Reading Comics: Arcudi, Harren, & Stewart’s BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Long Death #3

April 23rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ll probably do a longer post on this subject in the near future, but I’m positively obsessed with how every act of violence in this bit from John Arcudi, Mike Mignola, James Harren, Dave Stewart, and Clem Robins’s BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Long Death 3 flashes orange. It only flashes when depicting specific aspects of violence, though, like in a video game. But the shade of orange Stewart used here reminds me of Jurassic Park and the flies trapped in amber more than anything else. Every comics panel is a specific moment captured in time, but the orange and the context makes it feel like these moments are extra important. They’re preserved.

I’m not sure if it was Harren, Arcudi, or Stewart’s idea, but I’m in love with this effect and their execution of it. Especially the bottom tier of the second page here — that fist swung out wide like a pregnant pause and then the gross, flat “whump.” You ever hear a “whump?” It sounds like a car wreck from a couple blocks away, and a really hard hit to the stomach.

Now to figure out how to explain to other people how cool this is, without just going “look how cool this is omgggggggg.”

You can buy all three issues over on Dark Horse Digital. A-one, a-two, a-three. It follows up on a couple years of BPRD tales, but I think it’s raw enough to stand up on its own. You might miss the finer points, but you should be reading BPRD anyway. Catch up.

(I can never figure out why some actions in BPRD get SFX and others don’t. Extra emphasis, maybe?)

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the devil does not jest, but he might sell you amway

October 3rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Ugh man, I think I should do something I hate doing, so I’m going to give you something I like first and then just do it.

From Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest, written by Mike Mignola/John Arcudi, drawn by James Harren, and colored by Dave Stewart:

I don’t have any real insight or in-depth mind-blowing criticism here. I just love how wet and vicious this fight scene is. Abe embedding the monster in the wall with his knife (look at his hands!), that punch (BAM) on the next page, and again on the page after that… and all the while, fluid is flying like it’s Mortal Kombat. This is the second time I’m writing about wonderfully bloody fight scenes in the past 24 hours (the other isn’t live yet, but I’ll link it), but basically, I just love how this looks. It’s disgusting and visceral.

Casanova changed when it was colored and all of the blood was suddenly visible. It changed the tone of the book. It made it… wetter. This is the same. It’s an ugly fight, even with the John McClane impression Abe’s got going on in page one, and I just love how Abe wrecks these things. The pools of blood on that last page especially. You get the sense that there Abe expended real effort while wiping the floor with these monsters.

Comics: more blood please. More sweat. More fluid. You can save those antiseptic, neat freak fight scenes for the children’s comics that children don’t actually read.

You can buy The Devil Does Not Jest (how good is that title? I thought they stole it from Milton at first) at your local dispensary or buy it on Dark Horse Digital on 10/19. (There’s a schedule, which is sadly free of Usagi Yojimbo but positively flush with Groo and BPRD.)

Okay, this part sucks (for me), BUT–you can help support 4thletter! if you want to. The site’s more expensive than it used to be (thanks to viewers like you, and I guess people on message boards hijacking images), and I’m fine with paying for it, but I do have ways to defray the costs. Long story short, though, I hate ads (see the ugly Project Wonderful ads on display right now, which will be gone once I have enough money to withdraw and cancel my account again) and I like doing Amazon Associates.

AA went away earlier this year, but it’s back, so now it’s back on 4thletter!. (Or will be.) Basically, if you shop through Amazon after clicking on (for example) this link, then 4thletter! gets a portion of the proceeds from your purchase. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and in fact, it’s invisible. It’s low, like six to ten percent, depending on what was purchased. I can’t see what you buy specifically, but I can tell what sells, if that makes sense. I get a report that says I sold X copies of Y, but not who bought it.

You can also use the search box on the right, or click the hyperlinked titles of trades when I write about things. So if I recommend Adam Warren’s Empowered Volume 1 or the Amazon Instant Video version of Takeshi Miike’s 13 Assassins, you could click those links, buy it, and I would get… I dunno, fifty cents? Something.

So, basically, I hate charity. For myself, I mean. I’m not so poor that I can’t afford to host a website, but I’m not so rich that I’m going to turn down free money. I am, however, so incredibly guilty that I don’t like getting money for no reason, which is why there’s not a Paypal tip jar on the site. If you want something off Amazon and order it through this affiliate deal, I’m totally okay with that.

So here’s some stuff you might get a kick out of, if you were so inclined:

-DRC Music’s Kinshasa One Two– This is a charity project for the benefit of Oxfam and the Congolese performers on it. I first took notice because Damon Albarn’s involved in it, but the gimmick is really cool. He and a few friends (Danger Mouse, Dan the Automator) went to the Congo and recorded with actual Congolese musicians for an album of Congolese music. I feel like this is stuff I would never hear if Albarn and them weren’t involved, and I’m listening to it right now and seriously digging it. I may write about it later, I dunno. I don’t know if this is me being all ’80s baby black dude in love with ~A~F~R~I~C~A~ and wondering where his leather medallion went or what, but I really like how this stuff sounds. When it knocks, it really knocks. Here are some samples:

DRC Music – Kinshasa One Two (see http://drcmusic.org ) by DRC Music

-The Criterion edition of Olivier Assaya’s Carlos. Jet-setting, ’70s era, international terrorism crime feature. It’s five hours of style and terror.

-Louis CK’s Louie is painfully funny. I wrote about it back in August after an episode floored me.

-Mellowhype’s BlackenedWhite. Wrote about this one, too.

-Charlie Huston and Juan Jose Ryp’s Wolverine: The Best There Is: Contagion is exactly what Wolverine comics should be like. No nonsense, lots of murder, and filthy nasty. No Angsty Comics.

-When I stop posting on here forever after tomorrow, NBA 2K12 is to blame. Sorry. (Go Hawks.)

Shill shill shill. Sorry. But yeah, I’m not begging, at least not intentionally, and I’m not trying to guilt you into buying things off Amazon when I link them. I’m just trying to be upfront so that you don’t see the little “4thletter” in the Amazon URL and get freaked out or whatever.

tl;dr: If you buy stuff from Amazon after clicking on special magical links here, you’ll help us out. Oh yeah, this only works if you’re in America. If you’re in not-America, your readership is enough, seriously. Thanks for reading all these dumb things I write.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program, which is Gavin writing funny things, Esther writing about Batmans, and me playing video games instead of getting any work done.

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BPRD: Hell on Earth – New World 04 [Exclusive Preview]

October 28th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

As far as ongoing adventure comics go, those series meant to reward both years of reading and capture the new reader while telling the story of a specific set of characters, Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis’s BPRD is the best, bar none. It beats the best of the Big Two easily, and they do it by simply being very good at the basics: strong characterization, building subplots over time, quality art, and simply telling a good story. They know when to let things creep in the background and when to bring in the bits where a guy with twin guns goes up against a two-story tall monster. There are no stunts here and no marketing-based character deaths. Just some fine storytelling.

I’ve written about BPRD before. It was one of the 5 Series I spotlighted this summer, where I focused on how it’s similar to and different from cape comics.

The new series is called BPRD: Hell on Earth, with New World being the subtitle. There’s an unspoken rule in comics that the more colons and clauses a title has, the more likely it is to suck. Not true for BPRD, unsurprisingly. To catch up on the new series, check this thing I wrote on ComicsAlliance bringing you up to speed. If you want to jump into the series, there are a few entry points. It’s actually pretty easy to hop right into Hell on Earth, to tell the truth. The status quo is “The Earth is screwed, didn’t you read the title?” and everyone is reintroduced pretty well in the first issue. It’s not a clunky “The focused totality of my psychic powers” introduction, either. It’s much more organic. But, if you want to start from the beginning, B.P.R.D., Vol. 1: Hollow Earth & Other Stories introduces the series and is a collection of stories. The series changed over into being specifically about something (rather than being short stories) in B.P.R.D. Volume 3: Plague of Frogs. If you’re patient, you can pick up B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs Hardcover Collection Vol. 1, which covers the first two trades (I believe) and drops in February.

Thanks to the kindness of the folks at Dark Horse, I’ve got the exclusive preview of BPRD: Hell on Earth – New World 04. Words by Mignola and Arcudi, art by Davis, colors by Stewart. Here’s the pitch:

Trapped in a massive firefight with a horrific tentacled behemoth, the B.P.R.D. are rescued by another wild monster, while one agent chases the evil responsible for this chaos.

I really like page two, panel five. The exploding Humvee looks good. It isn’t realistic, but it approaches realism through clever cartooning. It’s all short, rough lines. Lots of implied motion in there. That and the ill zoom on page six are great.

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5 Series: BPRD

July 20th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

When someone dies in cape comics, the first reaction tends to be some flavor of, “Oh, they’ll be back. No one stays dead in comics.” Which, okay, that’s fair. Marvel and DC have cultivated a revolving door sort of status quo for whatever reason, and you’re more likely to see someone back than not if they were ever worth anything.

BPRD, though. Maybe it’s due to being a product of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, maybe Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis are more willing to break the toys they’re playing with, but when someone dies in BPRD, whether a main cast member or a random cannon fodder schmuck, it counts. There’s no hand-waving, no cheap tricks to squeeze a few more dollars out of some IP, none of that. There’s just a villain saying “He won’t,” and then someone you’ve grown to love, another in a long line of lost souls, is gone forever.

Having genuine stakes is part of what makes BPRD so entertaining. Batman will never die, Superman will never die, and Spider-Man will never die. Liz and Abe and Johann can and will bite it, or be moved so far out of their comfort zone that we become uncomfortable and unsure. You don’t know what can happen, because people can and will be taken off the board as needed.

BPRD is theoretically Hellboy‘s little sister, but has a very different approach to storytelling. Hellboy always struck me as being as much about the creatures that Hellboy gets into it with, and the mythologies he walks through, as about Hellboy himself. BPRD is about Kate, Liz, Abe, Roger, Johann, and the way that the pressures of their job, which is leading headlong towards some kind of apocalypse, bends them in funny ways.

The cast is really what makes BPRD work. The plots are great, and Guy Davis’s art is fantastic, but I think that the way the characters bounce off each other is my favorite part of the book. When the series kicks off, they’re stuck in a post-Hellboy rut. He left the team fairly recently, and he was in a very real way the sun to their solar system. Without him, they have no center, which means that certain people find their roles have shifted in strange ways after the change. It’s positively melancholy, like they’d just found a hole where there shouldn’t be one.

Over the course of ten or so volumes, you get used to these characters. You see Abe trying to fill Hellboy’s shoes and coming up short. You see Kate trying to keep the BPRD under control and on the ball. Roger is desperate for a friend and imprints on people. Liz is haunted by visions of a toxic future and finding herself increasingly divorced from her friends. The normal humans are overwhelmed and outclassed, but there to do their job.

A lot of the characterization is left for you to figure out. No one explicitly says that Roger is emulating his role models, but it’s clear if you pay a little attention. When Liz goes all wan and sullen, the way Guy Davis shows her cutting her eyes and poking out her lip is crucial. Abe butting up against authority is another clue. No one stands up and says, “I am feeling sad.” The BPRD talk like people, which means that a lot goes unsaid, people say a lot of things they regret, and they don’t always tell the truth. The little bit of digging required to really get these characters makes you even more invested in them. You realize things and it hits you like a bolt out of the blue. “Of course, that’s why this happened and why he said this.”

The story these characters are pulled through peels back like an onion, and you’re right there along with the BPRD. It’s like Lost, if Lost was better written, had dope art, and wasn’t massively frustrating. Only one person has the answers, and he’s more interested in being cryptic or obtuse than actually answering any straight questions. When he does begin answering questions, it’s too late. Answers are pointless at that stage. The apocalypse is here, and no one gets to stop it.

It begins with frogs. The frogs soon turn to monsters, and they run rampant over the countryside, quietly building an army. Another man, a corrupt businessman, decides to get his supervillain on, with unexpectedly catastrophic results. Something that once seemed like a minor infestation was discovered to be more rotten and vastly more widespread than expected. And through it all, the rock of the BPRD, Hellboy, was completely missing in action.

Imagine a snowball sitting at the top of a hill. A push in any direction and the snowball will roll down the hill, gathering mass on the way, until it becomes a problem. When we come in on BPRD, that snowball is already halfway down the hill. The problem is that the BPRD don’t have the perspective needed to see the full shape of the terror that’s coming, and missing that perspective leaves them ill-equipped. They’re playing catch-up, and while they do notch several wins, they aren’t fighting against something that you can just win against every once and a while.

The structure of the series, the sheer size of what Mignola and Davis and Arcudi are throwing at the BPRD, is only obvious once you’ve gotten hooked. BPRD is a juggernaut. Once you get it, once you see how it works, you can’t stop any more than the BPRD can stop what they’re fighting against. You start looking for angles, outs, and ways for the team to come out on top. The snowball is coming down the hill and your head is turning too slowly to actually see it in time. You start to put this together and that together and you realize that, no, things don’t look very good for our crew. But it’s an adventure comic, right? These things always work out well!

Except, BPRD is off in its own little world. It isn’t Superman or Spider-Man. When people die, they stay dead. And really, just when I was getting comfortable, a villain said two words that changed everything and reminded me of just what I was reading. This is the real deal.

That’s something else that works in BPRD‘s favor. Nothing is created or consumed in a vacuum. BPRD is part of a 20-year old franchise that is in and of itself part of a larger tapestry of stories. You cannot separate BPRD from that tapestry, unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid serial superhero comics or adventure fiction entirely. Stories like BPRD, which you could honestly transform into a mainstream cape comic with a few minor changes, have certain expectations. Deaths don’t stick, enemies return, and if someone changes, they’ll be back to normal soon. BPRD bumps up against these expectations repeatedly and to great effect. You think that Liz or Kate or Abe or Roger will go back to how they were in book 1, but no, they won’t. The only thing they’re going to do is grow into whatever shape they need to fill in the next volume.

The key word for BPRD is freedom. Mignola, Arcudi, and Davis, among others, have the freedom to tell whatever kind of stories they want to tell, free of whatever expectations you may have coming in. The BPRD itself is free to act and live and learn and grow in ways that most major comics characters cannot, for better or for worse. Characters enter and exit the book as they need to and in a variety of ways. The cast isn’t static, and people you thought were lifers really aren’t. BPRD is free to push and outgrow its boundaries and become something completely unlike what it began life as.

The format of BPRD clicks, too. The series of miniseries is what I think all ongoing mainstream comics should adopt. Keep Amazing Spider-Man and whatever other series are creeping up on a thousand issues. That’s fine. Giving a character a series of miniseries, each able to stand on its own, but when taken together build up to a monster of a story… that’s the good stuff. BPRD is one of my favorite ongoing series, and the format is a large part of that. There is a clear reading order, clear stakes in every volume, and a slow upping of the ante that leaves you with something like chills by the time you get to the latter volumes.

Eleven volumes is a tough row to hoe, but not when the writing, art, and overall package are this good. This is grown folks’ comics, with the level of quality and cohesiveness that all comics should shoot for. You get invested, you pull the plot apart while the characters do, and in the end, your eyes bug out and your mouth gapes a little and you’re left fiending for the next volume.

(My only suggestion, the only thing that could make BPRD a better comic, is to dedicate, say, four issues to the origin and day-to-day life of the mad scientist up there. He shows up a mere handful of times, but he’s got my complete attention every single time. He’s great.)

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