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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XVI: A Darkness So Great

September 2nd, 2016
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My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.  Click here for part thirteen, in which I discuss the game-changing B.P.R.D. mini-series The Return of the Master along with the beginning of Hellboy in Hell.  Click here for part fourteen, in which I discuss the beginning of the Abe Sapien ongoing series, as well as the great B.P.R.D. story The Lake of Fire.  Click here for part fifteen, in which I discuss new adventures of Sledgehammer 44, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, and Abe Sapien, as well as the epic B.P.R.D. story-line The Reign of the Black Flame.

Hellboy and the BPRD 1952.cropped

When I began this re-reading project and decided to write about it, I never dreamed it would result in this sixteen-part epic blog series.  I have never written about a comic-book series in as much depth.  But I’ve hugely enjoyed the process of keeping this on-line journal throughout my re-reading process.  I hope you’ve enjoyed coming with me on this journey!  Let’s continue onward, shall we?

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #120-121: The Devil’s Wings (2014) — The B.P.R.D. return to HQ to lick their wounds after the Reign of the Black Flame story-line, but they find themselves in the middle of a spooky haunting story.  Liz is already healed from the injuries she suffered in her battle with the Black Flame.  This clearly seems to show Liz’s healing power (that I first suspected back in B.P.R.D.: Lake of Fire) which helps keep her looking young (just like Alice Monaghan!).  Also, Kate finds the Sledgehammer armor stored in the basement.  How exactly did the armor wind up there??  I love the way this Sledgehammer armor has proven so critical in the most recent B.P.R.D. stories from the past two years.

We get an interesting flashback to young Hellboy and Bruttenholm.  There’s no date given in the story, but the cover identifies this as 1949, which would be the year of the next B.P.R.D. flashback miniseries (picking up after Vampire) if we ever get one!  For now this will do.  Hellboy is getting bigger — he actually accompanies Bruttenholm into the field this time.  It’s nice to see Jasper and Archie still with Bruttenholm.

But this arc is just mediocre.  Ultimately, both the flashback and the present-day stories feel abbreviated and wrapped up too soon, and I didn’t really care for Laurence Campbell’s art (just as I didn’t like it back in Wasteland).

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #122-123: The Broken Equation (2014) — Johann and a bunch of human agents, including Enos, head to Japan where a group of scientists are doing something that seems to have unleashes a Godzilla-like creature from another dimension to fight and kill the Ogdru Hem menacing Japan.  This a second fairly mediocre two-parter in a row.  I wish the connection between the Godzilla creature and the Japanese Professor Kukyo had been fleshed out, and that Johann had something to do other than just stand around and watch.

Abe Sapien #12-17: Sacred Places (2014) — Although these issues are mostly stand-alone, they fit together into a larger story-line.  I still object somewhat to the very slow pace of this Abe series, as well as the apparent aimlessness of Abe’s wanderings, but this is the strongest story-line so far.  Issue #12, “The Garden,” is particularly interesting: a prose-heavy issue in which Abe is cast as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and we are introduced to the new character of Grace and her heartbreaking back-story.  In issue #13, I like to hear Abe say that he’s learned from the events of Abe #9-11 that he needs to be less passive, but in this issue Abe is once again a fairly useless bystander to everything going down.  I did love hearing the phrase “sunken bells toll for thee” yet again, a lovely reprise of a key phrase from the very beginning of Abe’s stories twenty years ago.  The back-up to issue #13 is terrific, a story set in 1981 and drawn by Guy Davis!  Abe is haunted by the deaths of his fellow agents in The Drowning and gets some tough love from Liz.  This short story also retroactively introduces Agent Vaughn, now an undead pawn of Strobl.  Great stuff!!

In issue #14 an old woman tells Abe and Grace of a “girl back in the Carolinas” with a red right hand imprinted on her forehead.  Is she a modern-day Hyperborean priest, like Sonchin??  I look forward to meeting her!  Meanwhile, in a vision, Abe gets a glimpse of the mysterious sea creature connected with his origin (first seen way back in B.P.R.D. The Dead #5 and then again in Abe Sapien: The Drowning #5 — lots of links to The Drowning!) and is told that he is NOT the Beast of the Apocalypse.  He is “something else altogether.”  I’d really like to learn an answer to this, and the truth behind Abe’s transformation, sometime soon!

Issue #15, “Lost Lives,” is a flashback tale to 2005 when Abe was hiding out in B.P.R.D. HQ after discovering his past as Caul in The Dead.  This story gives a nice bit of fleshing out to Agent Vaughn — too bad he’s already dead and now a zombie thrall to Strobl.  Nice to see Ashley Strode (from War on Frogs #3 and B.P.R.D.: Exorcism), too — I’d love to see more of her in the present-day stories.

In issues #16-17, the two-part story “Sacred Places,” Abe returns to Rosario, Texas, where he was shot by Fenix.  He connects with a group with whom he will stick for the next several issues, until Abe #22.  I like this new cast of characters, though I have had to re-read these issues many times in an effort to keep everyone straight.  I like the ambition of these stories and the attempt at fleshing out all of these new characters, though I continue to find that the art and story just isn’t firing on all cylinders in this Abe solo series.  Meanwhile, we see that Strobl has held onto the skull of his former master Antonis Kouvelis, who he killed in Abe #11.

Abe Sapien #18-22: A Darkness So Great (2014-2015) — After a run of stand-alone issues, we get our longest Abe Sapien story-line yet, though each issue is designed to be a somewhat complete story that focuses on an individual member of the ensemble.  Abe & co. arrive in Burnham, Texas.  This town seems to be protected from the terrors ravaging the world, but soon the horrifying reason for that apparent protection will come to light.  I love the first page of #18, drawn in the style of a classic 1960’s comic.  Great intro!  In issue #19, Abe talks to Dayana about his origins and mentions Oannes. Is this the first-time we’ve seen Oannes directly called a “fish-man”?  I know that Abe’s origin is tied to the Oannes Society, but maybe I just never put in together in my head before this that the Oannes who they worshiped was some sort of fish-man/fish-god.  Very cool.  Oannes apparently “taught wisdom to early man.”  Interesting.

Issue #20 is one of my favorite issues of Abe so far.  It spotlights Megan, a young girl coming of age during the apocalypse.  I was fascinated to learn that she barely remembers the world before “Hell on Earth.”  Time is passing in the Hellboy universe!

Meanwhile, Strobl continues on his journey to the “black school,” whatever that is, and refers in issue #18 to the “Faustian arrangement” that has given him long life.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #124: Grind (2014) — One of the best issues of B.P.R.D. ever published.  In this heartbreaking one-shot, we get a glimpse of a fellow trying to hold onto some sort of regular life, and to continue with his job at a coffee-joint, in the midst of the “Hell on Earth” craziness.  Tyler Crook’s art is fantastic.  I had a hard time adjusting to his style at first when he replaced Guy Davis, but I’ve grown to love his work and now I really miss him on the B.P.R.D. series.  The ending is a bit of a head-scratcher (just what exactly happened to our poor protagonist at the end??) but it works.  We also get to meet a new B.P.R.D. agent, the blond-haired Agent Kelly who doesn’t want to share a meal with the “atomic bomb” Liz Sherman.  Also, while I haven’t loved Laurence Campbell’s art on this series much so far, his cover is gorgeous.

BPRD125.cropped

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #125-129: Flesh and Stone (2014-2015) — Another huge B.P.R.D. story-line that picks up where Reign of the Black Flame left off and, like that epic, is once again illustrated by the phenomenal James Harren.  Issue #125 checks in on many of our characters, heroes and villains alike.  We see Howards, Johann, Enos, Liz, Fenix, Iosif (apparently still alive after his crazy fight in NYC in Reign of the Black Flame).  We see that Zinco is still in control of New York, that Marsten (killed by Iosif in Reign of the Black Flame) has a huge memorial, and that the Black Flame is alive and well.  (I adore James Harren’s crazy depiction of him.  What is this creature, now, and how can our heroes ever possibly defeat him??)  Why is Zinco experimenting with a frog-monster creature that used to be human?

BPRD125.BlackFlame

In issue #126, we get an astounding two-page spread of the situation with Russia.  Iosif despairs as huge Ogdru Hem wreak havoc.

BPRD126.Russia.cropped

Issue #127 gives us a great Gall Dennar (from The Abyss of Time) flashback, fighting a hideous Ogdru Hem that spread pestilence like a fungus.  Again, staggeringly gorgeous James Harren imagery.  I’m not sure how exactly present-day Howards finds one of Gall Dennar’s painted rocks at the end, though.  Howards’ mystery deepens in #129 when he uses magic to disable the “force field” protecting the Ogdru Hem.  And then he speaks!  Awesome moment!!  It had been a while!  Meanwhile, Varvara dreamns of being freed as the forces of Hell (who she calls “the saviors of men”) spread over the Earth.  Is this a vision of the future?  Or just her wishes for what will happen?

Issue #129 also contains the ominous image of an Ogrdu Jahad apparently breaking free of its prison in outer space.  Is this actually happening, or just something in the mind of the Black Flame??
(We soon learn that this unthinkable event IS actually happening!)

Issue #129 also contains the genius piece of business in which we see that the B.P.R.D. agents have started drawing Howards’ sword onto the sword in their B.P.R.D. logos!  I love that!!

BPRD129.cropped

The Coffin Man 2: Rematch (from Dark Horse Presents #200) (2015) — In this story, set in 1956, we see a young Hellboy not much more competent that the rookie we’ll see in 1952 in the very next Hellboy story.  Once again, Hellboy gets his ass kicked by the Coffin Man.  I am waiting for Part Three!

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952 (2015) — I love this title!  I have been waiting for years for this title to be used for a Mignolaverse series!  I thought it’d be what the book would be called when Hellboy returned from Hell and reunited with the B.P.R.D.  (Come on, we saw that photo in Liz’s vision, I know this will happen someday!)  Instead, we have this mini-series, the first in a series of mini-series, depicting Hellboy’s early days with the agency.  It’s like a continuation of the B.P.R.D. flashback mini-series, just with Hellboy in the lead, rather than ProfessorbBruttenholm.  I love it!!  This is a great first installment, and I can’t wait for the rest!  (I also very much hope we’ll someday learn what happened in 1949, following the events of Vampire.)  The great Alex Maleev handles the art, and I adore his extraordinarily beautiful and stylish work.  It’s a great fit for HB.

The story opens in 1948, as Varvara tells Bruttenholm that Rasputin was behind Ragna Rok.  This is a great piece of connective tissue.  She suggests that Bruttenholm is foolish to trust Hellboy, that he will be the spark that burns his house down.  This is a great opening!!  It’s still to be seen who will be right, Varvara or Bruttenholm.

We’re then introduced to a new team of B.P.R.D. agents, including Jasper Stegner and Archie Muraro, both of whom have popped up in several of these flashback stories, as well as Susan Ziang and Robert Amsel.  Amsel doesn’t make it out of this first story, but I hope we’ll see more of the (apparently psychic) Ziang in future stories.  I am assuming the event in 1949 that led to Bruttenholm’s “no non-agents in the field” rule is the flashback we saw in B.P.R.D. #120-121, The Devil’s Wings?  It’s sad to see that a rift already exists in 1952 between Bruttenholm and Hellboy, though Bruttenholm is trying to do right by HB.  In issue #1 we also get to see the famous photo from right after Hellboy’s birth — no Torch of Liberty in this version!

In issue #3 we get a fascinating exchange with portentous hints as to the future of the over-all Hellboy universe story.  A talking crocodile (!) says that Hellboy “will bring the fire that will be the ending of us all.”  The croc’s boy companion confirms that “it has been the beginning of the end of the world since the day he was born,” but also says that, after “the last day,” Hellboy will be “the hope of the world to come.”  So perhaps here we see some optimism for a future beyond “Hell on Earth”?

In issue #4, Archie says “Holy crap!” — did Hellboy swipe his famous catch-phrase from Archie??  Then, Abe and Archie enter a vast array of bodies in tubes — yep, Von Klempt is back!!  Love it!  Can’t keep that crazy Nazi head-in-a-jar down.  Meanwhile, Archie pieces together the pieces of what Bruttenholm saw in B.P.R.D. 1946., which is a nice bit of continuity.

Issue #5 has a terrific epilogue was we see the turncoat B.P.R.D. agent meet up with Malcom Frost, from way back in Seed of Destruction #1.  He was Bruttenholm’s companion who thought young HB was a demon who should be killed.  Varvara tells Frost that “you will be long dead before he becomes — whatever he will become.”  A magnificent ending to a magnificent mini-series.

2015 had lots more great Hellboy Universe adventures!  I’ll be back soon with more!

The issues discussed in this post are collected in: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth volume 10: The Devil’s Wings, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth volume 11: Flesh and Stone, Abe Sapien volume 5: Sacred Places, Abe Sapien volume 6: A Darkness So Great, and Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952.

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