ADVANCE REVIEW! B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia will go on sale Wednesday, August 15, 2012.
I am a child of the '70s and '80s, which means that I think Russians make great villains. If you had asked the little 8-year old me which was scarier — ghosts, zombies, werewolves, or Russians — it would have been Russians every time. No contest. So when you set the B.P.R.D. across the table from a bunch of Soviet militants, I get a sweet sense of nostalgia. I know who the bad guys are here.
Not that B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia is anti-Soviet propaganda. This is no Red Dawn with monsters. But there is still that delicious element of Cold War chills added into the mix of the usual B.P.R.D. supernatural menace, and some modern topical elements like B.P.R.D. files showing up on Wikilinks. When the team is called into Moscow to deal with an undead uprising, you just know that there are secrets and lies that will come bubbling from the earth, tainting the mission and endangering the crew.
In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia, corpse-in-a-containment suit Director Iosif Nichayko (who first appeared in Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain) heads the Russian Occult Bureau, the Soviet version of the B.P.R.D. (And like most things in real life, the Soviet imitation is much, much scarier. ) In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia, Johann Krauss and Kate Corrigon have gone to Moscow to meet with the Russian Occult Bureau to take a look at something horrible (of course) that they have found. Director Iosif thinks that Johann's unique abilities will be of the most use to the Occult Bureau. But Johann is pretty sure he doesn't want to do what Iosif is asking. As it turns out, with good reason.
Writers Mignola and Arcudi jumped up the scale with Hell on Earth: Russia. Previous series Hell on Earth: Monsters was a personal story, but Russia gets the team back on an international scale. When you have the government involved with the walking dead and some foreshadowing for a radioactive zone, you sense that things are going to get big fast. The frog monsters are back, which is known by now, and Abe Sapien's life hangs by a thread.
There are still some nice personal elements, and with some different character focuses. After spending so much time with Liz in the two previous B.P.R.D.series, it is nice to have a few issues focusing on Johann. Unfortunately, Kate doesn't get a lot of play, and is ushered to the sidelines pretty quickly. Director Iosif ends up being the most engaging character. He makes a nice evil-double villain for Johann. They spend a lot of time talking and commiserating about their mutual "dead guy in a suit" condition. These bond hardcore, right up until Iosif tosses Johann into a room with a possessed Soviet psychic, shoots the psychic in the head so he is nice and dead, then locks the door and tells Johann to get to work. Iosif is not a nice guy.
Tyler Crook continues to be a good B.P.R.D. replacement artist for Guy Davis. He is close enough to Davis' style that it isn't a shocking transition, but at the same time is individualistic enough that he isn't a clone. Hell on Earth: Russia is the first time that Crook gets to draw some really big entities after the more human evils of Monsters. I have to say that Crook can't quite scare me yet. He draws some scenes that should be knuckle-biters, like an entire tunnel lined with writhing, human faces, but his horror lacks a certain punch and is almost too soft-edged and pretty. Crook seems to take up the old Disney edict of "no sharp corners" and everything in Crook's world is somewhat round. Gelatinous.
Like all of the B.P.R.D. trades, Hell on Earth: Russia throws in some nice extras to make the collected edition worthwhile. There is a back-up story drawn by Duncan Fegredo, An Unmarked Grave, where Hellboy's love Alice Monaghan tells Kate the story of Hellboy's death from The Storm and the Fury. Tyler Crook 's sketchbook shows the evolution of the characters, often starting with Mignola's or Davis' designs. I love the little notes inserted by Mignola commenting on the sketches. It adds a friendly behind-the-scenes touch that I have come to appreciate in these B.P.R.D. trades.
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.