Wednesday, 10 July 2013

BPRD Hell on Earth Volume 6: The Return of the Master by Mike Mignola review

I’m not sure if its deliberate but it feels like Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are going around and around in circles with the BPRD – at least that’s what it feels like if you’ve been following the series since the start like I have. Hell On Earth is basically Season 2 of BPRD but in Volume 6: Return of the Master, a lot of characters from BPRD Season 1 pop up and a number of concepts from that first run also appear here. Namely, Rasputin and the Black Flame, two BPRD villains who’ve died more than once get brought back and we revisit the concept of Rag Narok, aka the End of the World.

This isn’t the best volume as the main focus is on a minor villain and a squad of BPRD human soldiers who aren’t particularly memorable. The minor villain is The Master who sets up shop in a ruined Scottish castle, bringing with him some human followers while resurrecting some giant monsters to fight the BPRD squad sent to take him out. The characters we’ve come to know and love are either absent or doing very little in this book. Hellboy is of course absent, as he’s battling his way through hell, Abe Sapien is still comatose inside a tank, and Liz Sherman is AWOL (though she does check in with a single panel). Meanwhile, Johann Krauss is putzing around BPRD HQ, arguing with new recruit (and Marvel rip-off) Fenix, a red-headed girl with powerful psychic powers.

BPRD is at its best when it does short, self-contained spooky stories in the vein of The X-Files but without the TV budgetary restraints (a special effects sequence costs the same as a conversation between two people in a room in the comics world) but this volume is instead more about the larger series storyline going on. As such, it’s not a volume anyone unfamiliar with the series should be picking up casually as a lot of it will just be confusing. The problem with this book is that The Master storyline is pretty uninvolving – BPRD squad fire guns at monsters for most of the book – and it kind of ends in a way that makes you think the entire thing was pointless anyway, and the rest of it involves resurrecting the Black Flame (again) and the end of world happens (again). So half of it feels like a waste of time while the other half feels like rehashed material.

There’s some decent art and Mignola/Arcudi does make the material interesting enough so it’s never too boring to read even if the impression they leave you with is underwhelming. The series could be better if Abe woke up (him being comatose only makes his absence more keenly felt as the other characters just aren’t as interesting), if Johann went out into the field again, and Liz came back (or else did something more than nothing!). But I do like the dead Russian guy with the little girl in the jar, I think he’s a complex character, at times seeming good, others seeming downright evil, and his plans are obscure enough to keep him on the fence between good and evil.

But the whole Rag Narok thing is played out. Giant storylines are fine but we’ve seen it so many times in BPRD that it’s become boring. The Black Flame is played out. Rasputin is played out. The best BPRD stories in this Hell On Earth series have been mini story arcs focusing on one or two characters and a new supernatural creature(s) in an interesting location – this large scale, end of the world stuff is too vague and overdone at this point to matter (at least to me). Volume 6: The Return of the Master has its moments but doesn’t contain enough fresh material or ideas to make it a standout in the series.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Volume 6: The Return of the Master

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