I’ve always felt that I could count on Dark Horse Comics to give me unparalleled supernatural stories. I mean, no matter what is going on, they always have some of the greatest (and darkest) writers around. Hell, Lovecraft would have read these comics! My one gripe, though, is that it’s sometimes difficult to jump into a series because of all the back story and history that goes into their long running books. Take this one, for instance: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Volume 9: The Reign of the Black Flame doesn’t just have a lengthy title, it’s also got a metric ton of plot lines that have preceded this one. Which leads me to my problem…
I’m not the most consistent reader of all things Dark Horse. Not to say, I don’t read everything I can, but sometimes I miss a few. Unfortunately, in this case, I may have missed more than a few. I went in to this graphic novel essentially blind. I wasn’t anywhere up to date with the series and without any kind of lead in or preface page, I was immediately lost.
Sure, I know who Liz Sherman is, of course. And I knew of a few others from previous mentions, but what had happened to turn Manhattan into a post-apocalyptic war zone I knew not. I pieced together most of it but still left the story with a lot of unanswered questions. What I will do for you here is give you the gist, in as much as I can break the events down without spoilers.
Two teams from the B.P.R.D. go in on a reconnaissance mission. The premise is that they are there to seek information but not engage any hostiles. With the help of a psychic, the two teams hope to return with data that will let them proceed further. Not a lot of background here, just that things went horribly awry. Of course, promptly upon entering the area, the fecal matter hits the proverbial fan. Becoming disoriented and disconnected from one another, the teams force their way into the former metropolitan area seeking safety.
Grotesque monsters, unfriendly fire, and a few neutral civilians/refugees later, we are privy to the main plot piece. Someone had created a kingdom in a very short amount of time, and it’s not really a surprise who (it’s in the title of the comic). Many, many, many fire fights later we get to find out the real reason everything is happening. Liz figures prominently in a lot of this endgame but the vast majority of the other characters feel marginalized. To be honest, much of it felt contrived, like the writers were just drawing it out to take up space. I mean, I liked it…but I didn’t love it. By the end, I was ready for it to be over.
It wasn’t entirely the writing, mind you. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are both exceptional scribes. It certainly wasn’t James Harren‘s art. He embodies everything we know and love about Dark Horse Comics art. Instead, I think it was the disconnect between what was going on and how much I already knew. Maybe I know the characters but what led them to this point and where’s Abe? He was shot in a previous comic, by the way. I just couldn’t get into it the way I normally do.