Review by Frank Plowright
Ashley Strode was a B.P.R.D. agent introduced to make a passing comment about what Liz Sherman was going through during War on Frogs, teased by her fellow agents for a supposed infatuation. There was no reason to believe she’d ever be seen again, yet she’s the star turn in both stories here, in which her life is transformed.
Cameron Stewart and Chris Roberson collaborate with Mike Mignola on the writing, with Stewart drawing the first story and Mike Norton the second, both appealingly and efficiently. While it takes varied forms, possession is the fallback default for B.P.R.D., having affecting many characters over the years. ‘Exorcism’ feeds into the chaos in Hell during Hell on Earth, with power up for grabs, beginning with the more traditional demonic possession. Ashley is sent to investigate, and so begins a journey and altered career path beyond her previous wildest imaginings. She’s a well rounded personality, rapidly pulled away from the infatuation joke to be shown as smart, stubborn and adaptable, the qualities that make her an efficient agent even before her revelation.
A pleasing recurring feature of B.P.R.D. is how the astonishing is presented in such a matter of fact manner, and that occurs again here with a former B.P.R.D. agent shown as over 150 years old and in a nursing home. He has skills to pass on, and Ashley becomes the recipient, transformed into a dedicated caster out of demons. That process is well handled over the opening story, while ‘The Exorcist’ occurs a few months later with Ashley now confident in her abilities and adept with the tools of her trade. There’s not previously been a haunted house story run in B.P.R.D., and that’s the challenge for Ashley. It doesn’t work quite as well as the first story as even given the ongoing chaos, the sheer number of missing children in the single area over such a prolonged period would surely have attracted attention rather than being a random discovery. However, put that to one side and the tension is maintained until the end.
When originally published, some B.P.R.D. fans weren’t happy at a couple of standalone stories interrupting the ongoing Hell on Earth events slipping in between End of Days and delaying the conclusion in Cometh the Hour. Perhaps mindful of this, it was included in the bulkier Hell on Earth 4 to allow Hell on Earth 5 to supply a more concentrated dose of the main story.