By Chris Roberson, Mike Norton and Dave Stewart
Big things are happening in the Mignola Universe – particularly in the Hellboy spin-off title B.P.R.D. – which are the culmination of years and years of story building. Faithful readers who have been keeping up are getting terrific payoffs, but that doesn’t mean new readers haven’t been given some jumping on points. The Hellboy Universe can be an intimidating place to dig into, but here with this latest mini-arc we are treated to a single protagonist, Agent Ashley Strode, in a self-contained story. Agent Strode continues to go AWOL on her own isolated missions, this time in a small rural town where an alarming number of children have gone missing. This issue wraps up a 3-part storyline envisioned by Ashley Strode’s creator Cameron Stewart (Fight Club 2), written by Chris Roberson (Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953), drawn by Mike Norton (Battlepug) and of course colored by the unmatchable Dave Stewart (Hellboy in Hell). It’s a great story that takes pause from the title’s usual magnitude as the Hell on Earth story arc itself, apparently, draws to a close. New readers should feel free to take a dip into this universe here, but be warned, you’ll likely get hooked.
For a story with essentially one character, Roberson gives us a lot of dialogue to read. Strode talks to herself out loud the entire time, but its more a character trait than filling empty space. Like so many female characters in the B.P.R.D. comics, Agent Strode shows that she has ample courage while she continues to hone her abilities as the Bureau’s premiere Exorcist. Her commentary, which may seem like nervous chatter, is more likely an inability to contain her self-confidence. After all, she has skills and wits – physical, mental and magical – to match her bravery. No matter the reason, Roberson’s writing is clean and legible with hints of classic Hellboy sprinkled throughout. It’s a true pleasure to read his work and one can be glad Roberson is taking on a larger roll in the future of the Mignola books.
In this series the writing and art are the perfect match for one another. Mike Norton’s drawing style is also very clean and orderly, but not at all stale. He designs each panel thoughtfully and keeps the action moving along whether at the story’s climax or the build up to the climax. You can see what’s going on in the characters’ minds by the expressions on their faces. Even when the scene runs a little long Norton manages to create a diversity that keeps it interesting despite a lack of set changes. Assisting to make it all feel like one cohesive universe is Dave Stewart who can seemingly adapt his style to render just about any artist while making it feel like a Mike Mignola book. Stewart is a master at creating textures and dimension, whether it’s an old haunted house, a dark forest or a simple cave. Each panel gets his full attention, and he never takes short cuts, making Stewart quite possibly the hardest working colorist in the industry if not the most notable. There’s a reason his name gets on the cover of each book – Stewart has more than earned his credits in the Mignolaverse and in comics.
Speaking of covers, Hellboy fan favorite Duncan Fegredo (MPH) steps in to make these books true collectibles. A good cover artist makes you want to check out the comic, but Fegredo’s dynamic art style creates a need to buy the book. He’s made a home for himself in the Mignolaverse and his haunting depiction of Agent Strode’s latest adventure only solidifies that fact.
Although this series’ arc wraps with the 3rd installment, it’s unclear what lies ahead for Agent Ashley Strode. Will she reunite with the B.P.R.D. and continue the fight on a global scale, or will she remain a one-woman army fighting demons on the street level? Will she continue to master the craft of exorcism or has she learned all there is to know? One thing is for sure, if it’s a B.P.R.D. book, then you can count on lots more mayhem before it’s all over, not to mention new mysterious with each revelation. Hopefully, teasing the end of Hell on Earth doesn’t mean ending B.P.R.D. if only because these characters are just too rich with lots of story potential left to tell.