Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Bound to a prehistoric weapon, an ancient spirit wages an eternal war against the creatures that seek to destroy the world, and their human servants.
Mark Tweedale: The last two reviews we’ve done for “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know,” we’ve always mentioned what we need from the series, things that we felt were missing, especially in terms of emotional connections to the characters. And for me, this is the issue that addresses those needs big time. Despite what the cover may imply, this is not a big action issue. It’s actually quite small. No, small is the wrong word—it’s intimate.
This issue is all about Liz and Abe reconnecting for the first time since “B.P.R.D.: King of Fear” #2, and I think it’s the best issue of “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” yet.
Mike Romeo: It’s sorta crazy that it’s been that long since these two have shared the stage, right? I guess, as a reader, it’s easy to lose sight of time or who knows what and why.
And I think intimate is the right word for it. While there’s a lot of talking and getting acquainted, the issue’s also packed with continuity. While there are a few elements that push some current plot points forward, this is mostly a well needed refresher, for both new and long-time readers. There’s a lot to keep track of in these books, so once in awhile I think we need something like this. Of course, refresher issues can have their pitfalls, but we can get into that stuff a little later.
Mark: Just to clarify, this is definitely a refresher, not a primer. It’ll jog your memory or put certain pieces in context with each other, but it relies on some familiarity already. I mean, there’s a small bit with the Osiris Club in there, but unless the readers already knows who the Osiris Club is, it’s not going to mean anything.
And some of that recapping is more to get us into the characters’ heads. I mean, with Abe being gone for so long, it’s easy to forget how much he doesn’t know, and getting us up to speed helps make him relatable. And there is a lot for him to wrap his head around, even with little things like how much control Liz has over her abilities. He hasn’t seen her in action yet, so this conversation is the first time Abe’s seeing it, and his reactions are very telling.
I think there’s also that aspect of Abe having been away from people too long. He goes into his head a bit and alludes to things Liz doesn’t know yet. There’s that sense of Liz seeing all the damage the years have done to him.
Mike: So, before we wade into some of the narrative discussion, which is where the spoilers live, let’s do some art talk.
Mark: Yeah, sure.
Mike: Regular readers will know that we are quick to praise Laurence Campbell and Dave Stewart. It’s clear that those two are stealing the spotlight with every issue, and it’d be difficult for anyone to argue otherwise. With that said, there was an element of the art this issue that struck me, and it was from neither of those guys.
Clem Robins has been lettering the Mignola books for what seems like forever. I’ve said it before in a previous review or two, but I think it bears repeating: Robins is probably just as crucial to the look and overall visual coherence of these comics as Dave Stewart. I mean, when you look at the guy’s work, you just know you’re looking at something Hellboy related. He’s got a handful of idiosyncrasies that make his approach to lettering immediately recognizable. Whether it’s the way he enlarges a word for emphasis while stacking his standard size font next to it, or laying sounds over word balloons for effect, or even something as simple as having airy word balloons that contain only a single exclamation point or question mark, the guy’s settled into a visual language that does just as much to emphasize and accentuate as his collaborators.Continued below
All that said, there was a simple, but incredibly effective use of lettering early in this issue. It’s a trick others have utilized before, but there was just something about the way Robins employed it that snatched my attention. I’m looking at the first scene where Gall Dennar and his crew are out teaching the children about battle. There’s a moment where Dennar is asked, in a nutshell, if he believes their fight to be futile. Considering that they are in the company of the next generation to pick up the fight, Dennar tells his comrade to, ‘mind your words.’ What Robins did here, to emphasize the insistence for a hushed tone in the conversation, is drop the size of the text a few points. He does this while leaving the word balloons the same size as if he were using his standard type size. This creates an airy, whispered quality to the dialogue that sells the reader on what how the scene plays out. Just as if someone were whispering to you, the reader almost has to lean in towards Dennar to take in what he’s saying. Paired with the way Campbell shows the children at a distance, faces turned towards their elders, creates a scene that is nearly flawless from a visual standpoint.
Mark: I’m glad you brought up the lettering. In a dialogue-driven issue like this one, there’s so much lettering can do to augment how we read it. I find unless Robins is going for a deliberately attention-drawing effect, like the uncanny tilted text in “Abe Sapien: The Shadow Over Suwanee,” I find that I don’t consciously register what he’s doing without forcing myself to look at and study the lettering. (Unfortunately, we don’t always see the best presentation of his work either; we’re sent preview PDFs, and more than a few times I’ve noticed in places the lettering drastically changed compared to the final issue.) But it’s worth studying.
I notice Robins works closely with the tone his lettering imparts in a panel. The moment with Gall with the airy word balloon is a good example, but I also notice it when the characters drop into the distance or slip into silhouette. In those situations there’re no faces to read, so the lettering can greatly augment the tone.
In this issue I found myself noticing the lack of emphasis words in blocks of text, which is unusual since usually an emphasis word is thrown into the middle of large blocks of text as an anchor for the eye so the reader doesn’t go through the same line twice.
But then look at the example above. The CONAN emphasis would have been muted if Robins had stuck closely to that rule. This way the emphasis is on how Liz feels about Howards, not his specific acts.
Mike: Oh man, all great points, particularly about characters in the distance. This Robins fella knows what he’s doing.
And since you touched on it, let’s talk a little bit about Liz and Howards.
And heads up, spoilers to follow!
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I first read the ‘I have a boyfriend’ panel it struck me as really odd. It seemed to have a school girlishness to it that I’d have never associated with Liz. The sly smile, pushing her hair behind her ear, I dunno, it just felt forced. So for a while, it felt like a stumbling point in the issue, but then we arrive at the wrap up, and it all sort of came into focus for me.
I now read the aforementioned ‘boyfriend’ scene differently. I see know that it felt contrived because it is contrived. She’s behaving as she feel she’s expected to, with the girlishness and all that. Once we see her climb into bed with Howards we see things for what they really are, right? He’s awake, but doesn’t let her know that, there’s no physical contact, Liz stares at the ceiling, it all feels so… lonely. To heighten the feeling, Stewart expertly colors the scene in cool greys, really conveying the chill in the room.Continued below
I know you’ve got thoughts on this too, but first I want to know your thoughts on the inserted panel of Fenix? The warm-toned oasis in an otherwise sad scene.
Mark: Actually, I think I’ll get back to the Fenix thing after. I read the ‘girlishness’ of the scene differently. There’s a few scenes from “Abe Sapien: The Drowning” and “The Devil Does Not Jest” with Liz around Abe when they’re not on a mission, and her body language visibly changes. Her arms uncross, and she’s more open and animated. I feel like this is part of the dynamic between her and her foster brother. She opens up more with Abe—she lets herself be vulnerable. She hasn’t had this sort of conversation with anyone else, and I think there’s a certain amount of relief at being able to let those barriers down again after being so long apart. And if you look back at “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Flesh and Stone,” you can see a bit of that happening with Fenix too. Liz let herself get closer to Fenix, kind of like a big sister.
But there was spanner thrown into the works there. I don’t know if Liz knew that Fenix shot Abe or not, but talking to him I think it drives home the impact of what Fenix did to Abe. She’s forced to reconcile the girl she’s got a strong connection to with the girl that shot Abe and it’s keeping her up at night.
Mike: Huh, interesting. I totally see where you’re coming from with the Liz/Abe relationship, I guess I just felt like it was a little extra for her, you know?
As an aside (tangent?), I wonder if the juxtaposition of Abe happily falling asleep while Liz seems anything but satisfied is meant to signal some coming shift in their relationship? I dunno, it felt too deliberate to simply be that he’s having a good night and she isn’t I think. I look at Abe’s recent reconciliation with the ‘human’ part of his existence and compare that to Liz’s recent transcendental upgrades in power and it sorta seems like they’re on divergent paths. One towards humanity and the other away from it.
Mark: The issue has a lot of sleepless people in it. I mean, there’s also Carla and Devon… Geez, Devon looks like he’s about to go on a rampage. This actually has me a little on edge, and not for the intended reasons, because as much as Devon can have his head in the sand, John Arcudi always had a way of making him human and relatable. “The Devil’s Engine” arc was one that seemed a little aimless when I first read it, but now when I look back at it, I like it much better. It anchored Devon and reminded us that he was actually a good guy, but he does have some serious blind spots. Arcudi was good at showing both sides, and I hope that Scott Allie can find that depth in him too.
Because it is very easy to reduce him to that dick that everyone hates, but I don’t find that very dramatically satisfying.
Mike: Oh man, me either. That sort of one-dimensional villain type works in something like Back to the Future but not in a series like this. And now that you bring it up, I sorta get the feeling that that’s how Devon’s been handled so far. Clearly no one likes him, but we haven’t seen a hint of what he must be going through after being thrust into a position like this. Granted, we’re only three issues in, but it’s surely something I’m looking for.
And shit, man, seeing Carla have that dream was a real ‘oh no’ moment for me. I thought it landed really well and left me with a real pit in my stomach. Vavara having her hooks in someone within the Bureau is definitely not something to cheer about.
Mark For an issue with so much talking, there’s a lot of tension. And while the Carla thing does worry me, I’m glad to see her still in the mix. I was worried she’d be somewhat sidelined, because she hasn’t really had a big story since “A Cold Day in Hell,” and her primary relationship was with Isoif, who’s obviously not around anymore. But she’s a character I clicked with. The short story “Seattle” and her major role in “The Long Death” solidified her in my mind as a character with a lot to play with. I guess part of me read that scene with dread, but another but of me read it with excitement.Continued below
Mike: Some folk just wanna see the world burn, I guess!
I kid, I kid.
So do you wanna do the Osiris Club thing? We’re racking up the word count and I feel like there’s still a lotta meat to chew through.
Mark That was something I wasn’t expecting, at least not this early in the proceedings, but this is the last cycle of “B.P.R.D.” after all, so I guess it makes sense for the eleventh hour players to start emerging. And they’re definitely a part of some big things. Back in 1866, they were witness to a prophecy that said they would bear witness to the last days of humanity, that they would see a King refuse his crown, but his soldiers would recognize him and follow him into battle where the King shall be slain. That much is clearly prophecy, but the next part is, I think, only the Osiris Club’s plans—nothing ordained as such. They plan to cut off the King’s right hand and use it to elevate themselves above all that remains.
At some point they were convinced Hellboy was the King in the prophecy. After all, Hellboy was the rightful King of England and even took up Excalibur for a time. Also, he has a pretty damn important right hand. But Hellboy never became King, he never wore England’s crown, and he never led an army into battle, even if he did die on the battlefield at the end.
The last time we saw them was the epilogue of “The Storm and the Fury.” While England faded from the world, they escaped to France rather shaken that all their planning seemed utterly misplaced. The Osiris Club was left with a rather troubling thought for people that had lived their lives for nearly a hundred and fifty years with such certainty: the future is a mystery.
So with that in mind, I’m very alarmed to see them again… their number reduced to six. (Is this a potential break with the 1866 prophecy?) And keep in mind too that part of the game Mike Mignola plays with these guys is not what they know, but what they don’t. Back in “Hellboy: The Nature of the Beast,” they concocted a test to determine whether Hellboy was who they thought, and yet they too early decided they understood what they saw and looked away—they never saw the lilies that grew from Hellboy’s blood. And while Hellboy never wore the Crown of England, he wore the Crown of the Apocalypse since the day of his birth, later rejecting it in “Box Full of Evil.” The Osiris Club is frequently blinded by their own confidence that they have a greater understanding. And that makes them very, very dangerous.
But, yeah, their appearance in “The Devil You Know” with no explanation beyond a caption box saying ‘The Osiris Club’ makes it pretty clear we as readers are expected to be up to speed. There’s not even the usual editor’s note that accompanies their appearances, which is surprising given that this is their first appearance in “B.P.R.D.” Up until now, the Osiris Club has been restricted to the pages of “Hellboy.”
Mike: I thought the number of members was interesting. There are six of them, but also a skeleton in a tuxedo. Which is weird, but also makes some sense, I think. If they’re all supposed to bear witness to the last days of man, then maybe their own warped thinking leads them to the idea that the could have some guy’s dressed up remains in the room and it still counts. I feel like it kinda fits with their whole haphazard approach to prophecy.
Mark: I’m more curious how and why he ended up a skeleton. I dunno. I almost wonder if he dared to venture into Hell.
Mike: Ohhhh man, I think you’re on to something there.
So, seeing the Osiris Club this early in the game was a surprise, but I’m quietly holding out hope that we’ll get a Frankenstein appearance before too long. The second issue had a few references to what’s below the Earth’s surface, and I can’t help but wonder where and how Frank could figure into all this. Maybe you’ve got some insight into all this that’ll take the wind out of my sails, but there’s that last panel (well, second to last) in “Frankenstein Underground” that’s really stuck with me. It feels like a promise waiting to be fulfilled.Continued below
Mark No, I’m totally with you. It definitely feels like a promise. And who’s the narrator in the end? I mean, they’re not an omniscient narrator, so that means they’re a character in the Hellboy Universe… I feel like there’s so much more begging to be told. I do hope to see Frank again before the end.
OK, there is one last thing I wanted to touch on, and that was the dialogue. As evidence by all the stuff we’ve just spoken about, there’s a lot of grandiose mythology stuff coming into play (Geez, I didn’t even mention that little flash of Simon Anders… this issue had a lot in it), but it seems kinda strange to hear that stuff coming from Abe with lines like ‘In a way, I might be the… the key to the future.’ I’m in two minds about it, because the truth is Abe still has no idea what he’s talking about, so he’s just parroting the words of others. Also the ellipses in there suggest Abe felt silly about saying it, but it was such a vague idea in his head, he didn’t know how to word it better.
Still, there’s something about a line like that feels like the character is aware they’re in a story, I think. But I know you had some thoughts on the dialogue too, so how’d you find this?
Mike: Oh man, that bit with Abe almost made me groan aloud. I didn’t take the ellipses as any sort of sign of awareness, but more of a ham-handed approach to dramatic dialogue. It came on the heels of a few panels (and tons of dialogue) that read as if Allie knew he had things to cover, but didn’t quite know how to finesse them into the story.
Without getting too far into the weeds, I think that this sort of problem comes from a tendency to be too self-referential. While “Devil You Know” is obviously built on the whole of the series’ mythology, Allie seems to prefer to build on the contributions he’s written himself. Abe’s walkabout and reconciliation with Caul, vampires, these are shaping up to be keystones in the arcs to come. So maybe because of that he’s trying to shove more into exposition than the issue can actually support.
Mark: Yeah, I think you’ve got to the root of it. This issue has a lot to do, and so much to catch up on. I mean, at the end of it all, this is “B.P.R.D.” and not everyone’s read that “Abe Sapien” run, but at some point that material has to be broached. However, Abe doesn’t know the answers yet, so it can’t be succinctly summed up. Abe has a sense of his place in the grand scheme but nothing tangible. So the story has to recap something that’s both too big and too shapeless.
Mike: And that’s a no small feat, even for the best of writers. So let’s talk grades.
This is a tough one for me to judge. On one hand, the entire visual team is crushing the series, and this issue in particular. It’s not easy to make a bunch of talking heads compelling, and the art shoulders the entirety of that responsibility. Pair that with all of the mythology stuff and I’m a pretty satisfied reader.
But then we get to the weaknesses in dialogue and I fear that we’re starting to see some cracks in the veneer. I hope I’m overreacting, but I can point to a big stack of “Abe” issues to validate my concern.
Let’s give more consideration to the art and call it a 7.
Mark: I’m going with an 8, not because I don’t share your concerns, but because I really enjoyed the Abe and Liz reunion, and that far outweighed those concerns. There’s been a lot of misery in “B.P.R.D.” lately, especially as characters have been pulled apart. I want to see that change, and see them start to pull together in the face of the end of all.
Plus there was a lot of mythology stuff for me to geek out over and I’m a total sucker for that stuff.Continued below
Final verdict: 7.5 – “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” leans heavily on the past in this issue, which makes it a bit of an unwieldy read, but the reunion of Abe and Liz is very satisfying.