Review by Frank Plowright
As with all the thicker B.P.R.D. collections, this combines three of the slim volumes at a competitive price and includes even more background commentary and sketch material than those three books.
Previously available as The Devil’s Engine and The Long Death, The Pickens County Horror and Other Stories, and The Return of the Master, the unwieldy titles indicate the piecemeal content, which breaks down to six stories varying from a single chapter to half a dozen. Ideas are viable throughout, but in general Mike Mignola’s writing collaborations with John Arcudi are stronger than those with Scott Allie, although a mitigating factor is Arcudi allocated to stories moving the bigger picture forward.
Events related in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth 1 explain why Abe Sapien is barely seen in a collection where the fate of another agent is determined near the start, and another is very briefly seen again near the end. The human B.P.R.D. agents are built up far more than in earlier stories, when Kate Corrigan was the sole rounded plain human character constructed. Devon was given time in the previous book, and is seen again here, but several other people now have recurring roles, although don’t get too attached, as with much of the main cast sidelined, the drama and tragedy has to fall on other shoulders. We meet Carla Giarocco twice, Joseph Vaughan, Agent Nichols, Sal Tasso returns from Hellboy, and as might be expected, Professor James Henry O’Donnell’s story is rolled out in ‘The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell’.
With Guy Davis no longer handling as much as possible of the art, the breakdown is the very talented Tyler Crook on the big picture widescreen material, and other artists handling the remainder. Max Fiumara is the greatest step away from the norm in terms of layouts and viewpoints, but shockingly good, which is why he’d go on to draw Abe Sapien’s solos regularly. James Harren takes a while to settle in, but anyone unconvinced is referenced to his monster battle, a page of which forms the sample spread. It’s phenomenally well handled, and Harren’s next story is the most unusual in this collection, and also excellent. It’s only Jason Latour on whom the jury’s still out, very talented, but not always hitting the correct emotional tone.
The blockbuster event occurs toward the end of what’s a largely satisfying collection, but one that may perhaps seem too bitty for readers expecting every B.P.R.D. collection to be packed with major events. ‘The Return of the Master’ addresses the bigger picture, whereas the other stories focus in on smaller, but nonetheless terrifying events. It concludes with a grave threat revived (picked up in Hell on Earth 3), ever more Ogdru Jahad manifesting and hope evaporating, but some slight glimmers still exist.
Laurence Campbell’s cover art may make it seem as if Johan’s on crutches, but that’s just an optical illusion.