Comic Bastards has always focused away from superhero comics. Yes, we review some when we are sent them, but the idea is always that we are a site that provides coverage to the other half of comics. With publishers like Image and Boom! putting out creator-owned books from A-list creators, it can be tempting to write off superheroes as a juvenile exercise in basic pulp storytelling--something you are glad helped get you into comics but which doesn't add much to the medium anymore. I love capes and cowls as much as the next guy, but crossovers, constant deaths, and shifting creative teams have been overused to the point of cliché and certainly hard to apply any rigorous examination to. And then you have BPRD, a shared universe 144 issue mega series, with about twenty artists, a giant cast of superhero style characters and a constantly expanding mythos which somehow turns the style of superhero storytelling to its advantage. BPRD #144 is in many ways nothing more than a reminder of where each of the major players as a setup to the coming climax of Hell on Earth, but it works surprisingly well by using the history of the series to build melancholy and stakes. Most of the issue is set in Hell itself (which is ironically looking a lot more peaceful than Earth at this point, hence the series title). Ioseph and Varvara tour the underworld looking for possible allies but finding only the shattered dystopia last seen in Hellboy in Hell. Without a knowledge of that Hellboy series, much of this issue might not make sense, but that's also part of its brilliance. The Mignola books occupy a small enough line that it's actually a fair assumption that everyone will understand why Hell is destroy and Satan dead. In fact, tying in with what has been, up until now, an insular cutoff part of the continuity is in its own way thrilling. It implies, as fans may have long hoped, that the original Mignola hero may be ready to make a return to the BPRD.
As for the BPRD themselves, things are looking bleak (well, even more bleak than usual that is). We only get a few pages set on earth, but they serve as a good reminder of why we care about what's happening elsewhere. The ogdru Jahad continues making its way to the BPRD base in Colorado with Liz and Johann doing their best to act as damage control. Kate meanwhile is attempting to evacuate the base which is proving more difficult than expected. It's fascinating to see a world that instead of treating apocalyptic disaster like a weekly occurrence in the manner of DC or Marvel, has come apart at the seams. The stakes seem real here because each issue of BPRD is willing to change the world entirely going forwards. It's rare to be able to enjoy these pulpy, continuity based adventures without knowing what can and cannot happen at the story's end.
And fundamentally, as dark as it continues to get, BPRD is fundamentally still a book about pulpy thrills. As Johann and Liz roast freshly spewed monsters like oversized shish kabobs and Ioseph the undead Russian soldier faces his personal demons (literally), it's hard not to enjoy the spectacle of it all. BPRD is not, by any means, highbrow (it doesn't ever reach the poetry or quiet beauty of Mignola's Hellboy), but it's effective, quality pulpy storytelling, and that's rare enough to celebrate in its own right.
[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #144 Writers: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi Artist: Lawrence Campbell Colorist: Dave Stewart Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.50 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital