The strength of the world of horror brought to the pages of Dark Horse comics by Mike Mignola has always been its characters. From the start, no matter what horrors they faced, it was the characters, both human and supernatural, that took the stories to a level that all could understand and relate to, whether it was battling demons (both literal and figurative) or the struggles between a father and son. In B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Volume 2, with many of the supernatural characters gone or on the sidelines, it is the agents and scientists of the Bureau that get the chance to take center stage in a series of stories deep in the midst of the end of the world.
At this point in the saga that has been the world of Hellboy, the B.P.R.D. and the reawakening of the Ogdru Hem are a frame story for the individual tales of daring and dread, tearing apart the very people trying desperately to save what is left of the world. This has become fairly standard for most post-apocalyptic comics or television series, focusing on the survivors rather than the disaster, but BPRD does it with such a focus on the occult and the horror faced by people, horror so mind-altering that it pushes the ordinary to the extreme.
While the story The Return of the Master has the most long-lasting impact on the series, several others stand out to me as particularly good, all for different reasons. The second story in the volume, The Long Death, ghost-in-a-bag Johann Kraus has to deal with an old friend turned into yet another monster in a long, long line. For Johann, the personal nature of this mission is reflected in how he leaves the team he is supposed to command to search for the monster, inadvertently putting them in danger. The addition of the Wendigo, fabled creature of northern Canada, adds another layer to the continuing mystique that Mignola’s universe has always maintained.
Both The Transformation of J. H. O’Donnell and The Abyss of Time deal with much different types of stories than the typical apocalypse du jour. O’Donnell tells a bit of backstory on one of BPRD’s strangest occult researchers – and that’s saying something. How did Dr. O’Donnell become the odd mystic who quotes books no one has seen in 500 years and what price did he pay for this knowledge? The Abyss of Time takes a BPRD agent out of his time through an artifact, placing him in an ancient world dealing with some of the same problems as the modern. Taking such a detour in story would be anathema in most comics, but in BPRD, any exploration of the unknown is welcome.
As another huge collection of B.R.P.D. comics, Hell on Earth Volume 2 fills a lot of gaps in the story between Hellboy’s death and Abe Sapien’s journey of self-discovery. Perhaps the most important plot points, unsurprisingly, come in the final story. The book, like all in the B.P.R.D. line, does not shy away from the abject horror of life in the world of the Ogdru Hem. What it does do best, however, is show how those who still can help try to save the world, no matter the odds and no matter the cost. It’s a continual lesson for all of us about hope and the ability of human beings to, even in the worst of times, take care of each other.