ADVANCE REVIEW! B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Return of the Master #1 will go on sale Wednesday, August 29, 2012.
Although B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Return of the Master is ostensibly the first issue in a self-contained miniseries, if you look at the fine print it is issue #98 in the ongoing B.P.R.D. series. And that tells me that we are heading towards some big showdown in issue #100, of which this is an interlocking piece.
But what piece? I have been enjoying the hell out of the recent run of Hell on Earth series. Each consecutive story has shown some light into the dark corners of the B.P.R.D. universe, and exposed some of the dark and loathsome creatures that dwell there. But I confess to becoming at least a little lost. I want Dark Horse to put out some sort of flow chart, give me some sort of sign-posts as to where the big picture is. What has been going on and where? This series is the "return" of the Master. Have we seen the Master before? I honestly can't remember. At least not in this guise. I have my suspicions, but no answers.
I know those old Marvel-style editor's notes ("This happened in issue blah blah blah True Believers") have gone out of style, but I sure could have used some. At least then, I would know what issue I could reference to fill in those missing pieces.
The Return of the Master is going to be five issues instead of the usual two or three, so that tells me that there is going to be some meat to the story; that this one is important. The longer format means that Arcudi and Mignola can take their time building the story. This first issue is little more than a prologue, introducing the cast and setting the stage.
The story kicks off on an ominous note: while thousands are trying to evacuate Scotland, a single, dark figure shows up trying to be let in. His mere presence enrages and mutates the guard dogs, and after a short, bloody battle the Master has returned.
Meanwhile the B.P.R.D. is desperately short on superheroes. Abe Sapien is still recovering from a near-fatal gunshot. The gasbag Johann Krauss has been suspended for his recent lapse in judgment. Liz Sherman is missing. Hellboy is dead. To fill in the ranks, Agent Devon has brought in the pre-cog Fenix, but she's a long way from being an agent.
But the bad guys are having no such problems recruiting to fill their ranks. Zinco Industries is busy growing soldiers in vats, and we have seen the return of two infamous Nazi scientists long thought dead. And then there is the mysterious Master. I can only think of one character that might live up to that name, and he is of the Russian persuasion and generally sports a long, black beard. Are we seeing the return of Rasputin? The last panel of this issue hints at that, but I am sure there are clues that I am missing.
Tyler Crook's art is worth looking twice at all through this issue. I was re-reading the comic for this review, and noticed all sorts of little background details I missed on my first run-through. Especially those demon dogs… how exactly does one get mouths on one's arms? Hell if I know, but it is sure creepy. And the scenes with Director Nichayko … brrrr. Congratulations, Tyler Crook. You officially draw liquefied-animated-corpse-in-a-containment-suit better than anyone. I am amazed at the facial expressions and personality Crook can get out of that floating face in a mask.
Of course, the Color King Dave Stewart has something to do with that. He has Nichayko lit from below, and somehow managed to capture the exact look and creepiness of an old Universal monster. Keep rocking that ochre, my friend.
Lots of questions and not a lot of answers in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth The Return of the Master #1. But it feels like all of those lose ends and vagrant stories are coming together, and with this series Dark Horse has finally thrust a stake in the ground and said The End Starts Here.
I can't wait.
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.