• Feature: B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know #4 Reviews 

    Mignolaversity: “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” #4

    By and | November 29th, 2017
    Posted in Reviews | 11 Comments

    Mignolaversity Logo

    Things get heated back at Bureau headquarters this issue, but the dramatic moments don’t hit as hard as they should.

    Cover by Duncan Fegredo
    Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
    Illustrated by Laurence Campbell
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    Exorcist Ashley Strode directs the BPRD toward a deadly cult leader while Fenix pushes for a return to the site of Kate’s death.

    Mark Tweedale: I’m going to kick this one off with a spoiler warning right here. We’re going to take a deep dive into the plot elements at work in “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” #4.

    First up, Brian missed the last review, and he’s the only one of us that isn’t up to speed on the “Abe Sapien” 2013–2016 ongoing series, and the last issue of “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” was starting to lean more on set-up from that series. So, Brian, how did you find that element of the last issue?

    Brian Salvatore: I wasn’t overly confused by it; it’s not like Scott Allie was writing this dense, convoluted story. I was able to pick up the basic threads rather easily, and didn’t feel like I was missing too much from skipping the back half of that book.

    I will say this: I’m pretty surprised, four issues in, that this is the first issue where we are really digging into some of the events of the last series. I know that there, obviously, have been references, but this issue felt like the first time that we, as readers, see the characters actively considering and discussing these gigantic events in their lives.

    Mark: Yeah, it was definitely the catch-up issue in a lot of ways. I was concerned though that you may have found Abe frustratingly vague about what he discovered about himself. It’s good to know you didn’t feel like you’d missed too much.

    So let’s get to this issue. This one had a few things in it that didn’t sit right with me. Like at the beginning, Carla Giarocco’s kid has a bunch of toys he’s playing with, including action figures of Abe Sapien and Hellboy. That seemed really weird to me, like something pulled out of a Marvel book suddenly appearing in the Hellboy Universe. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t have any action figures of real life government agents when I was a kid—no J. Edgar Hoover, no George Piro… I did have some Ninja Turtles though. Anyway, it was just something that was tonally jarring, reminding me that I was reading a comic book by throwing in a comic book stereotype I’m not a fan of.

    Brian: I found that really weird, too. It would be one thing if it was like the doll we see that Rey made in The Force Awakens, but this doesn’t appear to be a handmade, ramshackle doll. It was a really odd touch.

    Mark: I’m gonna head-canon them as custom figures made by Peter, the tech guy.

    Brian: What I liked about this issue, as a longtime reader, is that is started to connect the dots a bit. As you said, it is a bit of a catch-up issue. But this still feels, to me, like it is really light on just about everything that came from John Arcudi. I love Ashley Strode, so this isn’t a knock on that character, but I think that sort of lines up, too. It’s like Allie has decided to pull from all the sources aside from Arcudi’s for inspiration for where the story is going.

    I know that I’ve been critical in the past of Allie’s abilities as a writer, and I’m not trying to pile on the guy unncessarily, but am I alone in thinking that these issues feel a little…slight? Basic? I’m not quite sure the word I’m looking for.

    Mark: I’d say muddy. Reading it, I get the sense that Allie knows where everything is going, but his story gets messy when it’s translated to the characters. I had a particular problem with the “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible” ongoing series, something that I’d see pop up again and again. I found when there were four or more characters in a scene, the throughline in the sequence would veer all over the place. I remember distinctly in the “Sacred Places” arc there was a line dropped by a single character whose name we didn’t know, in a scene with about seven people talking, then someone responded to that line an issue later and name-dropped the character. There was so much distance between those two pieces, the second part of it almost seemed like a non-sequitur.

    Continued below

    I think what Allie is going for is the messiness of real conversations, where people often talk over each other or go into their own head and return to the conversation later on, still on the same topic that everyone else has since moved on from. And that can be done… but not literally. Translated literally to a comic it’s just messy, full of redundancies, unfinished thoughts, and apparent non-sequiturs. Unless you’re going for a very specific effect, the aim should be to capture the feeling of a messy conversation, while maintaining a careful eye on character motivation throughout. It should be meticulously orchestrated chaos, and that’s a hard thing to pull off.

    In “The Devil You Know” #4, that same problem emerges, but compounded because it’s full of characters that all want to talk about what they want to talk about, and they repeatedly disengage when the topic shifts or attempt to wrestle the conversation back to their topic. The result here is the supporting players in the conversation end up having murky motivations or none at all, the primaries come off as one note, and the overall conversation ends up shapeless and forgettable, aside from a few dramatic beats.

    During “Abe Sapien” I kind of chalked this shortfall up to Allie being his own editor, so my hope is that the new editor will push him to be a better writer.

    Brian: I think part of that might come from being an editor, too. He knows who every character is, what their motivations are, etc, because he’s looking big picture. “Abe Sapien” is an answer to an editorial problem—how do we tell Abe’s story without cutting into the time we need to wrap “Hell on Earth?” The reason I fell off the book was because it never felt like a book that needed to exist, issue by issue. I understand why the story was important, but the issues themselves never conveyed that to me.

    There’s a similar feeling I get from reading this book so far. There are interesting ideas and concepts, with characters that I care about, but thus far, it has come off as very perfunctory and without the nuance, heart, or depth that “Hell on Earth” had. Even things that should feel momentous or interesting—like Liz and Howards being a couple—just feels very matter of fact.

    Mark: I think that’s what I liked so much about #3. We got to linger with moments a little longer to get more feeling out of them. It’s jarring when some major moments feel rushed through, especially when I look back at #1 with the cricket attack while recovering Abe and the vampire attack in #2—I can’t help but think they would have worked better if they had been condensed into a single sequence with the crickets removed entirely. I mean we’re at issue four of a five-issue arc, and I still don’t have an overall sense of the arc’s shape yet.

    That said, I don’t think the moments you’re missing are absent, but rather buried in that shapelessness. It doesn’t help that for the most part this is a colder story with characters mainly being antagonistic towards each other, but that’s still mined for great moments like Liz and Andrew giving each other the single-fingered salute (a moment I wish had found itself in issue #1 though, where Liz was merely irritated and frustrated by Devon instead of here where’s she’s livid and about to boil over).

    I want to draw attention to how Ashley Strode was handled this issue. I like the way Cameron Stewart wrote her in “Exorcism” back in 2012, however her portrayal was all over the place in 2016’s “The Exorcist,” especially its final issue. As for this arc, up until now Ash’s been playing the exorcist part of her role in the story, but nothing that said much about who she is as a person, so I appreciated the way her reconnection with the Bureau shone a spotlight on that. This is absolutely the same Ash from “Exorcism” and I’m glad to have her back. That panel after she ends the conversation, with her slumped over her laptop, was pitch perfect.

    Continued below

    Brian: I agree. As a longtime Strode fan, it is nice to see her not only be used in this series, but be used properly. She’s one of the more undeveloped agents in the Bureau at this point, but what we do know about her is that she does not take any shit. Her pushing back here was absolutely perfect, and showed exactly why she is so successful at what she does and why the Bureau needs her.

    I want to focus on Laurence Campbell a bit here, as I feel like this series is something entirely new for him. He’s not drawing the epic sequences that his past few arcs have needed. Here, he is drawing the tension coming not from the Ogdru Hem, but rather from interpersonal conflicts and the existential dread of walking through a burned out world with husks of monsters ominously staring you down. It’s a bit of a different itch for him to scratch, and I think he handles it perfectly.

    The ‘one finger salute’ between Devon and Liz is the perfect example of this. He draws both characters, more or less, at ease, but with a burning fire behind their eyes that tells you everything you need to know. The layers of that scene—they both have to appear to be in control, yet neither can appear to be aggressive, and yet they must fully convey their hatred, which is mixed with a healthy dose of respect and empathy.

    If this arc is working at all, it is due to the heavy lifting by Campbell.

    Mark: The big screens in that Bureau observation room certainly play to Campbell’s strengths. I especially liked the way he could turn the intensity of the TV screen images up by filling the panel more and dropping the characters into silhouette. It was a cool way to augment the dialogue or to demonstrate a point without a cutaway panel. For a confrontation between Liz and Devon, it’s pretty much the perfect location, and Dave Stewart pushes the colors for maximum impact.

    That and he carefully sets up the scene so that the various colors of the screens orientate the reader within the scene. When you have five people all chatting across from each other, it’s very each to lose character eyelines.

    This wasn’t completely harmonious though. The direction did get muddy at times, and there was one instance where I felt like a panel would have worked better flipped considering the word balloon placement, which ended up disrupting the flow.

    Brian: I can see that. To be fair to both parties, Arcudi and Campbell did a lot of work together, and Allie and Campbell are relatively new collaborators, in terms of writing a script for / working off a script from. I’m sure those things can/will improve given time, though I don’t think that the problems with this comic are necessarily ones that time will fix.

    When thinking about grading this, I’m going to go with a 6.5. Visually, I really enjoyed it, and there were moments that popped, but overall, the issue felt sluggish and awkward, like much of the series has thus far.

    Mark: I’m going with a 7. While there were certainly awkward moments, there was some great character moments in there too, especially with Ash. And in terms of pairing a location with subject matter, the Bureau observation room was the right choice (and made for a fantastic cover from Duncan Fegredo).

    Final verdict: 6.75 – Despite being the penultimate issue for this arc, “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” hasn’t quite found its footing yet.

    //TAGS | Mignolaversity

    Mark Tweedale

    Mark writes Hell Notes, The Harrow County Observer, and The Damned Speakeasy. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter here.


    Brian Salvatore

    Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


    • Naive Sapien

      I’m collecting The Devil You Know each month, but I think I’ll be switching to waiting for the trades this cycle when the current arc is complete. New World started off Hell on Earth with a disturbing BANG, but this arc is feeling disjointed as all heck. After this arc maybe they can resume 2-3 issue stories so they can focus on the characters.

      On a plus side I loved how they used those sweet Campbell Maps in the control room

      • Mark Tweedale

        Damn, I forgot to mention the maps. Yeah, that was cool.

    • Guest

      well, I think it’s safe to say the golden age of the Mignolaverse is over. Mignola himself remains a sharp a writer as ever, but Roberson and Allie just do not live up to the standards Mignola and Arcudi have set for writing.

      consider this, if Devil You Know was a new series without the Mignolaverse legacy, would you be reading it?

      • Miroslav Šťastný

        I’m not sure that’s a fair question.

    • Miroslav Šťastný

      Hellboy action figures make sense, even if it’s a comics trope. He’s unique and he’s been around for more than half a century. In 1953 story Beyond the Fences kids absolutely adore him. Why wouldn’t they make him into an action figure?

      • Mark Tweedale

        Because the Bureau is a political organisation, not an intellectual property. If a parent buys toys of B.P.R.D. agents, they can’t do so without knowing that they’re buying a government agency’s propaganda for their children. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I think it’s unlikely. Honestly, I don’t see Abe signing off his likeness for a toy, or the modern Bureau being OK with him being a part of their public identity, especially given his similarity to the frog monsters.

        Hellboy being on a magazine cover though, that makes sense. Magazines and newspapers are a political space to begin with.

        • Miroslav Šťastný

          But we’re not talking J. Edgar Hoover here, we’re talking big ass devil who’s fighting supernatural monsters for 60 years. I know it’s kinda cool that regular people just accept Hellboy walking among us, but it really doesn’t make that much sense.

          The scene was completely unnecessary, but complaining about it feels equally pointless.

          “I’d say muddy. Reading it”

          That’s on the money. i’m obviously not a native speaker, so I chalked it up to my inability to properly read the dialogues, but now I see it was not the case.

    • Christopher Lewis

      I don’t understand Liz’s issue with Phoenix. Phoenix shot Abe before she became an agent, Liz and Phoenix grew to have a friendship, and Liz knows what kinda powers Phoenix’s has. Based on these things, I would think Liz would be asking more “why” the shooting happened vs. “who” did it.

      As for Abe, I can see him be upset about being shot, but he was also the one who decided to leave when he woke up. Phoenix shooting him put Abe on his journey to figure out his purpose and start seeing the big picture. This issue made me feel like Abe is back in denial, not trying understand, which is disappointing.

      Overall, I would have rather seen a character moment where Liz has an epiphany about Phoenix, Abe being shocked/confused about Phoenix, and Liz (out of care for both characters) explaining to Abe who Phoenix was in a personal moment. Then them wanting to talk to Phoenix to see what she knows vs. “angry people.”

      • Mark Tweedale

        I think Liz is responding to the betrayal she feels. No one ever told her that Fenix shot Abe. She only just figured that out in #3. And Abe is like her brother, yet the B.P.R.D. took in Fenix. Yeah, maybe Liz’ll feel differently when she’s cooled down, but right now she’s just pissed and Devon is an easy target.

        I think that’s why she seems so hurt when Devon tells her it was Kate that chose to keep this information from her. Kate isn’t an easy target for anger. Liz and Kate frequently had each other’s backs.

    • Eamon R. McIvor

      This is a loose analogy, but I feel like Arcudi and Mignola approach story like novels, whereas Roberson and Allie write TV. Part of me is loving this BPRD arc because it’s pulling together a lot of threads (the vampires waking up, Abe returning to the Bureau, Varvara teaming up with Von Klempt and Kroenen, Carla’s son becoming a character, Ashley Strode joining the main story thread, even “Archie Stanton” coming back into play), but in the longview, it seems more a season premiere. As a fan, it’s exciting to see all this referenced, but it’s not in the more organic way we’re used to with Arcudi. He opened the Hell on Earth cycle with some set-up of the new status quo, but spent most of the first arc with a relatively low-key story about Abe reconnecting with Daimio. I’ve heard Allie say Devil You Know will be much shorter cycle and is very tightly plotted out, so maybe there’s not as much room to breathe. I’m comfortable with Allie as the series writer, because he’s the only person besides Mike and John who’s been a part of developing this story for the past twenty years, and I hope his voice settles in now that he can focus purely on the writing.

      • Eamon R. McIvor

        Also Duncan Fegredo should straight up draw an arc.

    Feature: Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon #5 (cover) Reviews
    Mignolaversity: “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon” #5

    By and | Mar 7, 2018 | Reviews

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