to drag ourselves over the finish line for that.
And now that I think on it. How is it that ‘Dark and Terrible’ gets more hardbacks than the final “B.P.R.D.” cycle? What a time to be alive!
Mark: I think it’s less to do with the length and more to do with how economically the story’s told. This story could’ve been tightened up considerable by juggling the scenes around so that the gaps between cause and effect are closed, and so that when we go from one scene to the next they create a commentary on each other. Like the vampire plotline, the individual beats are so far apart from each other that each time it re-emerges, the scenes are burdened with reintroducing their context. It would’ve been stronger entirely contained within a single arc.
Brian’s point about character death was what concerned me more, though. Stories are ultimately arguments; they have a point of view and a character death is in a sense a final statement on a particular idea. A shocking and sudden death can make a statement about the story stakes, about other characters, about any number of things. Tian’s sudden death was used to explore the supporting characters over the next three issues. It was purposeful.
However, time and again characters were killed suddenly and from an external viewpoint, and each time the story’s argument gets more and more redundant. Each death offers nothing new, no commentary on the life the characters led before they died or who they are as a person, it’s just “the end of the world is horrible and people die,” which isn’t a particularly interesting or original take on the end of the world.
So let me ask you, how did Tian feel about his death? Or Carla? Or O’Donnell? Ashley? Or even a major character like Abe? Now let me ask you how did Panya feel about her death? Or Kate? Or Johann? The deaths in “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth” were thesis statements about characters, a culmination of what came before. Most importantly, we were with those characters in their deaths, and each feels differently as they meet their final moment. In “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” we are spectators—we watch characters die, but we don’t die alongside them.Continued below
After spending fifteen years reading “B.P.R.D.,” it’s not satisfying to part with these characters as a stranger watching from a distance. I want to see their faces, their eyes, their soul.
Brian: Well said, Mark. I think Carla’s death was the most egregious of these, because she had the most to lose. I’m not saying that being a parent makes your life more valuable, but she was the only person who really had an attachment of any kind (unless you count Bruiser which, upon reflection, I do count. Doggos > people), and we saw a glimpse of what her death meant in her final interaction with her child, but then we moved on so quickly I got whiplash. Sure, Fenix is a surrogate mom now, but what does she think about that? What does her son think about his mom dying? This is the type of story that Arcudi—and I hate beating that drum as often as I do—would have developed into something really meaningful.
Instead, it was just shoved along. And to me, that’s the biggest problem with Scott Allie’s writing style. It’s either decompressed to the point of insanity (much of “Abe Sapien”) or just a quick rundown of plot points, that you get almost no small, personal moments. In fact, to me, the best character moment in this entire cycle is Liz’s wide-toothed smile when she sees Abe for the first time in issue #2, and that had very little to do with Allie’s writing.
Mark: Character rarely informs plot and vice versa. The relationship is almost entirely reactionary. It’s part of why the series feels so fragmented.
Brian: These final few issues really hammered home the roles of the “Big 3” Hellboy Universe writers. Arcudi was all character, Allie is all plot, and Mignola is all Mignola. I mean that in both positive and negative ways, because essentially he does whatever makes him happy, which is what I want artists to do, but his choosing to do so at the end of a long, collaborative piece feels a little self indulgent, if not masturbatory.
David: I have an important question for everyone: does it matter to you that the final issue of “B.P.R.D.” was basically an issue of “Hellboy” ultimately?
Chris: I feel that this issue is a “Hellboy” issue, and maybe that is why I liked it as much as I did. Something in me considers it an epilogue to “Hellboy in Hell” as it closes down the main narrative. I mean, the tone of the issue was a “Hellboy in Hell” issue where Hellboy basically talked one-on-one with another character (Ed and then Hecate). This feels like a Mignola written story, instead of a Scott Allie story, and scratched an itch for me of pulling a lot of mythology pieces together that I have been hoping to see since ‘The Devil You Know’ series started.
However, I am conflicted because the ending doesn’t do any justice to the “B.P.R.D.” storyline for reasons that you guys already discussed.
Brian: It does bug me a bit, especially because at a certain point “B.P.R.D.” and “Hellboy” were titles that had similar attributes/tones, but in the past seven or eight years, they’ve really become two very different things. And as a guy who always tended to favor the Bureau-driven stories, I felt like not only did the concept of the “B.P.R.D.” not really get its swan song, but neither did the bulk of its major characters.
If this issue was meant to close the book on the entirety of the Hellboy Universe, that’s one thing, but it falls under the banner of “B.P.R.D.,” and doesn’t really live up to that title.
Mark: I have to agree. I love this issue and this ending—for me it’s a perfect ending to the Hellboy Universe as a whole—but we skipped something essential to get here. We needed an ending to the “B.P.R.D.” series first, one that belongs to the “B.P.R.D.” characters that were that series’ heart and soul, to get their ending and feel it with them. I needed more than a dry summary of their plot points. It’s heartbreaking that they abruptly vanish from their own series. ‘The Devil You Know’ desperately needed an issue between #14 and #15. The hole there feels so very, very wrong. As a “B.P.R.D.” ending, #15 delivers nothing. “B.P.R.D.” is a characters-first series and it needed an ending that reflected that.Continued below
Brian: This is probably sacrilege around these parts, and especially for a galaxy brain like Mark, but I’ve always enjoyed the nuts and bolts approach of “Hellboy” and “B.P.R.D.” significantly more than the more esoteric creation/destruction mythology of some of the ancillary Mignola work. So, right off the bat, this issue isn’t focusing on the stuff that I have always cared more about, which are the characters, and instead is more interested in the overarching mythos.
Chris: What I always loved about these stories was how perfectly the character driven approach melded/complimented with the larger mythos of the universe. Prior to this arc, there was a balance with these approaches, which is why I fell in love with these books in the first place. That said, for me the major redeeming part of ‘The Devil You Know’ was that it ended in a significantly rich mythological way that was satisfying. Without it I would have been severely disappointed in the entire arc.
David: I’m completely with Brian. One of the things I always loved about “B.P.R.D.” was it was the Hellboy Universe explored through a more direct, more character driven perspective. It was a comic about the end of the world, but one where the characters and their experiences were more important than the actual acts of horrific destruction that were happening around then. Where people try their best to save the world in the face of the apocalypse. It was hopeful and it connected me with the story, which was different than a lot of the “Hellboy” stories that often felt more about larger things that were out of the control of the core characters.
It was a huge bummer to read this issue for me, because in its final chapter, “B.P.R.D.” became a “Hellboy” comic that basically said all of these characters we love—besides Hellboy—and their actions effectively didn’t really matter and were destined to be irrelevant at the end, and had been ever since we saw Liz’s visions of the future in ‘King of Fear.’ It felt more like a comic about fulfilling a shot that was called long ago rather than telling a story that fits the series it exists within.
If “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” had told the concluding chapters of the lives of all the characters from the Bureau that we cared about and then led into a final “Hellboy” story called ‘Ragna Rok,’ I might have loved this issue. But this wasn’t that, and I just find myself disappointed in the end.
Brian: I think we all knew that the series was going to wrap up with the end of the world, but I expected the Bureau itself to play more of a role in that process. One of the frustrations for me with this ending is that it is almost entirely devoid of any real role for the Bureau at all. Aside from being some of the folks who made it underground, what role did they play in the endgame?
Mark: I wanted to see the Bureau being the reason they saved so many… and I think that aspect is there, it just got muted in the shuffle. (Yet another reason for an issue between #14 and #15.) Plus, I think the story would’ve worked better with Hellboy dying in his fight with Rasputin, then spending an entire issue without Hellboy as the Bureau gets as many people as they can underground. It preserves the thematic order of cause and effect—these people are saved because of Hellboy’s sacrifice, this is what his death bought.
Mike: Now that you mention Rasputin, I was a little baffled by Hellboy killing him by snapping his neck. With his normal hand no less! He should’ve just done that fifteen years ago.
Brian: This really felt more like a “Hellboy” story than a “B.P.R.D.” story. Even Liz, who gets her ultimate moment at the end of the series, and Abe, the figurative (or maybe literal?) father of this new age, were minor players in this finale.
Mark: Abe and Liz’s endings were so anemic compared to Hellboy’s, which invests so much into every moment and feeling and choice. It’s so much richer.
Of all the characters in this series, I think Liz was the most poorly served in the ending. Her journey from “Hellboy” to “B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs” to ‘Hell on Earth’ has been one where she’s been a victim and a tool, and grown into a powerhouse with her own agency. But in the last two issues, we experience a major backslide—she ceases to be a person and becomes a plot tool. She loses all her agency. This is where I really needed more. After Hellboy’s death, I wanted to spend time with Liz, to gain some understanding about what she chooses to do next. Imagine how different it would’ve been if we’d seen her grow to understand what she had to do next, and seen her make that choice.Continued below
Mike: Exactly! I’d say a number of characters lost their agency in this issue, but Liz got it way worse. I feel like that final scene with her came out of nowhere, and it’s somehow Hellboy’s decision for Liz to make her sacrifice? I dunno, maybe I’m missing something, but that whole thing seemed weird to me.
As for the B.P.R.D., they played a pretty big role. We just didn’t see it. You know who else played a big role? Frankenstein! Yet we somehow only get one panel with him. I’m a believer in the “if you show a gun it has to be fired” principle. Or however it goes, you get the point. I think Franky and the underground is a pretty big fucking gun. I know that “Frankenstein Underground” provides some explanation, but when you’re writing the main series, you can’t expect that every reader has read every side story. I truly can’t stand hand holding readers, but this is something that needed clarification at some point in this series.
Chris: Were there any other storylines not address in this arc that you guys were hoping to see? I personally, was hoping for more of an explanation about Abe. Like what was all the “the sea calling her children home” stuff from twenty years ago, or the purpose of Abe’s multiple transformations? We had a whole thirty-six-issue “Abe Sapien” series that didn’t really give us much, and then ‘The Devil You Know’ only gave us that eggs that came out of Abe’s broken body (which came out of nowhere). For all of the emphasis on the mystery of Abe over the years I feel exploring the mythology around him was lacking.
Mark: Agreed. I’d have even liked a moment with Shonchin sitting by Abe’s corpse at the bottom of the ocean, saying goodbye to his friend. Answers are nice, but a character moment between the two would’ve been even more satisfying for me. We didn’t get either.
Chris: Another group that I was hoping would be vetted a little more was the Osisrus Club and the spirit Larzod. It is possible we might learn more about them in a future “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” issue, but with them having “killed” the remaining six Ogrdu Jahad I wanted more around how they were connected to those beasts.
Mark: Back when “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #3 came out and one of the Osiris Club members was dead, I remember thinking for the first time that they had bound themselves to the Ogdru Jahad somehow, since one of the Ogrdu Jahad was dead. I never said anything though, because I felt a little silly saying, “Seven Ogdru Jahad, seven Oriris Club members. Coincidence?!” But here we are twelve issues later and they’ve bound themselves to the Ogdru Jahad, trying to elevate themselves to godhood. And just as the spirit Larzod foretold in “Hellboy: The Wild Hunt” #8, they are all there at the end, and they have claimed Hellboy’s hand.
Brian: David said in an email that he wishes he could reread this issue with your brain, Mark, and I totally agree. While I remember the Osiris Club, I don’t have the level of detail as worked out in my head, so their involvement, while cute, wasn’t really a big deal to me.
Mark: I think that’s also due to the fractured way they were reintroduced in “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know,” where we got scenes in issues #3 and #14 and they were so cryptic about what they were really doing that their dialogue was essentially meaningless and entirely unmemorable. Some cards needed to be laid bare sooner, and the Osiris Club is a clear example of that. They should’ve only showed up in the final arc and their objectives should’ve been clear. The late reveal led to convoluted storytelling.
That said, we’ve known for a very long time that Hellboy would die in the final battle and that his right hand would be cut off, but it never once crossed my mind that he would be reunited with it. He was free of the burden and then chose to take it back. He wanted to be a regular guy, but when faced with the Osiris Club becoming the gods that would shape the new world, he chose to take on the godhood he never wanted. For me, that was immensely satisfying.Continued below
Mike: When I saw him get his hand back I actually guffawed. He lost his hand, and then is reunited with it just as quickly as he lost it. There was nothing for him to overcome in order for him to get it back. He just showed up, said, “Oh hey, that’s mine,” and simply took it back. That storytelling decision really diminished the idea that this was a huge, life-ending decision, making it feel like it was more a means to an end than anything.
David: Hilariously, I went back and read this column called Hell Notes, which honestly is pretty good, you guys should read it. It helped a lot. It certainly made me appreciate the Osiris Club appearance far more, and helped me understand that this was Hecate with Hellboy at the end, rather than some other previously appearing character like Nimue. But I have serious issues with a final issue that requires effectively an explainer to understand what happens. That’s never been “B.P.R.D.’s” way, and it’s yet another issue I have with this finale.
I have to ask you all a question within a question here. This issue is all about fulfilling prognostications from long before in this comic. Does it being the execution of previously shown story beats make this an unsatisfying read for anyone else?
Basically, much of this final issue appeared before, which I suppose might be fulfilling for some, but it’s not really a satisfying “B.P.R.D.” narrative to me. If you call your shot ten years ago or whatever and all we end up with is that, it underlines that the efforts of the Bureau themselves—the characters this book was ostensibly about—were largely pointless, and outside of Liz, they were effectively irrelevant, with even Liz being almost a puppet of sorts given that Hellboy has to tell her “Do it” in the end. That’s a major bummer. It makes it less of a story to me and more of a paint-by-numbers execution of a previous idea.
Brian: Well put, David. Again, I think so much of failure of this issue and, to a lesser degree the entire cycle, was how little the Bureau did/mattered.
Mark: Stories about one world being replaced with another can feel nihilistic—what’s the point if everything ends? But I think Mignola’s story is exactly the opposite. The world before shapes the one that follows, so while it’s still true that it ends, it matters immensely. It’s about legacy and a generation passing the torch to the next, and how we can make a better world for those that follow.
It’s interesting to me how we’re seeing something we’ve seen before, but the perspective has totally changed. Before the emphasis has been on this terrible, ominous end, and on surrendering to the forces of destiny. Here, the emphasis is on beginning, and on purposeful choice, and on how the mistakes of the first world and the crucible of the second world lead to a third world free and full of hope. It’s the same end, but it’s meaning is transformed.
Brian: I think that’s a really great way of looking at it, but it doesn’t totally address my concerns about the issue and, to a lesser degree, the arc, and the cycle as a whole.
One of the drags of reviewing books monthly is that you don’t get to spend enough time pondering the big picture, and instead can be caught up in minutiae. But this goes almost the opposite direction; I don’t think that this collection of twenty pages is a particularly good, well rounded comic on its own, nor do I think it really works as a conclusion of the ‘Ragna Rok’ arc, nor do I think it is a particularly effective conclusion to ‘The Devil You Know.’
This issue works best for Mark and Chris, it appears, who are the ones among us who are looking at this with the longest lens. I think it’s great that they are satisfied with the way things wrapped up. But for me, this doesn’t really do too much to get me to look at this cycle fondly. Unlike, say, “Hellboy in Hell,” which was a truly unique and insular experience, this cycle was supposed to be all about dealing with the end of the world at the very end, and tying up (many of the) loose ends before everything goes kaboom.Continued below
This issue splits the difference between “Abe Sapien,” which was a little too deep in the mythos for my taste at times, and “Hellboy in Hell,” but without the well-crafted setting and tone.
Mark: For me, a major thing that marked ‘The Devil You Know’ as different from the other cycles of “B.P.R.D.” was the constant time stamping of scenes. It made the book feel even more militaristic than usual, but seeing the whole thing complete, I see its purpose a little better. The last stamp was before going into the final battle in #14. In the last issue, it’s gone, even though the issue spans hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps even millions. The shift in storytelling makes us feel the old world is gone and makes everything that follows starkly different.
Brian: I had a similar thought, Mark. I had initially attributed it to the larger presence of Devon, a field agent, at the helm. His day to day in the Bureau was far more paramilitary or military than it was for former directors. But I think the time stamps also added to the overarching sense of dread and limited time that was intrinsic to this cycle.
Mark: I’ve said several times in past reviews, there’s a disconnect between the way the series is written versus the monthly release format, and it hurts its readability.
Brian: Well said, though it’s missing one important piece, which is that this is attempting to say goodbye to the Hellboy Universe without really dealing with anyone other than Hellboy, who already got his send off. It’s a little bit of The Return of the King and its nine endings.
Mark: I’d be inclined to say the opposite. We needed The Return of the King’s structure, with its gradually shrinking endings from the larger fate of Middle-earth, down to the fates of the Elves and Men, to the fate of the fellowship, to the Hobbits, and then finally Frodo— “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #15 is The Lord of the Rings jumping straight from the Ring being destroyed to Frodo sailing away to Grey Havens. It’s Hellboy’s ending, and it’s the ending his story needed, but it’s only Hellboy’s ending, which is a disservice to the rest of the series’ cast.
Brian: I meant more in how many endings Hellboy himself got. His actual death, “Hellboy in Hell,” and now here. But yes, I’d like to have seen characters other than Hellboy get that treatment.
Mark: Back at the height of the Hyperborean Age, when Hecate offered up the knowledge of the workings of the Universal Machine, she was accused of corrupting the first race of man. She saw things differently: “I gave them knowledge. What they chose to do with it… that was for men to decide.” I think for a long time we’ve thought of Hecate as evil, but looking back, she’s only been what people have decided she is. I don’t think Hecate is evil; I think she’s a reflection. And I think that’s why Hellboy’s journey has been so important, because whatever he brings to that final encounter with her, she will mirror, and it will shape the world to come.
When they meet, Hellboy goes to fight her and she asks, “This is how you want it to end?” Hellboy has always been a force of destruction, but he’s also a force of creation. I’ve long maintained that this series was not about escaping destiny, but rather choosing how to meet it. And here, it’s deeply satisfying to see Hellboy choose to face this moment without violence.
Mike: I never considered that, and I think you’ve made some great points. Just to play devil’s advocate, though, I see the point of Hellboy accepting his end without violence, but what about Hecate? Crushing someone in an iron maiden is something that I think of as a pretty big act of violence.
Brian: Well, I think just because Hellboy chooses non-violence doesn’t mean that others are making the same choice, nor should it matter. If we’re following Hellboy here, his decision is the one we should care about.
Chris: I guess it depends on what crushing Hellboy actually represents. Does it mean Hecate killed Hellboy? I personally don’t think so. I think it means that two agents of change (who are dualistically opposite) have merged, and by doing so released Hellboy’s blood (which was something more than blood) to create a new Eden. It’s pretty nuts to think about. That leaves what happened to Hecate and Hellboy, which I think they exist in some form together and separate (in the Christian religious concept).Continued below
Brian: It always felt to me that Hellboy wasn’t going to avoid his destiny, but that it wasn’t going to appear exactly as it was foretold, and that appears more or less correct here. There’s a lot of questions I have about Hellboy still, but it is nice to see him essentially in death as he was in life. We saw things in #14, like his horns growing out again, which fits the prophecy, but here, he’s more or less back to being the Hellboy we knew and loved. I presume that is to suggest that this Hellboy, in the trench coat, with the shaved down horns, is who he really is.
Mark: That’s kind of how I interpreted his eye coming back in one panel. The way he faces his ending makes him whole again. It’s was a panel that stirred something sad inside me. Speaking of the art…
David: Yeah, we have to talk about the art, both from the larger run of “B.P.R.D.” and from this issue. I wanted to start with a little discussion about where Laurence Campbell ranks in the overall landscape of artists who have contributed to this series, as there have been a lot of them. Campbell’s work is typically great here—although my largest beef with him is, to a degree, some of his characters are difficult to differentiate at times—and I believe he ultimately closes the series as #2 in terms of the amount of issues he provided art for in the series (finishing 10 behind original series artist Guy Davis).
Where would you rate Campbell in the pantheon of “B.P.R.D.” artists? Note that I said “B.P.R.D.,” not the larger Hellboy Universe, so Mignola and Duncan Fegredo are out. Here’s my rankings, just off the top of my head:
1. Guy Davis, obviously
2. James Harren, for his high highs more than a sustained peak
3. Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, same reasoning as Harren
5. Tyler Crook
Mike: Davis on top, no doubt. It’s a tight one, for sure, but I think Campbell comes in third. And, of course, Dave Stewart deserves to be listed. I think he’s going places.
Brian: I think I’d jump Campbell over the Twins, though I love their work, if only because there is so little of it. Harren is my personal favorite of the bunch, but I think that you would have to consider Davis the top, obviously.
I will say this about Campbell, though, which is that he might be the most versatile artist of the bunch. His work has a style all of his own, but he can also do a pretty convincing Mignola impression. His work seems to be the most fluid, in terms of being able to handle all the various needs of the Hellboy Universe. For that reason, he was a good artist to take this all home.
Chris: I don’t know that I can rank them. I remember each phase of the “B.P.R.D.” comics as different feelings I had when reading them. ‘Plague of Frogs’ had an innocence/playfulness to it that whenever I see Guy Davis’s art I get that same feeling. At the same time it’s funny how I don’t associate Guy Davis’s art with ‘Hell on Earth,’ even though he was around at the beginning of it. ‘Hell on Earth’ had a hopelessness feeling to it as everything continued in a downward spiral, which I associate with Laurence Campbell’s art. This is not to say that the other ‘Hell on Earth’ artists weren’t important, but they are not part of the emotions I feel when in regards to the art.
Now I have no feelings as it relates to ‘The Devil You Know,’ and even though Campbell worked on most of the issues, his art didn’t help take the story to the next level for me. Its funny how that worked out.
Mark: I’m not much one for rankings (though Guy will always be first). I’m much more interested in what the artists brought to the series. Given the space we have, I’ll just focus on Campbell. For me, it’s his panel composition that consistently blows me away. The way he approaches a scene, emotion comes from the panel and poses of characters, not so much their facial expressions, so he’s particularly good at getting emotion to read even in panels with full-body figures. He leaves a lot of room for Dave Stewart to take it to the next level too, which is in part why I think his work transitions to Mike Mignola’s pages as seamlessly as it does. It’s the combination of Stewart taking so much ownership of the art and the similar sensibilities between Mignola and Campbell. There were so many panels in this issue that I simply had to stop and stare. I couldn’t believe I was seeing that moment.Continued below
David: Well, that’s a perfect place to look at this issue’s surprise artist: Mike Mignola. On one hand, it’s a bit weird to get Mignola here at the end of “B.P.R.D.,” but that’s hardly unprecedented—he contributed to ‘King of Fear’ #4, which was hugely important to this issue, amongst other issues—but on the other, it makes sense. As noted elsewhere within this review, this is as much the final chapter of Hellboy’s story as it is the Bureau’s. Who else should conclude this story but the man who birthed it all?
And, as much as I had a hard time with the issue elsewhere, Mignola’s work was remarkable as per usual. While there were some elements I could have used perhaps a bit more clarity on (Liz’s final action was clearly a lot of fire, but it was rather imprecise in typically Mignola fashion, for better or worse), there is something to be said about how quickly the tone of the issue shifts just because of Mignola’s presence on art. The pacing dials back. The mood heightens. It has a different feel. At least visually, I can’t imagine this larger story ending in any other way. What did you all think of Mignola’s efforts here?
Mark: It simply had to be Mignola. I mean, the scene with Liz is literally the same moment from ‘King of Fear’ #4, but from Hellboy’s point of view. I was completely blown away by those pages. Just… jaw-hitting-the-floor blown away. And then the blood flowing down the mountain, turning into a river, and flowers, and insects… It reminded me of Ymir from Norse mythology, and how his body became the world. It was grand, and sad, and beautiful all at once.
As for the final pages, Mignola says so little, because we’ve been shown everything we needed to know already. This isn’t new information, so I loved that it went totally dialogue free and just let us feel the passage of time through images. Unfortunately, it leans very heavily on imagery from “Frankenstein Underground,” so readers that haven’t read that book or have forgotten the details of it may be left scratching their heads.
Brian: This seems like the perfect encapsulation of who Mignola has become, artistically. Just ripping every unnecessary line from the page, and giving us something simple, beautiful, and profound. Despite my relative issues with what the images represented, I was blown away by the art that presented them.
David: Brian, Mark, I have to address something that was a long running trope from my Mignolaversity contributions: my idea that Varvara would prove to not be actually bad. Mark often hemmed and hawed about this with his larger knowledge of where things were going, and while it was kind of ultimately irrelevant, I do want to say that I think in the long run—relative to the alternative!—I was correct! Possessed-by-a-demon Varvara was much better for the Bureau and the larger planet Earth than child-of-Rasputin Varvara, and with that in mind, I’m calling it: I WAS RIGHT. Try and talk me out of this. I dare you.
And I know this is a meager thing relative to everything else that transpired, but let me have this.
Brian: I must admit, I was thinking of you often when reading the Varvara stuff. I remember your pro-Varvara partisan stance fondly, even though I thought it silly at the time. Turns out, I’m the silly one.
Mark: David, I wouldn’t want to talk you out of it. I’d argue that Yomyael (the demon) was still bad, but they’d been changed enough that they were capable of doing some good too. I like that.
Brian: Wrapping up, do any of you have real interest about what comes next? Or is this a satisfying enough finale for us to go out on? I’m not talking about interest in things like future “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” stories, but rather a continuation of this “story,” either in terms of the folks underground, the new age of man, or whatever celestial plane Hellboy is on if any.
David: Hard pass, to be honest. I’ll explore the world with the characters and everything else, but in terms of the larger story—if it continues, and it really shouldn’t—then that’s a big time no.Continued below
Chris: I would like to think of this story as closed. Everything needs to end and keeping it open would dilute the storyline with Mignola “jumping the shark” with his Hellboy narrative.
Brian: I would think at least a few of us already think he has.
Mark: I imagine whatever follows, it won’t involve the larger story. Mignola’s created an entire fantasy world now, entirely cut-off the world we know, so I figure whatever he does will be smaller, more playful stories. I can’t help but hope we’ll have epilogue-like short stories with Liz, Abe, Frankenstein and the survivors in the Hollow Earth—something more meditative and character based —anything to at least address the gaping holes in this narrative.
To be honest, I’m not sure how to rank this issue, because the oversights in this ending fall on the issues that preceded it, not on the issue itself. So I’m giving two scores. I’m giving this issue a 9, but I’m giving the “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” series a 6, and a hefty bulk of that goes to Laurence Campbell’s amazing art and Dave Stewart’s colors. The writing could be great in bursts, but overall it was unfocused and lacked the character resonance that defines “B.P.R.D.”
Chris: Well said, Mark. I also give this issue a 9, and for the same reasons giving the entire series a 5.5.
David: Time to ruin the party. While I appreciated how this comic worked off a whole lot that preceded it, even playing out certain story beats exactly as we’d seen it before, that to me doesn’t make a compelling narrative. I went back and read up to remind myself of what was going on within this issue, and that helped, but to me, if a narrative relies upon what preceded it to that degree, the single issue suffers for it. My immediate reaction was this issue a 5. After my refresher, I was leaning towards a 7. Let’s split the difference and call it a 6 for the issue and a 5 for the cycle as a whole.
Mike: And now I will further ruin the party! This cycle felt unnecessary and the series maybe should’ve ended when Arcudi left.
Here’s where I make up my own rules! I’m saying that both this issue and the cycle itself gets a five across the board. However, if you strip the whole thing of its dialogue, leaving the art on its own, solid 9.
Brian: Since we are breaking rules left and right, I’ll just copy what Mike said. 5 for the cycle, 5 for the issue, and 9 for the art.
Final Verdict: 6.8 – Say goodnight.
Final Thoughts on “B.P.R.D.”:
David: Regardless of my thoughts on this single issue and where everything goes from here, I’m going to miss the core “B.P.R.D.” story. I started reading it, bizarrely, when I checked out ‘Garden of Souls,’ the seventh volume of the story, out from the library. I had no idea what was going on. There were ancient people living in steampunk outfits. They thought the fish guy was their old buddy, Langdon. It was kind of crazy. But I loved it and wanted more. For seventeen years, they did just that, and ultimately, I ended up loving this series because no matter how dire things became, Abe, Liz, Johann, Kate, Roger, Daimio, Howards, Carla, Tian, and everyone else kept fighting. There’s beauty in that. They became characters I loved in a shared universe that was the best one you could find for its run. That’s a heck of an accomplishment, and something that I hold in the highest of esteem from a lifetime of reading comics.
Chris: I am going to miss it too. “B.P.R.D.” is what pulled me into the Mignolaverse. A buddy had me read ‘Plague of Frogs’ and I was hooked. I fell in love with each of the characters and will never forget all of the emotions I had when any main character died. Especially Kate and Panya… I was just not prepared for that. The characters and the journey are what I will miss most of all. That and all of the fabulous artists that I was introduced to by reading this series. There has been top notch talent associated with this book who have added a lot of value to this series.Continued below
Mike: Smell ya later “B.P.R.D.,” it’s been a blast. So many immense talents have touched this series, and I couldn’t be happier to have witnessed it all. Thanks.
Brian: I’ve been mourning the end of this series since the announcement that ‘Hell on Earth’ was coming to an end, so this seems like a protracted and particularly slow goodbye. But that said, “B.P.R.D.” is one of the most vital comics to my personal tastes and preferences. It had elements of the superhero team dynamics that initially hooked me into comics when I was a wee lad, so the book always made me feel a little nostalgic, in a weird way.
But more than anything else, I’m going to miss this. The Mignolaversity community is one of the things I’m most proud of in my eight years at Multiversity, and I loved debating and exploring all of this with you guys. So let’s pick a new series to obsess over, and let’s do this again in the future.
Mark: There is truly nothing else like “B.P.R.D.” in the Hellboy Universe. (I love that each series has its own unique identity.) It’s easy to point at all the big things that happened and say, “Read this book and see all the monsters and the end of the world,” but the moments that stick with me the most are the small things. It’s Liz complimenting Kate on her skirt, it’s Johann happy to have knuckles, it’s Liz so happy to see Abe again, it’s Panya and Kate holding hands (tears me up just to think of it)… This paired with the phenomenal writers and artists, all storytellers of the highest calibre, made “B.P.R.D.” special month after month for over fifteen years. The final credits page in the back was a nice tribute to everyone that had made the book possible and a reminder of what an incredible achievement the series is.