In Review: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #141

A good creepy ghost story that takes several surprising turns, with the biggest surprise left for the end.

The cover: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth continues to stray from the monstrous tale of world under attack and focus on one character, fighting alone. Ashley Strode stands outside a sinister house, just as she did in the final panel from last issue. Duncan Fegredo with Dave Stewart have created the perfect modern haunted house image. This structure has got everything to put someone on edge: a creaky wooden structure, isolated, no lights on, surrounded by unkempt foliage, and under a full moon. Better, or worse, still, is the front door is open. Articles are seen in the agent’s flashlight beam, but would you still go in? I’ll follow as a reader, not as a participant. Excellent cover. Overall grade: A

The story: Starting right after the cover image, Ashley stands outside the building looking in. She hears a voice, “I hunger. Feed me.” Someone is home, so in she goes and encounters a mess. “This is some hoarder-level business.” As she turns a corner she finds a lot of children’s toys, many of which look recently played with. A noise has her point her gun with her flashlight into a corner and something is definitely there. As creepy as this is from Mike Mignola, Cameron Stewart and Chris Roberson, things get really freaky on Pages 6 and 7. Including these pages changes the tone of the book immediately. Things are creepy going into the house, and there’s a decent scare on 4, but these two pages take things into a completely different and twisted direction. The voice appears again to spur Ashley on to go deeper into the house until she finds “it” on Page 10. What follows this is compelling, dark, and sad reading. When it seems as though things are about to go south for the protagonist, she initiates her supernatural ability on 13. It’s always exciting to see Ashley do this and it’s even better to see whom she’s addressing, and, once again, the writers have it be something unexpected. The flashback pages are excellent writing, building a character both positively and negatively; I always appreciate a story that has me trying to peg a character as “good” or “bad” and ultimately leaving the final decision up to the reader. Ashley’s actions on 19 are completely justifiable, and all seems well until the penultimate panel on Page 21. My reaction mirrored Ashley’s, as did my verbal response to hers in the fourth panel on 22. This is going to be much, much worse. Overall grade: A

The art: One element of the art by Mike Norton clearly puts a reader on the edge: the borders of the panels. They all are a scratchy line, not the clean neat line that a majority of books have. By giving the art this little touch, it makes the entire reading experience messy, which is exactly how Ashley must feel as she moves through this tale. And move through this tale she does. This is a haunted house book, and the reader experiences everything the protagonist does. Her reactions to what she encounters will be the same as a reader (Page 3, panel two; the bottom of Page 5; the bottom of 9; the first panel on 19; the last panel on 21; and the fourth panel on 22). Having a character that emotes as a reader would is the perfect visual way to suck a reader into the experience of the book. The house has got to be illustrated well so that a reader can be put on edge by what is seen. Page 2 is a nicely detailed page as Ashley enters the house, with lots of things to make the journey icky. The image on Page 4 is extremely realistic and had me thinking I was reading Harrow County. As gross and spooky as the art has been, what’s found on 6 and 7 makes things very disquieting. Before the objects are discussed on 6 they’re simply shown. They are too clean and too neat. Worse still is what teased in the third panel on 7. More familiar objects are shown, this time on 8 and their positioning makes the reader begin to dread what the B.P.R.D. agent will discover. What is responsible is a terrific design and wonderfully illustrated; simple, yet an utter fright. The two pages of flashbacks are set up in nine panels and they cover a lot of history concisely and horrifically. The fourth panel on 19 is the emotional outburst that the reader has been waiting for, but the final panel, again, uses a visual to give a silent reaction. Like the story, the reader must make up his or her mind why a character is acting in a certain way. Excellent work. Overall grade: A

The colors: The interior of an electricity-free house shouldn’t have much light. Ashley is carrying a flashlight as she makes her way through the crumbling building, but colorist nicely brightens things so that the reader can see all the details and clues that Norton is creating. The interior of the house is a drab brown which emphasizes the decaying nature of the house. Even her yellow light casts a musty orange glow. Colors become much cleaner on 6 as tiny objects become the focus. Colors definitely sell the thing first encountered on 10. Having the dialogue balloons receive a color other than white is another way to have this thing, as well as another, differentiated from those considered normal. The flashback sequence is colored in browns and tans to date it appropriately. Dave Stewart continues to work his terrible magic. Overall grade: A

The letters: Clem Robins creates dialogue, a character’s unique dialogue, sounds, and yells. This may not seem like much, but in a haunted house, every sound is a clue of things to come. They become infinitely important with each step Ashley makes. It’s neat to see that the first sound on Page 4 has no borders around it — it is several letters on the page, seeming to emit organically. This effect plays in to what the sound issues from very smoothly. Overall grade: A

The final line: A good creepy ghost story that takes several surprising turns, with the biggest surprise left for the end. If you want scary without gore, this is the book to get. Overall grade: A

To learn more about the B.P.R.D.’s previous adventures go to http://darkhorse.com

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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