‘An otherworldly soap opera in which monsters and bureaucracy do battle’ – BPRD Hell on Earth: The Return of the Master by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Tyler Crook & Dave Stewart

bprdhoeroftmAh BPRD. That sparky little offshoot of the Hellboy universe that started out as ‘a series of miniseries’ and has since become as complex as season four of Fringe. Once upon a time, BPRD functioned in much the same way as the early X Files, with regular monsters of the week and a largely likeable, well defined range of characters (Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman etc). These days? Well, these days each comic – and certainly each collection (Return of the Master collects a pivotal five issue that ran between August and December 2012) – feels like a postcard (or, okay, a series of postcards) from the edge.

You see, in BPRD world, much of the world has ended. The UK, for instance, is no more. Quite literallybprdrotm1 wiped off the map by the kinds of monsters that haunted HP Lovecraft’s worst nightmares. This particular tale (set of tales) opens in Scotland with a worried crowd of refugees waiting to board a transport that will take them to Norway and apparent safety. A scowling dark haired gent gets off the latest transport in and asks for passage through to Scotland itself, which the assembled soldiers seem unwilling to grant until one of their dogs goes a bit barmy and starts attacking anyone with the foolhardy notion of standing nearby. The dark haired gent (who we shortly learn is called Lazar) disappears in the accompanying chaos.

Meanwhile – and you may start to get a glimpse of what reading BPRD is like these days – as the six or seven line intro to the comic suggests ‘the spotlight is on the more conventional agents’. At times it can get a bit like reading a comic about all of the guys in Star Trek who you knew were just cannon fodder. Except some of the cannon fodder in BPRD have been around for a while. Kate Corrigan for example who has now been in the Hellboy universe since 1994 leads the BPRD these days and is surrounded by people she struggles to understand (Devon, Johan) even as she attempts to deal with the latest monster crisis and global bureaucracy. The Russia series introduced us to Director Nichayko (who keeps an unhappy looking Varvara in a jar – regular readers will remember Varvara from her dealings with the BPRD’s titular head Trevor Bruttenholm in 1946 and others), a Johan-a-like with serious mania issues, and it is his dealings with Kate that drive much of the monster-centric action of Return of the Master as a small taskforce are sent in pursuit of the (we learn) rogue Russian agent Lazar in the Scottish highlands where they are forced to battle ghosts and giants and all manner of oomska.

Alongside the highland monsters, there is also a plot to resurrect Rasputin for the umpteenth time (Rasputin is one of the staples of the Mignola-verse, he’s like daleks for Doctor Who), a glimpse of Liz Sherman who has been missing for some time, more of the Johan undercurrent regarding his desire to vacate his sack for a habitable body and, of course, more about Fenix, the strange, grungy oracle who shot Abe (Abe floats in brine for the duration of Return of the Master – but anyone who is following the comics know that Abe is – well, perhaps well isn’t the best word but certainly up and at em now, a far tougher more mysterious creature than he was, a world away from the amusing foil for Hellboy back in the day, looking for answers in the Salton Sea). Fenix too remains an intriguing character, a young girl able to foresee disaster but with scant control of her abilities (not unlike a certain Liz Sherman).

rotm2All told, it reads like a furious blitzkrieg, an otherworldly soap opera in which monsters and bureaucracy do battle. The Return of the Master is also interesting because its climax sees the return or the origin (there is a certain amount of ambivalence about whether Rasputin is resurrected or not) of a powerful villain, a new Black Flame, a sort of Carnage to the previous Black Flame’s Venom. What’s more, subsequent stories – ‘The Abyss of Time’, ‘1948’, ‘A Cold Day in Hell’, ‘Wasteland’, ‘Vampire’ and ‘Lake of Fire’ (and also including the Abe offshoots ‘Dark and Terrible’ and ‘The New Race of Man’) all take place in a world that has yet to cotton on to the fact that the powerful villain (the new Black Flame) is responsible for the mayhem. So The Return of the Master feels like one of the BPRD collections in which the main story is shunted on a fair few inches. The next collection will collect the one shots and oddities that flesh out the main narrative but we’ll have to wait to see the next big storyline to see where it goes from here…

Any Cop?: If you’ve read the 100 previous comics then this is definitely for you. If you haven’t – get outa here…


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