By: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
At the top of the cover I see the words "from the pages of Hellboy." For the uninitiated that should be taken to mean "Hellboy not included," as there is no sign of Hellboy in this graphic novel. There isn't even a cameo appearance by Abe Sapien or Liz Sherman. Since my familiarity with this franchise is rooted in the two feature films, that's a tad disappointing. Compounding my disappointment is the fact that I picked up the third volume in a series called "Hell on Earth" (a detail that I think should have been highlighted on the cover), so I was really walking into this story without much of a clue as to what is going on.
If I've got the gist of it right, Hell is basically coming up to Earth to play, and not in a nice way. The B.P.R.D. (that's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) are globally active, and globally overwhelmed to boot, as supernatural occurrences are becoming more frequent and more severe. In this volume subtitled "Russia," Dr. Kate Corrigan and Johann Kraus fly to Russia to help the Russian contingent investigate a series of mutations first found in a mine and threaten to spread if not contained. The Russian higher-ups aren't exactly forthcoming with a lot of info, due in part to their opinions on the encounters the American Bureau has faced in the past with apparently mixed results.
Unless you've been following the series, most of the exposition is going to fly right over your head. It's by virtue of some very eery encounters and key actions scenes that I managed to maintain my interest in the book at all. And Director Iosif Nicheyko proved to be the most interesting character of the bunch, as the leader of the Russian Bureau. A ressurected WW2 soldier, he carries on inside a hermetically sealed suit, similar to those old deep-sea diving outfits, just to keep from falling apart apparently. And even he isn't entirely sure about his origins and how he came back to life. And his true motivations during the investigation aren't entirely clear, either.
It took me a little while to warm up to the art style in this book, with some pages feeling a bit clunky in their execution, and Johann's almost rudimentary depictions. It evens out by the midway point and the horrors the Bureau find are drawn out to very good impact, especially during the big confrontation in at the mine's site.
Fans of the series, should find plenty to enjoy despite the absences of key characters to the franchise, but neophytes like me will likely wind up lost in the morass of backstory.
Guest Reviewer: Gef Fox