By Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Christopher Mitten and Dave Stewart
Rise of the Black Flame #5 is the final chapter of this miniseries, which explains — sort of — the origins of the mysterious and persistent villainous Black Flame. First appearing in Mignola’s B.P.R.D., then within the pages of Lobster Johnson, this newest mini series manages to connect the villain with yet another title from the Hellboy Universe, Witchfinder. Loyal fans who have been keeping up with each of Mignola and co.’s arcs and titles take great pleasure in seeing loose threads from years ago woven into the lives of other characters. The Hellboy Universe is a spacious place where characters can pop up at any time, mysteries span decades, and clues no matter how revealing can lead to even greater enigmas in the big scheme of things. The Black Flame himself has manifested in more than one person and form, but, although there’s still much to be dissected within any one of those variations, it’s the source of his energy that takes the focus in Rise, and specifically with a cult-like, murderous tribe deep in the jungle. Here in this final chapter we get the closest thing to an origin story fans could hope for.
A mismatched band of explorers, originally set out to solve the disappearances of several little girls, find themselves battling for their lives against the cult. The series itself has been a little too drawn out and, despite some truly scary scenes and a decent enough action sequence, you may feel like this adventure could have gained more ground quicker for even more climatic moments rather than saving it all for the finale. But after you read this final chapter, and the very clever conclusion, you’ll no doubt realize it was worth the wait. The story happens to be perfectly paced, though that comes through more in hindsight than reading one issue at a time. It wouldn’t be the first time a mini series from this crew had more impact as a single read, but, again, loyal fans have come to expect these types of comics. There are more than a few Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, and it’s always intriguing to meet new characters. Fresh faces that survive the ordeal, in which they were introduced by, typically turn out to be important down the line. In fact, the very first issue of Rise planted a seed by introducing a woman who has apparently had a lot of side-by-side interactions with Sir Edward grey, the Witchfinder himself. Assuming one day those stories are told as well, rereading Rise of the Black Flame afterwards may actually allow the reader a wildly different experience. Essentially you cannot read any new material without considering the way it affects the comics and stories you’ve already consumed. This stuff demands rereading, which is ultra fun for dedicated readers. But what does that mean for the new reader looking for a jumping on point? Is it possible to casually dive into this universe or would it become immediately overwhelming? You wont know unless you try, but take comfort that this entertaining mini would actually be the perfect time to test the waters. If it feels new to a long-term reader, then it’s a good bet new readers will be captivated rather than lost or confused. Consider Rise of the Black Flame a suitable introduction.
Thankfully there are more guarantees with Mignola’s comic book world than endless connections to gloriously unresolved mysteries and secrets. Ever since Mike Mignola himself stopped drawing the original Hellboy series full time, Dark Horse has made it a priority to bring on some of the most original artists and writers, who more often than not, are fans of the source material themselves. There are no boasts about having the best of the best and, frankly, they aren’t needed. Dark Horse and long-time Hellboy editor Scott Allie have chosen the most appropriate folks to work on these titles and, besides, Mike Mignola remains at the helm. In this case Mignola teams up with writer Chris Roberson, who has just this last year taken over most of the writing chores for all of these titles. Roberson hit the ground running and has proven more than apt at working within this well-established world. Roberson nails just the right cues, reveals perfectly placed twists and manages to heighten the sense of wonder that comes along with such an expansive playground. In a short time, Roberson has already begun to craft new storylines that were either there waiting to be written or sitting just out of view for years. Though he may still be in the period of earning trust with the diehard fans, it’s becoming obvious that the way Roberson writes these beloved stories feels all at once deliberate and refreshingly original.
Artist Christopher Mitten makes his Mignolaverse debut in Rise, and right away feels at home with the characters and settings. As is the case with Roberson’s writing, Mitten feels both familiar while also distinctly new. It was a good choice bringing him in on a series without the most popular characters, if only to give him a chance to explore a bit before committing to the big guns like Hellboy, Liz, Abe Sapien or the Lobster. Thing is, from this five issue series, it’s clear Mitten is capable and will no doubt get more opportunity from Mignola soon enough. His line work is delicate, and provides a sense of openness without sacrificing any detail. Not necessarily minimalistic, but frugal and efficient all the same. Likewise his layouts are truly considered and inline with Mignola’s signature style. Mitten creates mood and atmosphere a plenty, but it’s those moments mentioned earlier about scary scenes and action sequences where he really shines. His illustrations are expressive and full of personality, which is only amplified when the story peaks. His ability to draw consistently clear images, without losing any interest, is what makes it all work so well when the odds are stacked against the good guys because you cannot help but feel for them. It doesn’t hurt that multiple award winning Colorist Dave Stewart is on board here either. More than just Mignola’s faithful and preferred collaborator, Stewart has both hands in creating what we’ve come to know as the brand identity, and the connective element in all of the various titles. Painterly effects, subtly de-saturated palettes, and the use of color for emotional significance are just the surface descriptors for what Dave Stewart brings to the final product. As beautiful as Mitten’s work may be, it’s the color rendering that brings it home.
Will the search for the temple of the Black Flame prove a successful mission, or is failure imminent? Just what is the powerful energy that gives the Black Flame life? You’ll need to read the final chapter to find out how many of those questions are answered, and what new mysteries may have sprung up. If you haven’t been reading this series all along, well that may not be a bad thing. Grab each issue, read it straight through, and see what you’ve been missing. If the dreaded Black Flame seems at all interesting then rest assured, there’s lots more where that came from already out there. Be warned: you’ll not only find yourself down the rabbit hole, so to speak, but you’ll also see what it is that makes the Black Flame one of the most vile and hated villains of all time. After all, it’s saying something when a bad guy gets his own title. Doesn’t it? At any rate, the twists, connections, hints and clues are intriguing enough to keep old and new readers engaged for a long time to come.