‘Ragna Rok’ is here. The final arc of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know,” bringing to a close the third cycle of “B.P.R.D.” as well as plots that have been left hanging since 1994. Be warned, there’s lot’s of spoilers in this review.
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Laurence Campbell and Christopher Mitten
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
One enemy leads to another as the B.P.R.D. finds themselves up against something—and someone—even more sinister than they believed, and Christopher Mitten draws the origin story of one of the B.P.R.D.’s most mysterious foes.
Mark Tweedale: With only five issues to go, the ‘Ragna Rok’ arc has a lot of ground to cover. Even so, this issue sets aside the modern day plot for a while to venture into the past to explore the nature of the relationship between Varvara and Rasputin, which led to a surprising revelation.
Like last week’s “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956” #1, this issue has multiple artists. Laurence Campbell handles the modern material, while Christopher Mitten handles the flashback material. Considering this is our third story in as many weeks featuring Rasputin or Varvara, it seems like every title in the Hellboy Universe is currently pulling back the curtain on these characters. And considering Mitten’s work on the “Rasputin” miniseries earlier this year, he’s an ideal choice to revisit the character here. I’m hoping this is a sign he’ll return for a follow-up to ‘The Voice of the Dragon.’
Christopher Lewis: I think that Mitten is the perfect choice to do the early 1900s flashback material. Since he has done multiple stories in this era, such as “Rise of the Black Flame” and “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon,” he has created an expectation when I see his art that the story he is telling is a period piece exploring one of the series’ villains. It didn’t even dawn on me that he could be drawing a story in modern day, so his art was perfect for the Varava and Rasputin flashback.
Mark: In this case, Mitten’s exploring Varvara’s past. I’m curious, after our review of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #10, did you find out about Rasputin’s real daughter (born 1900, died 1925)?
Chris: I heard he had a real daughter who died young, but nothing more. Is there anything interesting to know?
Mark: He had several children, but only three survived to adulthood. One of these was called Varvara. For anyone that’s a bit of a Russian history buff, Varvara’s connection to Grigori Rasputin has been sitting in plain sight for a decade now. Being almost completely ignorant of the historical Rasputin, this was a detail I completely missed, but I learned about it after the ‘Pandemonium’ arc ended thanks to some observant Redditors.
But this issue (and this is where the spoilers start… I hope you’ve read “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956” #1) reveals the Varvara that lived from 1900–1925 is not the Varvara we’ve gotten to know in the Hellboy Universe. Instead, comics Varvara is one of Rasputin’s illegitimate children, named after the original Varvara Rasputin. So right away, the Christopher Mitten section is going against our assumptions. Varvara’s ultimate fate and how she comes to meet the demon Yomyael doesn’t really change the stakes, but it gives some much needed character and atmosphere to the Rasputin and Varvara connection revealed at the end of the previous issue.
Chris: It gives us the connection, but I am still not clear as to the context of why Varvara would want to help bring Rasputin back. In this issue we see an innocent little girl whose parents are murdered by Rasputin and the next day is possessed by the demon Yomyeal. There is nothing about this situation outside of genetics that connects this version of Varvara to the one we saw in the previous issue (the girl who was being restrained by Yomyeal from intentionally bringing Rasputin back), so I am a little confused.
Mark: Hopefully that’s still to come. Although, in retrospect it’s pretty clear there’s been hints about this in the early half of the “Hell on Earth” cycle, especially in the ‘Russia’ and ‘The Return of the Master’ arcs. Varvara’s had an interest in Rasputin for some time.Continued below
Chris: Speaking of Rasputin, I felt it was unclear as to whether Rasputin killed the mother or if he somehow used his powers to have Varvara to kill her own mother. There were gaps in that sequence of events that left me questioning what really happened. Regardless, I am confident that Rasputin was the impetus of the mother’s death.
Mark: Varvara’s mother was introduced as sickly at the beginning of the story, and it was already a bad idea to go on the trip to see Rasputin given her condition. I read her death as a combination of factors—her sickness, exposure, the stress of seeing her husband murdered, exhaustion. It didn’t really feel like any one thing, but rather the weight of everything, that killed her.
You know, I kind of wish the Varvara story had been released separately. Considering the snowy setting, it could’ve been a nice addition to next week’s “Hellboy Winter Special 2018.” At the end of ‘Pandemonium’ things went nuts, and with Mitten’s material stuck onto the front of this issue, Laurence Campbell’s section—which has entirely different pacing—feels truncated by comparison. The second half of the issue doesn’t quite have enough forward momentum to be satisfying in the wake of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #10. The modern-day story exists in the shadow of Varvara’s 1912 tragedy.
Chris: I completely agree. I don’t think it would have been as noticeable if the Varvara story was four or five pages, but since each story was eleven pages long, the differences in pacing, tone, etc. make for a clunky transition. Also, I was very surprised that the B.P.R.D. narrative in this issue was essentially the team retreating back to the helicarrier. We don’t have much time left until the series ends, so I would have expected for Scott to give more pages to the main narrative anyway as there’s still a lot that has to happen in order to wrap everything up.
Mark: My worry is that as we get to the end, explanations are going to overwhelm the story. Unless there’s some other material beyond the end of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know,” I worry we’re going to get a lot of monologuing or explanations that aren’t anchored to character moments and character action.
Chris: I can see that. I also worry that the end of the story will be rushed. That mixed with long explanations would be disappointing.
Mark: Back when Roger died in “B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame,” we had a whole other miniseries after to process, and that’s what I’m worried we’ll lose here, that processing time living with the characters in the wake of life-changing events.
Introducing and then explaining Varvara’s connection to Rasputin at the eleventh hour ends up being a mixed bag. The first half of this issue, while it had a lot to convey, still had room to breathe and emote—it’s powerful stuff. But it unbalances the issue. The second half has so many characters and plot beats to address and it can’t do any of them justice with such limited space. The material in the latter half could’ve filled an issue on its own. Getting out of New York almost seems to happen in fast forward.
Chris: For sure. That said, I was very impressed with Laurence Campbell’s art in this issue. There is so much energy in every panel. Buildings collapsing, water rushing, winds blazing, and he captured this energy perfectly and at the same time expressing the feeling of pure turmoil as pandemonium (forgive the word) is going on in New York.
Mark: Campbell’s art is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. With so little space, he’s using each panel to communicate as much as possible. And after last week’s “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956” #1, which had the luxury of a slower pace, this really shows. Mac’s death in that issue had two pages to hit home, whereas here the impact of Ashley’s death is limited to only a pair of panels, one of which also had to communicate everyone was running away.
It would have been nice to be able to break up the feelings and information into a few more beats, with everyone running away, then holding on the emptiness left behind, then Ashley’s corpse, then a close-up of her skeletal hand still holding her exorcism beads—but there’s simply no room. And this is where Campbell truly impresses, because even with such limited space, he still finds space for emotion and mood on top of everything else he has to communicate.Continued below
There are certainly beats that get the space to breathe (Giarocco’s moments), but there are many others competing for space, which sucks the story of its impact.
Chris: He really did nail it. Let’s grade this one. Personally, I’m struggling with a rating here. While I loved Mitten and Campbell’s art, the area holding this issue back is its structure. As we said earlier having two stories together in one issue was a lot and affected the overall pacing of the issue. This overshadows many of the good qualities of the book, so I am going to have to give this one a 7.5.
Mark: I’m going for a 7. It’s an issue that tries to bite off more than it can chew, and while I admire that ambition, it creates distance between me and the characters. I’ve been reading the Hellboy Universe since 2004, and after spending almost fifteen years with these characters, I don’t want to say goodbye to them from a distance.
Final verdict: 7.25 – “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #11 has a lot it wants to accomplish, and while some of it lands, for the most part this feels like one and a half issues of content crammed into one comic.