Review by Frank Plowright
This volume marks a new beginning for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Volume 4 of the previous bulky collections ended the war with the frogs, but at great cost. Even more terrible creatures have begun to emerge from beneath the Earth, and their presence forms the constant background for the ongoing Hell on Earth series.
Mike Mignola may have had some general ideas when separating B.P.R.D. from Hellboy, but as good as the series has been before Hell on Earth, in the early days there was a definite feeling of bolting on bits and pieces to what was already established. That eventually disappeared as the B.P.R.D. developed its own identity. Although taking into account the baggage attached to the cast, Hell on Earth is a new start, enabling Mignola and John Arcudi to include greater foreshadowing from the beginning. An example is that opening story ‘New World’ drops mention of Kate Corrigan’s forthcoming visit to Russia, which occurs during the final story.
One great shame is long-term artist Guy Davis deciding he didn’t want to sign up for several more years of continuity. While other artists have worked on B.P.R.D., it’s the impressive designs, subtle storytelling and effective character moments provided by Davis that have come to define the series. It seems here that Tyler Crook is to be the continuing replacement, but subsequent stories reveal he’s just one of a few artists taking on what Davis largely did alone. A few slight lapses show Crook as a relative newcomer, but he’s phenomenally good considering his previously published work was limited.
Over the years the core team of investigative agents has changed considerably, with Abe Sapien being the only constant presence, but Mignola and Arcudi make it clear that former agents will be involved in the new bigger picture. One is somewhat the surprise when revealed, but Liz Sherman is seen almost from the start of her solo story ‘Monsters’. That’s uncharacteristically slight despite very disturbing inclusions and a shocking ending, although that ending seems undermined by what then happens to the character concerned in ‘Russia’. A later Liz short is nicely drawn by Duncan Fegredo.
A strength of B.P.R.D. has always been an uncertainty about people’s motivations, and that’s apparent here. Johan’s featureless costume has always contributed to his being unknown, and he may only have minor roles in the opening stories, but comes into his own during ‘Russia’, given a redesign and hanging questions over him.
All stories here combine to indicate a world in crisis, one where cities have disappeared and where the old certainties no longer apply. To some it’s confirmation of their nutty end of days beliefs, while others scrabble to preserve the past, and not everyone shown here comes to full fruition until Hell on Earth 2. The B.P.R.D. now operate under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, which opens up greater resources, but is accompanied by greater scrutiny, and along the way Mignola and Arcudi spotlight everyone we want to see. Overall hardcore fans are likely to overlook the few brief judders during what’s otherwise thrilling and accomplished supernatural horror ramping up the threats and intrigue.
This material is available in slimmer paperbacks New World, Gods & Monsters and Russia, but they don’t provide the full 44 pages of background material ending this selection.