Rather than simply reviewing the final issue of “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse,” which came out today, this review is stepping back and looking at the whole miniseries and how it fits into the wider Hellboy Universe. As such, it’s packed full of spoilers not only for “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse,” but for many other titles including (but not limited to) “Hellboy,” “Frankenstein,” “B.P.R.D.,” “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible,” “Witchfinder,” and “Miss Truesdale and the Fall of Hyperborea.” If there’s anything you’re not up to date with yet, maybe come back to this review later.
Written by Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
Shrouded by shadow and touched by fire, Panya must come face-to-face with the dark in order to reveal the light. In this compelling conclusion to Panya: The Mummy’s Curse, will Panya finally be able to make sense of all that has gone before and all that is yet to come?
Regular Mignolaversity readers are probably already aware that I’ve stepped back from the usual issue by issue reviews. In part, it’s so that I have more time to review other comics and conduct interviews, but it’s also because I like to read a story in its entirety. While we may sometimes have other reviewers covering the individual issues, like James Dowling is doing with “Giant Robot Hellboy,” I think we’ll get better reviews if we wait for the final issue. And that’s because what I do for this column isn’t primarily focused on the standard “review and grade” model. If you want to know if the comic is worth reading or not, the mere fact that I’ve written a review for it is the tell—I don’t like to waste my time talking about comics I don’t like. If I’m writing about the comic then the comic is worth reading. What I like to do with these reviews instead is appreciate the comic, to share what I love about it, which often leads to me writing kind of mini Hell Notes, and I can just do that better when I’m responding to the complete comic.
For example, Panya’s arc, where she’s caught in a tug-of-war between primordial forces and her ultimate choice is to ignore the future and focus on her own happiness, is on its own interesting, but it’s also merely a part of her character arc across many titles. In “B.P.R.D.,” Panya often read as a mysterious and mischievous character. She clearly knew more than she was telling and withheld information for reasons that were unclear, with questionable motives, and could even be confounding to the point that some readers would say her behavior didn’t make logical sense. ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ pulls back the curtain on that. We now have a much better understanding of what she knew and didn’t know. She would have recognised Liz immediately for what she was, and she would’ve been able to tell her how to focus her abilities. But she didn’t. Instead, she put her mind on other things, and set her on a path that would lead her away from the Bureau. And she did the same to Abe. She kept them in the dark because she had lived what she felt was a wasted life due to the truth she had discovered. She kept them in the dark as a mercy, with the hope that they could live a life of their choosing.
Panya never achieved her full potential, and her final moments are so full of resignation. She could not escape the end of the world, but she ignored it for as long as she could. “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” doesn’t simply explain Panya’s motivations, but rather gives them context that adds a level of tragedy to so many choices she made at the Bureau, and it adds a protective element to her relationships with Abe and especially Liz. I think back to the scene in “B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground,” when Liz was finally able to sleep when she settled by Panya’s bed, and that scene, which was already great, is made emotionally richer by this story.
And that’s just one of many moments this story changes. And it also changes the way we read stories the only just came out too. I hadn’t read “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” before I did this year’s reading order, but I was told to place it before “Miss Truesdale and the Fall of Hyperborea.” Now that I’ve read the story, I understand why and I rather love the effect placing these two stories together has. Looking at it chronologically, ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ takes place in ancient Egypt, and ends in 1859 with Panya being found by the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, then “Miss Truesdale” begins with the titular character in the H.B.R. in 1883, so the two stories can flow into each other rather nicely. But I’m far more interested in the way these stories interact with each other thematically, with Panya looking for the truth behind the stories she’s been told, and then “Miss Truesdale” shows us the truth of one of those stories.
Not only that, by reading ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ first, it draws our attention to certain plot elements so that we’re more aware of them in “Miss Truesdale.” In that story, Margaret Truesdale falls into a death-like sleep that was very reminiscent of Agent Ted Howards / Gall Dennar in “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth—The Abyss of Time,” but readers may not have necessarily made this connection because the two stories came out ten years apart. ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ ends by drawing attention to this detail as a major plot point, by showing how it plays out in Panya’s case, so going from that into “Miss Truesdale” the reader should make the connection and understand that in the final issue Margaret Truesdale was most likely buried alive.
The larger context isn’t just an addition element to a standalone story; it is the foundation upon which “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” is built. And on that note, I am so very glad that Michelle Madsen did the colors for this story. Color is a major storytelling tool in the Hellboy Universe, and the stories that ignore this aspect are always weaker for it. Over decades of comics color motifs developed, largely thanks to the work of Dave Stewart, but also to other colorists too. Madsen has worked on all kinds of titles in the Hellboy Universe, and she pays excellent attention to the work of her fellow colorists so that she can tap into those color motifs when she needs to, and that attention shines like a beacon in “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse.” This book is about two primordial forces at war within Panya, and it’s expressed throughout the comic as a war of two colors, and when the story focuses on that conflict, she leans into it, referencing the same color motifs that have been used to represent these forces so many other times. She uses these motifs with precision and it gives these moments gravitas.
But she also expresses herself too. Outside of that central conflict, Panya travels the world, and here Madsen expresses the aspects of her coloring idiosyncratically hers (especially the way she does sunsets—just gorgeous). I was reminded of a sequence in “Rise of the Black Flame” when the characters are simply traveling, and we got a sequence of spectacular colors from Dave Stewart that really showcased his work. The same is true here, where the story slows down so that we can sit with the art and bask in each panel.Continued below
Both stories were written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Christopher Mitten, and I feel like I say this every time these two work together, but they really work well together. There’s a level of trust with frequent collaborators that allows for different kinds of storytelling. Roberson writes for Mitten’s art to speak. For example, look at the sequence with the chaos beasts in issue #3. The scene invokes the established iconography of the feline and the serpent to represent the primordial forces, but Roberson wants to express the deceitful nature of the dark force, how it can appear to be something that it is not, so the chaos beasts take the form of felines, but they are serpentine cats. They move through the trees like serpents, their tales are serpents, their colors use the motifs of the Darkness. Meanwhile, when Namrud fights against them he taps into the color motifs of the Fire of Heaven.
The result is a story that is understood by how we feel about the sequence rather than what we’re told about it, which is perfect for a story about Panya who spends so much of the narrative following a feeling herself.
But this sort of storytelling operates on a much larger scale than a sequence by sequence basis. Take for example issue #1, how we are told Akhenaten is worshiping the one god, Aten, and trying to literally tap into Aten’s power. Historically, Akhenaten’s religion is arguably the first known monotheistic religion (there’s a great video by Religion For Breakfast about it on YouTube, though a better version’s on Nebula if you have a subscription), and it would be easy to conflate this religion with a “correct” understanding of the Hellboy Universe’s cosmology. After all, in the Hellboy Universe there is the power that is known as God and all other gods are something else entirely—it is technically a monotheistic world, from a certain point of view. (There is far more nuance to this, but it is too big of a topic to explore further here though!) But also consider these key points: this new religion was built on the blood of children and Akhenaten’s goal was to take the Fire of Heaven as his own. This mirrors the Fall of Hyperborea, where the Cult of the Black Goddess sacrificed children and sought to master the workings of the Universal Machine.
Akhenaten’s religion appears to be worshiping Aten, but in reality it is a religion that will corrupt the Fire of Heaven and make it into the black flame. The sequence with the chaos beasts is a visual echo of this story beat, where the creatures appear to be feline, but their true nature is serpentine. And in doing this, Roberson and Mitten teach the reader to look beyond the initial appearance. Aten is a term that’s cognate with Vril, but the religion of Aten is really just a variation on the Cult of the Black Goddess. With this lesson learned, now we can begin to read the meanings of Panya’s visions more deeply.
In issue #4, Panya has a vision of shining people that call down the Fire of Heaven, but they turned to darkness, and their civilization was ruined—it’s the story of the Fall of Hyperborea, but shown with Egyptian people and Egyptian cities. I think this vision is not just about Hyperborea, but also about the day Akhenaten’s reign came to an abrupt end. It is what would have happened if the Fire of Heaven hadn’t destroyed him and his closest disciples. It reinforces the idea that this is a tragedy that can happen again and again.
OK, I have to talk about the Hyperborean city Panya discovers. This is one of the seven Hyperborean outposts from the latter Hyperborean Empire, probably Urrasan, the same city where Gall Dennar’s Hyperborean Blade was discovered in 1879. Here, Panya discovers one of King Thoth’s daughters who had been blessed with Vril, and she’s sleeping, waiting to fulfill her purpose. Just as Panya will someday sleep and have to wait to fulfill her purpose.Continued below
Panya is told to tell the story of the Fall of Hyperborea, and how it can all happen again, and initially she sets out to do just that. But then she gets old and falls into a death-like sleep. The Panya we meet in the 19th century when she awakes is a jaded Panya, one that looks back at what happened to her as a curse, and I think it would be easy to read this story and come to the conclusion that she became jaded because of her time sleeping away for millennia. But I don’t think that’s the case. Those that fully tap into Vril do not age. I think Panya became jaded with her duty over the years, she didn’t push herself to develop her abilities, and it is for this reason that she aged.
The irony is that her duty was to tell a story, something that is innate to Panya. This is reinforced at least once in every issue, as Panya tells stories all the time. She even does it when no one else is around, almost compulsively—that’s how much a part of her it is. But she was told to tell the Hyperborean story to those that would listen and from what we see through the rest of issue #4, she never found anyone like that. I think that discouraged her over time. This is even a plot point foreshadowed in issue #2 when Panya starts telling a story, but no one gets to hear it.
She has a gift, but through the burden of it, she understands it as a curse, and while she never entirely broke and succumbed to the darkness inside, she never became the best she could be either. I think the reason she never succumbs is because she never truly becomes bitter, but instead chooses to enjoy her life. When she doesn’t tell Liz or Abe about their true nature, it’s not malicious, instead it comes from a place of concern for them. She’s been hurt and trying to spare others from being hurt the same way. And when I think of the way she died, feeling so exhausted, feeling so alone, it’s echoing everything “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” is dealing with thematically. It makes her final moments that much more tragic.
And yet, her final moments also show her freeing her pets so that they won’t die, setting them free in the world to live their own lives. Retroactively, ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ makes this death scene read like a microcosm of her character—she has hope for others, but none for herself.
Now that I’ve read this story, I’m eager to see what the rest of the Hellboy community has to say about it. As long as this review is, I feel like there’s so much more to discover still. I already know this is a story I’ll be returning to again and again to see how it augments others. (Certainly, if we ever get any more stories with Sir Edward Grey and Panya, it will no doubt color my reading of them.) But even setting all that larger Hellboy Universe stuff aside, I simply enjoyed watching Panya travel. The story is just as much about the journey, and Roberson carved out space to slow things down and simply enjoy where the story is at. It is a visual pleasure to watch Panya travel from place to place, with Mitten and Madsen wowing us panel after panel.
Final Verdict: 9 – We are expected to already be familiar with Panya from “B.P.R.D.,” “Abe Sapien,” and “Witchfinder,” and Panya’s character arc is in conversation with other character arcs and themes and plot points from those series. If you look at all that as too much homework, then this story’s likely not for you, but for those that want to take a deep dive, “Panya: The Mummy’s Curse” is richly rewarding.
One last note, Christopher Mitten’s covers on this issue were fantastic. I loved every one, but issue #3’s was my favorite.