If you ask me, Dark Horse has the lead on science fiction comics. They consistently offer new ideas in their Dark Horse Presents anthology series and have quite a few great titles from the Hellboy universe. I check out the latest issue of B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth and answer the question: is it good?
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #140 (Dark Horse Comics)
So what’s this about? Dark Horse Comics’ summary reads:
Cameron Stewart (Fight Club 2, Batgirl) returns to the character he developed in B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism. Last time we saw Ashley Strode, she’d learned only the most basic aspects of exorcism as the world started to fall apart around her. Now that Hell’s closed its doors and civilization has ground to a halt in the face of the apocalypse, Ashley’s using what she knows to delay the end. A crumbling house in a small town holds bizarre secrets that make Ashley wish she’d stayed with Liz and Kate—because it might take the whole BPRD to handle this.
Why does this book matter?
Magic-wielding cops plus Satan worshipping going on in the backwoods of America? Sign me up for that, plus we’ve got Cameron Stewart, the creator of the protagonist Ashley, back on the book along with Mike Mignola which means it’s going back to its roots.
Love this sequence of panels.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This issue opens with an exciting chase scene as Ashley is after a suspect who’s batshit crazy. She quickly encounters a transformation of the demonic kind and she must transform herself to battle him in another realm. This sequence is well paced and easy to follow which makes for entertaining action. The switch to the demonic realm is a surprising twist that kicks the science fiction element up a notch too. Artist Mike Norton helps pull off the easy to follow storytelling and in many ways this is a scene that would kill in a science fiction cop show.
The rest of the issue shows off Ashley’s detective work as she pokes around the small Oregon town looking for clues. The fact that this sequence of events is compelling is a testament to the good writing at hand. God knows a stuffy, “Who’s this in the picture” and “Why are the children missing” sequence could bore you to tears, but the balance of information, introspection and questioning draws the reader in.
Again, Mike Norton does a fantastic job telling the story clearly and effectively. Like a good storyboard artist, you can see the action move from one scene to another easily. He proves you don’t need to draw in a hyper detailed way, or get too flashy, to tell a story well.
It can’t be perfect can it?
There’s one scene that’s not bad per se, but it feels a bit forced. Ashley hooks up with a girl named Hannah from a bar and the scene opens with them in her hotel room with Hannah exiting the shower. As a new reader I wasn’t sure if this was a main character or, as I think she is, a random hook up. Aside from letting us know Ashley is gay it does lead her to her next clue, which is a bit too convenient. The scene works to deliver exposition and plot progression, but it’s almost as if it was written indirectly so we that we must infer their relationship and what just happened. Why not just show us? It created a bit of confusion on my part at least.
While the issue captures your attention well and certainly isn’t boring, it does have a slow pace. The entire issue is really three scenes in total and in a TV show might last 20 minutes tops. It’s a good ride, but I want more of it!
Is It Good?
Making detective work interesting, especially in the comic book format, is a hard thing to pull off, but this series does it and does it well. The issue opens with a great chase sequence and ends making you want more. A great start to a new story arc!