ADVANCE REVIEW! B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1 will go on sale Wednesday, February 15, 2012.
My old theater instructor used to call it "raising the stakes." If you want to keep the audience interested, if you want to increase their investment in the storyline, then you have to give them something to risk. It isn't enough to make the villain bigger or badder. It isn't enough to make the hero more vulnerable. There has to be an emotional stake. The pain of loss has to be more than physical.
In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1, writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are doing just that, they are raising the stakes. It is something I have noticed in the last few B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth mini-series. They are humanizing the cannon fodder. In the old days, when Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, and B.P.R.D. Agent Billy Redshirt went on a mission together, the odds were pretty good (as in 100%) that Agent Redshirt's life was going to be short. The human arm of the B.P.R.D. seemed to be there mostly to provide appetizers or bait to whatever monstrosity the monster squad arm of the B.P.R.D. was batting. Not anymore.
Case in point: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1 features everyone's favorite bubblehead Johann Kraus — fresh in his new Russian containment suit — looking at pictures of Agent Giarocco's new baby. It is a brilliant little scene. Giarocco is a proud parent. Agent Kraus, ever the academic, launches into a discussion on the incongruity of the Catholic ritual of Baptism of newborns, who should be without sin. Giarocco is not pleased about an academic discussion of her faith and her baby. The scene is very human, very real, and almost makes you forget the hint of redshirt poking out from under Agent Giarocco's army gear. The stakes have been raised and her fall will be harder.
Not that The Long Death #1 is all conversation and coffee and baby pictures. There is enough horror here to satisfy. The comic opens with Agent Kraus being invaded by a pulsating flesh monster with numerous eyes and far too much mouth filling his containment suit up with flesh from the inside until it explodes outward. That was creepy. And it showed that artist James Haaren knows how to dig down deep and channel some fear for his monsters. That one panel of the giant, singular eye staring out from Kraus' containment suit … brrrrrrr. And then when the team heads into the Canadian winter to seek out the Wendigo, you know nothing good is going to happen. ( I always love a good Wendigo story, by the way. And it is thanks to comics that I even know about the Wendigo. Thanks, comics!).
But personally it is the little scenes that I am appreciating the most in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth and specifically in this new mini-series, The Long Death. Dark Horse has been building up to something big for awhile now, and 2012 promises to be a complete game-changer in Mignola's shadow-haunted universe. But I like the road they are taking to get there; more personal and intimate instead of getting lost in the big picture.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.