[1 March 2012]
The promotional poster for B.P.R.D.’s new event series Hell on Earth is surprisingly prescient: “It’s all going to hell in 2012”. Normally, promotional posters highlight the awesome action or the fresh new outfits of our heroes, but this one, festooned with the gruesome image of Capt. Daimo in were-jaguar form, hints at both the coming horrors of Hell on Earth and the series’ clearly tragic trajectory.
The first comic of the five part series (released just this month), with the story by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and art by James Harren, is an excellent starting place that kicks things off explosively, but also treats long time fans with some of Mignola’s characteristic subtlety. Mignola’s keen use of dialog foreshadowing and his ability to make what seems like innocuous conversation in fact poignant, is exemplified in these pages. The three bubbles of dialog from Capt. Daimo in Kraus’ dream, early in the comic, do just that. He says to Kraus, “Listen what you said yesterday about your soul being at risk. I never thought much about that stuff in the Corps. Just took it for granted, I guess. Not so easy to do that here, is it?”.
These simple lines and the extreme detail of Daimo’s worried face—however mutilated—hint at the arc of the comic and hopefully the arc of the series. We see Kraus struggle with this motif in his lucid dream. It comes up, again fantastically subtly, in the B.P.R.D agent’s conversation about her son’s baptism, and finally in her act of sacrifice. While the characters of B.P.R.D. struggle with Hell coming to earth, they also must struggle with their own paths of redemption or damnation; the world is at stake and so is every character’s soul.
I think it is important to mention here, is Agent Giarocco. For quite sometime, B.P.R.D. has been very good at disposing of red-shirt agents. The nameless, frightened agents are often fodder for monsters of every kind. They are beaten, shot, stabbed, sliced and diced. Every time they wander onto the page, I feel bad for them. They are like storm troopers, there to emphasize the violence of the action and serve as a safe buffer zone around the heroes. Agent Giarocco, however, breaks this tradition. Not only do we get a look into her personal life outside of the anonymizing force of B.P.R.D.’s red-shirt squad, but she also briefly becomes the hero. In her final frame, holding a sacrificial grenade, Agent Giarocco’s wild-eyed intensity and determination is as stunningly beautiful as it is horrific. We’ve spent a portion of this comic investing in her: her life, her leadership qualities, and her beliefs, only to have it stripped from us. This becomes a not-so-subtle reminder of the series arc and tagline: “Hell on Earth”.
Overall, The Long Death is an excellent start to what is a promising series from Mignola. The art of James Harren invokes the chthonic tones of the whole of B.P.R.D., but also continues to bring a new, vitally brutal component—Capt. Daimo’s vicious assault on the red-shirts is rendered utterly shockingly. The writing of Mignola and Arcudi is characteristically stark and effective. I am already convinced that Hell on Earth is going to be an excellent event series that explores characters and evinces fresh, new horrors. Lets hope I am not proven wrong.