ADVANCE REVIEW! B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Pickens County Horror #1 will go on sale Wednesday, March 28, 2012.
When the monsters are scared of something — when a family that talks to a dead patriarch and children who dig up corpse to resurrect them are scared of something — you know are in for some good horror. And when the title has the word "-Horror" tagged on the end, you know that horror is going to be in the Lovecraft vein. By which I don't necessarily mean his trademark cosmic horror. Along with his fantabulous monsters, Lovecraft did "Hillbilly with a Secret" as good as anyone. Better, even.
And that's what we have in the latest B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth miniseries, The Pickens County Horror. This two-issue miniseries is classic tale of an isolated, backwoods family that everyone in town stays clear of, and only talks about in guarded whispers of dark secrets. Except, of course, for the loony scientist who thinks he is the Jane Goodall of the blood-drinkers of America, and tries to slip in unnoticed to study them. What writers Mignola and Allie interject are two field officers of the B.P.R.D., who come to town in response to a cry for help from the town.
None of the big guns show up in The Pickens County Horror; at least not yet. The agents are Vaughn and Peters, a standard matching of relative rookie with seasoned veteran. After reading B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death, it seems like that seems to be a theme of recent miniseries; putting the humanity back in the B.P.R.D. Both Vaughn and Peters are instantly likeable characters, and there is a great scene where they share war stories, Vaughn telling about the one time he was actually put on a mission important enough that he went out with Hellboy. But then instead of encountering anything, they spent three days sitting by the side of a lake.
Artist Jason Latour has an interesting style. It actually reminds me of Tonci Zonjic's work on Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand, enough so that I had to check to see if they were the same artist. Both use a style of simplification mixed with heavy detail, so you end up having these somewhat basic figures on realistic backgrounds, with the characters gaining more detail as they come into focus. Latour knows how to work the subtle elements of horror. Two children playing in a stream looks entirely innocent until you see the malformed jaws and hint of vampire teeth poking out of their mouths. And then the horror grows as you see what they are playing with. The King of Colors Dave Stewart made some really nice additions to the work, including yellowing eyes betraying a sense of menace and the understanding that everyone here is not quite human.
My favorite character in The Pickens County Horror has got to be Professor Ethan Thomas. It really says something about a guy whose house is covered in crucifixes and isn't surprised at all to see B.P.R.D. agents showing up on his front door. Latour captured that look of insanity just right, of a person who is talking utter nonsense but doesn't know he is talking utter nonsense.
I don't know how The Pickens County Horror is connected to the overall Hell on Earth storyline yet, but I suppose we will find out next issue. But even if there is no big reveal, the comic makes for a decent little horror story by itself.
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.