The worst that can be said about BPRD: Hell on Earth Vol. 9 is that it’s difficult to choose the arc’s most badass moment. Do you go with Agent Liz Sherman in full Human Torch mode crashing through an apocalyptic Manhattan, one-man army Agent Howards slicing baddies like a sushi chef, or the brawl between the team and a giant demon crab? Whatever else is said about this arc, it’d be difficult to argue that at the very least it makes the apocalypse a gorgeous bloodbath where Mignola and company go all out in creating memorable enemies while setting up future trouble for the BPRD and their Russian allies. Never having read any of BPRD prior to this trade, I was relieved by how accessible it was. Migonla and John Arcudi write a script that establishes each person’s power sets and individual struggles without resorting to extensive exposition. Between the recap page and a few flashback scenes, I quickly understood the BPRD’s current predicament. Sent on a fact-finding mission to Manhattan, two contingents of the BPRD head into the heart of the island to determine what has occurred there following the release of demons caused by Liz Sherman’s earlier defeat of The Black Flame. Lacking radio contact, each team hopes to uncover who’s behind the corporation called Zinco and how they might stem the onslaught of demons.
Although more of an action-oriented arc, The Reign of The Black Flame does have some great moments of character development. When Liz inadvertently causes the death of her teammates, her guilt as illustrated by James Harren, carries some genuine weight. Lacking both Hellboy and Abe Sapien, the two characters I was most familiar with thanks to the film adaptations, it was great to see other characters in the spotlight. Iosif, the zombiesque Russian soldier, became a personal favorite thanks to his comeback following a disembowelment, and loyalty to his team while Howards had me laughing with each appearance.
One of the issues with this arc is that it comes to an end too neatly. The teams’ entrance into Manhattan seems to take a monumental effort, but at the end it looks as if their exit held little difficulty. This inconsistency bothered me somewhat, but not as much as the lameness of the Black Flame. With the appearance of a Street Fighter 4 reject, the Black Flame takes the award of the least interesting character in this arc’s six issues. Even the demon crickets exude more personality than the supposed Big Bad.
I typically don’t care for the extras that publisher tend to pad out trades with, but the ones here make for a nice bonus. In one section, Harren takes us through the development of some of the arc’s best demon designs, revealing both their inspiration as well as designs not used. Its inclusion caused me to go back and read the comic again just to relish in the details Harren put into each figure.
If you have any hesitations about getting in on BPRD so late in the game, this trade ought to function as a decent jumping on point. Be warned though, at the conclusion of this trade I immediately added the rest of the series to my Goodreads list.
Writer: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi Artist: James Harren Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $14.99 Release Date: 9/10/14 Format: TPB; Print/Digital