Panya is a creation from the ‘golden’ era of “B.P.R.D.,” when Mike Mignola and John Arcudi were populating that title with characters that touched on various traditions, areas of the world, myths, and legends. The world of the Bureau seemed huge and unending, and Panya was part of that tapestry. With “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse,” Mignola, co-writer Chris Roberson and artist Christopher Mitten attempt to give readers more context for the character by seeing their origin in ancient Egypt. But is the context necessary?
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
Thousands of years before Hellboy, the B.P.R.D., and Ragna Rok, there was Panya. As a girl in ancient Egypt, she witnessed the fall of a dynasty and was gifted–or cursed–with visions of the beginning, the end, and the coming of the dragon…
Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson join creative forces with artist Christopher Mitten and colorist Michelle Madsen to bring Panya’s story to life.
It is understandable that both sides of the creative process – the maker and the enjoyer – like to flesh out stories beyond their original intention. This process has brought some great works into the world – think the ancillary works of Tolkien or the extended Dune mythos – but they can also sometimes feel unnecessary and sap the wonder and awe from a work.
With just one issue out, it looks like “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” falls into the latter category. This first issue very much feels like an attempt to make sense of a character whose mystery is a key piece of their appeal and enjoyment. Roberson’s story appears to be a standard origin tale, telling the story of how Panya went from Egyptian child to living mummy. While there have certainly been questions about Panya’s past, the information has always been doled out in small doses, with enough obfuscation to not remove the mystery and mystique behind the character.
And so, to see Panya as a child, playing with a cat and learning from her parents, it feels too direct, too perfunctory. This is the biggest knock against the Mignolaverse books after Arcudi’s exit: the books are happy to tell you everything you need to know, without regard for telling the story interestingly. Some of the latter titles feel like illustrated Wikipedia articles, or episodes that would be begrudgingly churned out to fill a television series’ 22 episode season order.
Christopher Mitten does his best to find interesting visuals from this script, but aside from a few sequences, this is an issue that is built on conversations held in a relatively static setting. The times when Mitten is able to let loose a little bit are excellent. There are two specific sequences early in the issue that shine, and both involve taking the story out of the ‘typical day in the life of an Egyptian child’ milieu.
The first is a very short sequence of Olabisi, Panya’s new cat, killing a poisonous snake. The way the scene is staged, the snake truly surprises the reader as it does the characters on the page, and Mitten is able to make Olabisi a surprising savior by having it leap from out of nowhere and make the save. Once it has done this remarkable action, the cat features a truly sublime, tranquil appearance while holding this deadly creature lifeless in its mouth. Mitten perfectly captures the moment which, to the outsider was miraculous, but to a cat is just what it does.
The second is a very short dream sequence that shows Panya a vision of stars, of a sun god, and of the undead dragging her below ground. The whole sequence is one page, constructed of just five panels, and each panel provides a glimpse into the dream that we eventually learn is not just a dream, but rather a vision. The way that Mitten is able to give the first four panels their own distinct purpose, with only the fifth building off the image before it, helps place the images in the context of a dream, where things rapidly change without notice and where seemingly unrelated moments sometimes coalesce into a creation outside of logic.Continued below
The end of the issue allows Mitten to do a little more, both with some action transpiring, as well as a truly great page that, again, blurs the line between reality and prophetic imagery. The end of the book also gives Michelle Madsen a chance to show off a truly stunning, in almost the literal sense, color palette. For most of the issue Madsen must play in the earth tones and tans that often populate desert stories, but once the ritual begins, Madsen harnesses a dramatic and intense series of yellows and whites that must evoke the sun. On the aforementioned prophetic page, Madsen ramps down the intensity but adds a number of colors barely seen before – namely a pale blue and vibrant red – that let the reader know that they’re viewing something outside of the ordinary.
But those elements, satisfying though they may be, are not enough to make up for the relatively dull plot. There’s a fear after reading this issue that this series will somewhat neuter Panya’s character by answering questions that were better left hanging. While, like almost every book Mike Mignola has ever put his name on, there are some interesting ideas and great visuals here, this feels slight and inconsequential. It appears that there is little appetite to tell new stories in the ‘present’ of the B.P.R.D. world, and so there are a lot more of these types of books, which attempt to bolster the story by overstuffing it. This is the latest sign that, perhaps, it’s time to stop and let it be, at least for a little while.
Final Verdict: 5.1 – An unnecessary historical artifact that doesn’t do the lead character, nor the overall story, any favors.