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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XVIII: End of Days

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.  Click here for part sixteen, in which I discuss Abe Sapien: Sacred Places and A Darkness So Great, B.P.R.D. Flesh and Stone, and the first Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series. Click here for part seventeen, in which I discuss Frankenstein: Underground and a variety of Abe Sapien and B.P.R.D. adventures.

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B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #135-139: End of Days (2015-2016) — This epic B.P.R.D. tale begins the year-long, long-awaited climax of the entire “Hell on Earth” story-line that has been running through the Hellboy universe titles since back in 2010.  It’s also John Arcudi’s swan song as co-author of these Mignolaverse books, and he will be sorely missed.  Mr. Arcudi has been a critical player in the expansion of the Hellboy saga from an occasional series of mini-series written & drawn by Mike Mignola into an epic, sprawling saga with a whole universe of characters and different series.  It’s impossible, reading these comics, to tell where Mike Mignola ends and John Arcudi begins.  I am so sad that Mr. Arcudi is moving on!  I hope that Mr. Mignola and his other collaborators are able to pick up the slack and fill this enormous void without any loss in the quality of the story-telling in these books.

The saga kicks off in issue #135 under a staggeringly stunning Mike Mignola cover.

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The event hinted at back in B.P.R.D. #129 has come true: one of the seven Ogdru Jahad has escaped its prison in deep space and returned to Earth!  This is the unthinkable event that our heroes have been fighting to prevent ever since the very first Hellboy story: Seed of Destruction.  The unleashing of one of the Ogdru Jahad is an event I never thought I’d actually see happen in a Hellboy book!!  Because how can our heroes possibly have any sort of chance against this unstoppable ancient evil?  This is an amazing twist to the story.

I love that #135 lets us catch up with so many of our characters — Liz, Fenix, Kate, Johann/Sledgehammer, Howards, O’Donnell, Panya, Devon, Iosif, and also the Black Flame and Evelyn — before all of the chaos begins.  Then, Panya meets the ghost of Fenix’s sister in #136.  Love that!

I haven’t been a huge fan of Laurence Campbell’s work so far on B.P.R.D., but he steps up for this saga.  I love his nightmarish depiction of the returned Ogdru Jahad in issue #136.  It’s fun to see Iosif’s enormous flying wing (first glimpsed in Liz’s vision in King of Fear #4 and in reality in Return of the Master #5), now painted with the B.P.R.D. emblem (meaning Liz’s vision is probably coming closer), get to mix it up in some action.

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I was delighted and surprised to see that the elderly, encased-in-a-modified-deep-sea-diving-suit McWhirter (from way back in 2007’s Garden of Souls, and — in a clever touch of Mignolaverse continuity — just glimpsed again a few months previously in the flashback issue of Abe Sapien #27) has re-entered the story, using a variation of his soul-capturing device from Garden of Souls to create a weapon that, while horrifying in its use of innocent souls, finally seems like something capable of destroying one of the huge Ogdru Hem.

I loved the phenomenal fight-for-New-York story-line in The Reign of the Black Flame (B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #115-119), though I was somewhat disappointed by the somewhat anticlimactic ending.  Well, it’s rematch time as Liz returns to New York to again take on the Black Flame.  Only this time, she’s accompanied by Johann, still inhabiting the Sledgehammer armor (that he put back together in Modern Prometheus in B.P.R.D. #133-134).  What follows is a magnificent fight as Liz and Johann take on the Flame physically, while Panya and Fenix attack him psychically.  In the explosive climax in issue #139, the Black Flame finally seems to be destroyed!  This is a great moment, one that has been years-in-coming.

I am intrigued by Fenix’s vision of a ruined B.P.R.D. HQ in issue #137 — will this be connected to Liz’s vision of the destroyed flying wing and the dead Agent Giarroco from King of Fear #4?  I’m also interested to see more of the female Zinco supervisor who pops up again in this NYC-set story.  She seems like a decent person, though she’s been in league with the bad guys for a long time now.  I’m curious to see where her story goes.

This story ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger, as the Ogdru Jahad monster continues to rampage and a desperate Iosif finally releases the demon Varvara from her captivity.

Abe Sapien #28-29: The Garden (II) (2015) — Abe meets a young girl, Maggie, who has a red palm-print on her forehead (like Sonchin!) and has somehow embodied the spirit of those Hyperborean priests/mystics.  Maggie was eager to meet Abe, thinking he could help fight the monsters ravaging the world, but then she realizes that his purpose is not to help.  She declares that he is not a weapon (like his friends Liz and now Johann), but that he’s connected to the next age of man.  I’d expected to get some new information about what’s going on, and Abe’s destiny, in this story, but mostly this is all the same stuff we’ve been reading about for years.  We also get a repetition of what Abe learned in Abe #25, that, despite his fears when he’d begun transforming (after getting shot by Fenix at the beginning of this “Hell on Earth” saga) that he is not at all connected to the Ogdru Hem creatures.  (I did like getting to see the corpse of Edith Caul again, who further emphasizes Abe’s individuality by telling him that, just as he is not an Ogdru Hem, he is no longer Langdon Caul.)  I was intrigued by Maggie’s suggestion that this sort of global battle against monsters has happened before (as we see a group of Shonchin’s people) and that, when that happened, some of the good people got to leave the world.  Maggie implies that this will happen again, and people will get to go, not to heaven as her mom first says, but Hyperberum.  What exactly does that mean?  I am eager to see where this is all going.

The best aspect of this two-parter is the way the story incorporates flashbacks to aspects of Abe’s life, touching upon things we’ve seen throughout this twenty-year Hellboy saga.  Flashback panels refer to so many of the hints we’ve gotten over the years about Abe’s past and his future destiny, from the prophecy of Rasputin’s head (“out of the caverns of Num-Yabisc…”) to McWhirter and the Oannes Society folks’ comment that “the sea flows through his body,” to Abe’s visions of his past as Langdon Caul to Fenix’s declaration “I know who you are” as she shoots him.  And lots more.  (I particularly liked Abe’s flashback to Cavendish Hall from the very first Hellboy mini-series Seed of Destruction, and his acknowledgement that, as Caul, he’d worked for a man named Cavendish years before.  It’s a great piece of Mignolaverse connectivity.)  This is very rewarding for long-time fans and gives this story a feel of story-threads finally coming together.

I also enjoyed learning that Agent Stazz’s full name is Nastassja!

Abe Sapien #30: Witchcraft and Demonology (2016) — This issue, finally, tells us the story of Gustav Strobl, who has been hovering around the edges since the beginning of this Abe Sapien series (and had been teased as a “vile occultist” in other Mignolaverse stories for years prior).  In 1983, a bird disguised as a B.P.R.D. agent (is this Strobl himself?) tells Abe the story of Strobl’s years-long quest to earn a station with the army of Hell.  There are no huge shocks here, as much of this we could have guessed based on what we have seen of Strobl to this point, but it’s great to see all the pieces connected here.  I loved seeing Memnan Saa again, and also Igor Bromfield, and it’s neat to see Strobl talking to Amodeus, the demon who Hellboy fought in 2009’s Hellboy: Bride of the Demon.

Abe Sapien #31: The Black School (2016) — And then we catch up with Strobl in the present day, as he returns to the Black School where he studied black arts as a boy.  Strobl learns of chaos in Hell (as depicted in Hellboy in Hell), which puts something of a wrench in his plans.  But then he reads in an evil book of the Vril, and Oannes, and Abe, and so he decides to track down Abe.  After the clarity of #30, this issue is a little confusing.  I’m still not exactly sure what Strobl’s goal is, or what he wants with Abe.  I was also a bit confused by all of the demons are who we glimpse in the black school, from the Ape Gusion to the huge fly-shaped De Carvalho.  (I had to look these names up on-line to realize that Abe #30 had named De Carvalho as one of Strobl’s apprentices.  I have no idea who Gusion is.)

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: The Phantom Hand and The Kelpie (2015) — Rather than another five-issue mini-series like Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952, this new installment feels like a return to the classic Hellboy short stories from twenty years ago.  This first issue contains two short stories of Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm in England in 1953, investigating weird stuff with the Professor’s pal Harry Middleton.  It’s awesome to see a young Harry here, as we’d previously only seen a very old version of him when Hellboy stayed with him in England in the beginning of Darkness Calls.  Both stories are gorgeously illustrated by Ben Stenbeck (fresh off of Frankenstein Underground), whose crisp, clean, beautifully detailed artwork is absolutely perfect for these stories.  I loved this issue.

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: The Witch Tree and Rawhead & Bloody Bones (2015) — A second issue with two more 1953-set short-stories, again beautifully illustrated by Ben Stenbeck.  These two issues are two of my favorite Hellboy issues in years.  All four short stories (in these two issues) are terrific.

The Exorcist of Vorsk (From Dark Horse Presents #16) (2015) — This Mignola-illustrated short story is a wonderfully bizarre puppet-show version (Mr. Mignola sure does love creepy puppets!) of a poor man who throws his wife down a well and then makes a deal with a demon that goes south.  It’s gloriously weird and beautifully illustrated.  In short: a classic Hellboy short-story.  Loved it.

Lobster Johnson: The Glass Mantis (2015) — The murder of a Turkish glass-blower leads to trouble in the Lobster’s city.  This isn’t one of the best Lobster yarns but it’s entertaining and gorgeously illustrated by Toni Fejzula’s wonderfully unique artwork.

Hellboy Winter Special (2016) — This issue contains three short-stories.  I love this return to classic-style Hellboy short-stories!!  In Broken Vessels, the prehistoric warrior Gall Dennar meets a weirdo draped in skulls.  Seeing Tim Sale illustrate a Hellboy story is a treat, but I expected this story to be more momentous than it wound up being.  Wandering Souls, though, is spectacular.  Written by Mr. Mignola and Chris Roberson (who is stepping up as a key Mignolaverse writer with Mr. Arcudi’s imminent departure) and beautifully illustrated by Michael Walsh (let’s see more of this guy’s work soon, OK?), this 1953-set tale is a great little mystery that spotlights the Psychic Korean B.P.R.D. agent Susan Xiang.  That last panel, in which we see her glimpse of memory of being protected as a little girl by a man with a sword, is very intriguing!  Mood Swings is less interesting, though seeing Michael Avon Oeming illustrate demonic snowmen sure is fun.

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: Beyond the Fences (2015-2016) — After the first two issues with connected short-stories that I discussed above, this five-issue journey into Hellboy’s 1953-set adventures concludes with this three-parter, in which Hellboy and his gang of fellow B.P.R.D. agents (as seen in the 1952 five-parter) investigate monsters in suburban California.  I loved the connections to B.P.R.D. 1948, as Enkeladite pops up again and once again causes monster-related trouble.  I’m intrigued by the introductions of Valentin Moravek (who can kill a man by putting his hand on his chest) and Rahel (who can transform into a wolf).  Who are these two, and what did they want with the Enkeladite?  They seem like villains, though Rahel’s actions save the young boy Julian.  In issue #3 it seems that we learn that they are agents of Varvara, who at this point is still in charge of the Soviet version of the B.P.R.D.  Meanwhile, Susan’s vision in issue #3 is intriguing — are these glimpses of the future?  Panel one feels like a scene familiar from modern-day B.P.R.D. of people worshipping and Ogdru Jadad statue, and panel three seems to be Hellboy fighting Moravek.  I don’t know what the heck is going on in panel two.  Another intriguing Mignolaverse mystery!

Lobster Johnson: The Forgotten Man (2016) — The Lobster takes on cannibals menacing the city’s homeless.  As with The Glass Mantis, I wouldn’t say this is a one of the best Lobster tales but it’s certainly a fun yarn.  It’s great to see a surviving Cossaro brother, once again causing trouble!

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B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #140-142: The Exorcist (2016) — After a long absence, Ashley Strode (last seen in 2012’s Exorcism) returns!  It’s great to catch up with this character.  Mike Norton does a terrific job on the artwork, I love his style and would love to see more.  Chris Roberson (who is fast becoming a key new voice in the Mignolaverse) does a smooth job taking over from Cameron Stewart to tell this new story about Ashley.  It’s great setting to see how competent Ashley has become.  And I enjoyed learning that she is a lesbian!  I don’t think we knew that about her before.  This story is suitably mysterious and horrifying.  I really dug these three issues.  Ashley comments, at the end, that perhaps she’s been on the road long enough — does this mean that she will soon be rejoining the B.P.R.D.?  I’d love to see that.

As the “Hell on Earth” story nears its confusion, many story-threads and characters are at last being drawn together.  I’ll be back here soon to discuss the conclusions of Hellboy in Hell, Abe Sapien, and B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth!!  See you then!

The issues discussed in this post are collected in: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth vol. 13: End of Days, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth vol. 14: The Exorcist, Abe Sapien vol. 7: The Secret Fire, and Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953

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