The finale of James Harren’s most recent arc on “B.P.R.D.” is here: will Howards save the day? Find out below, but be warned that spoilers follow.
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by James Harren
Howards uses his link to the past to save the BPRD from a rampaging monster in the snowy mountains. But will the secrets he has learned be enough?
David: The end is here, Brian, and a lot of big things have happened slowly over this arc. Let’s discuss this arc capper in B.P.R.D. #129 from Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and James Harren. What did you think?
Brian: It’s funny, David – I really enjoyed the issue, and a lot of really interesting stuff happened in it. However, I felt like it was a little bit…underwhelming maybe? I’m struggling for the word, but it felt like, for such a big arc, everything came out the other side, more or less the same. And I’m not just talking about people still breathing, but I don’t know if there was all that much that changed in the arc, outside of Enos growing some balls.
What did you think?
David: That’s funny, as I felt like a lot changed. This issue actually made the arc change a bit for me. I still think it wasn’t really well handled overall, but at the very least, the change of Howards moving in as the surrogate leader for Bureau field teams and the image of the Bureau logo being altered to look like Howards sword…that was a powerful image. And the crazy thing is they’re now hinging on his magic and his leadership to help them gain an edge when they have no idea how much they can rely on the guy. I thought that was huge, and the jacket with the altered logo was the biggest takeaway from this issue and arc for me.
Well, besides THE CRACKING OF THE OGDRU JAHAD’S SHELL! Are they getting released? What’s happening to cause that? Is that in relation to The Black Flame rejecting them and saying “I’m the boss” as he sat on a throne of ashes? Between those two moments, this issue could end up being one of the biggest tipping points of the series. And that’s not even counting all of the other winds of change, like Miss Evelyn’s rejection of The Black Flame’s ways (and her new stance on experimentation on the converted humans), Varvara’s dream of leading an army in to save Mother Russia from the greater evil (SHE’S GOOD, DAMMIT!), and, most importantly, Liz’s adventures with gardening.
Okay, maybe not most importantly. I have no idea what they’re trying to say with Liz’s inability to distinguish between basil and mint. Is she nose blind? That part was weird. So I’d say I heartily disagree that things are more or less the same. I think this issue had a lot of major changes and revelations, and it made the meandering nature of the arc as a whole feel much more understandable.
Brian: Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of potential for stuff in the future to change – but from where I’m sitting right now, things look more or less the same.
The Howards stuff is the most interesting to me, for the obvious reason of: Howards is a bad ass character. The idea of him as the de facto field leader seems like an absolutely flawed one, but one that I cannot wait to read about. Part of what makes the character so interesting is the mystery and silence that surround him, so I have no idea what a Bureau team led by Howards looks like.
We’ll get to the Varvara stuff in a minute, but the Black Flame stuff was the most interesting to me, if also the most mysterious. Like you said, I have no idea why the shell has cracked, but those ramifications could be quite interesting.
As for Liz and Fenix’s new HGTV show, I love it. Both of those characters were pretty far out from normalcy, and little moments like this, that bring them closer to whatever normal looks like the world in this book, are nice touches.Continued below
David: Yeah, I enjoyed most everything in it. I thought the sword being altered on the Bureau jacket though…that was a heck of a thing. I have to imagine that’s going to dramatically impact the way the Bureau works going forward, especially with the surprising revelation that agents don’t get paid any more (although I guess what would they use money on?). Could this lead to the Bureau turning into a meritocracy and a bureaucrat like Kate getting left in the dust? And, unrelated to anything really, where the hell is Devon during all of this? I can’t stand the guy but his long absence – since The Devil’s Engine, in which he was the co-lead of the mini with Fenix, I think – is strange, especially with the increased emphasis on human agents. Did he die and I forget?
Oh, and what did you want to say about my girl Varvara?
Brian: I don’t think that Devon died – but I wouldn’t put money on that.
Did anything about Varvara’s vision seem familiar to you? Like another person who is supposed to lead an army out of hell…
David: Oh, for sure. There was even a guy in the crowd that sort of looked like Hellboy in the crowd. But every great army needs a fierce leader, and there is no leader fiercer or more adorable (especially with wings) than my girl Varvara.
Brian: That got me thinking – what if Hellboy’s vision and Varvara’s vision were actually the same thing? What if there are a number of people who all have the same vision? What if Hellboy isn’t the only person capable of making that prophesy come true?
I fully recognize this is a crack pot theory, but I always enjoy you shooting down my crazy ideas!
David: Well, there are a few key differences, for me.
1. It’s not really Hellboy’s vision, is it? It’s pretty much everyone else’s vision for him. It’s his “destiny”. So I don’t think it’s so much his thing as much as everyone else’s thing. Like how my parents wanted me to be a doctor and instead I decided to write about comic books for free.
2. The visions were different regardless because Hellboy’s vision was to be the person who releases the Ogdru Jahad and leads the armies of Hell as they scorch the Earth. Unless I am mistaken and am wearing my rose colored glasses again, Varvara’s dream depicted her leading the armies of Hell to save the Earth, rather than destroy it. I mean, she does tell dream Iosif that she’s going to save Mother Russia, doesn’t she?
3. Remember, Liz had the same vision too at the end of King of Fear, so we already know that a third person saw the end of the world. However, she saw a slightly different version than anyone else did.
So yeah, I think everyone shares the same vision, but they’re all adjusted to their own mindset. Liz was in a dark place, so she sees it as the defeat of the Bureau and the death of everyone she loved. The people who want Hellboy to use the Right Hand of Doom see it as the glorious fate the world deserves. Varvara (and David Harper) sees herself as the hero there to save Mother Russia. It’s all about perspective.
Brian: I can buy that.
This is officially the longest we’ve gone reviewing a James Harren comic with saying “JAMES HARREN” in caps.
So, uh, JAMES HARREN.
David: JAMES HARREN! I like how Howards has basically become his guy. Him and The Black Flame. It’s like at the meetings between Scott Allie, Mignola and Arcudi they’re like, “okay, who is in this arc and what happens? Johann, darkness, death and despondency? Laurence Campbell. The Black Flame and Howards? James Harren.” I imagine they have a Mignolaverse artist flow chart of some sort.
But yeah, that whole scene at the open with Howards going all Colossus from the X-Men arcade game on the indestructible beasty before getting Enos to shoot it with grenades was pretty much amazing. He’s such an incredible artist for action sequences, as he brings an entirely different level of energy to the page. But he’s so versatile too, as he can make “Gardening with Fenix and Liz” work just as well as he can The Black Flame’s attempt to film an 80’s metal video. Stylistically, he stays steady, but he can make his art work for any storytelling requirement. It has to be so nice for Arcudi and Mignola to work with him, if that wasn’t obvious before.Continued below
Brian: I really hope that the success of “Rumble” doesn’t mean that Harren is done on “B.P.R.D.” for the time being – hopefully he can squeeze in an arc every now and then.
That said, I thought that the final sequence of the book could act as a beautiful epilogue to Harren’s time on the book. Like you said, Howards has become the character most associated with Harren, and having the last sequence be his a Gall Dennar moment, and a tender one at that, was pretty perfect.
Harren’s Black Flame is a thing to behold; as I said in “Reign of the Black Flame,” he looks like a 90’s video game boss, which is such a perfect touchstone for folks of our generation. The Black Flame sequences seem like they come from a totally different book – and I don’t mean that as a detriment. There is an otherworldly feel to those sequences that work incredibly well.
Despite this being an arc that felt, pacing wise, off a bit, when I take a step back, it is clear just how amazing of a book this is, even when it is firing on a few cylinders shy of full.
Anything else to add before grading?
David: Not for me. I’ll give it an 8. I thought it was a really good finale that made up for some of the struggles in an uneven arc. It also left the book with some very interesting threads to build off of. I’m excited to see what’s next. What about you?
Brian: I’ll give this a 7.5, as I was a little less into this issue than you were. Still a very good issue in a very good arc in an excellent book.
Final Verdict: 7.75 – Both an epilogue to this arc and a prologue of things to come, illustrated beautifully.