Review by Frank Plowright
Over the previous two volumes Hell on Earth has drifted into collections of smaller manifestations, but The Return of the Master addresses the bigger picture and provides apocalyptic action from the creative A-team of John Arcudi and Tyler Crook channelling Mike Mignola’s ideas.
Much of the action occurs in Scotland, the UK having been named as a country particularly afflicted by the supernatural problems affecting the world. Strangely, though, while the writers generally use real place names for B.P.R.D. material, it’s the makey-uppy Northwick seen as the starting point. Events in Scotland are prompted by the arrival of a rogue agent who’s been working for Iosif Nichayko’s Russian supernatural research organisation. Regular readers already know they’re not as transparent as the B.P.R.D. believe, and early on it’s seen they’re connected with research being carried out commercially by the strange Zinco organisation. Lost souls are the connecting point between the two threads. Researchers have been attempting to locate a specific lost soul in the void, however, that enables another to escape.
After not contributing to The Pickens County Horror and Other Stories, Crook is again the illustrator of choice when it comes to primary events. He’s no longer feeling the need to slavishly follow the previously established look, and is now coming into his own. The figures are tighter, along with the machinery, and Crook’s layouts aren’t so restricted to small panels, although he’s very mindful when it comes to the story’s needs. In terms of characters, at the moment only Kate Corrigan straddles this and the Guy Davis era, and while she’s recognisable facially there are some differences as Crook adopts the cast.
If the world depicted in Hell on Earth was previously in a poor state, by the time The Return of the Master ends things are far worse. A grave threat has been revived, ever more Ogdru Jahad are manifesting and hope is evaporating, but some slight glimmers still exist. All in all, it’s very satisfying, and the series continues with A Cold Day in Hell.
The Return of the Master is also available as the final third of bulkier collection B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth 2.