"B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - Russia" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally Published as B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - Russia #1-#5, B.P.R.D.: An Unmarked Grave (From Dark Horse Presents #8)
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Tyler Crook and Duncan Fegredo
2012, 161 Pages
Trade Paperback Released on August 15th, 2012
The Cold War may be over, but we can still be hesitant to trust our comrades over there in the former Soviet Union. The Special Sciences Service has its hands full with the nearby town of Rampayeoik. The dead have come back to life and they're building something. This happened after a medium went into the mines below the town and came back changed, presumably possessed by an ancient evil. Since the Bureau specializes in this kind of stuff, it would make sense that they would help the Russkies. This is the latest story in the smoldering world of B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth.
This would be an interesting comic on its own, but what propels it is the fantastic character development that Mike Mignola and John Arcudi bring to the table. Johann Kraus, the medium without a body, is at the center of this story. He's one of the few supernatural field agents that the Bureau has right now. Hellboy is dead. Liz is missing. Abe is in a coma. The comic explores the fact that Kraus is desperate to feel human again. While he can temporarily inhabit the bodies of the recently dead, it's not the same as having an actual body to call his own. His containment suit lacks basic things, like knees. He's practically in a bag. Fortunately, this book gives him some time to shine and to show what he can do out in the field.
Kraus is pushed along a bit by Director Iosif Nichayko, a high-ranking official in the S.S.S. He has a containment suit of his own, but his is designed to hold in liquid instead of gas. Nichayko actually popped up in a previous story collected in Abe Sapien: Volume 2. He was a soldier who was sworn to protect an artifact forever, even after his ship sunk. Years later, Abe relieved him of this duty and Nichayko eventually wound up back in Russia. I love that Mignola and Arcudi were able to tie this back in to the Abe Sapien comic. It provides a great background, and Nichayko is even more interesting now. He plays things very close to the vest, revealing only the pieces of information he feels that people should know. He causes some problems between Kraus and Kate Corrigan as he makes plans with the former without alerting the latter. While he seems charming, it's clear that there's something dark going on in that fishbowl head of his.
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In many ways, Kraus is manipulated by Nichayko. It's clear that the Russian knows what he wants from the Bureau and he's figured out a way to get it. Whether that's information or a favor from Kraus, is uncertain. He has a plan and I want to see more of it. Even his own colleagues don't trust him, so this is the kind of character that's going to make things interesting moving forward.
It's also pretty cool to see how another country handles the supernatural. The Bureau has operated on American soil for ages and has recently fallen under the United Nations to provide more of a global presence after the Plague of Frogs. They're providing help where they can around the world, but places like Russia still have their own operation. It also makes you appreciate what the B.P.R.D. has, as these guys can look a little bush league at times.
Tyler Crook illustrated Russia and boy, did he get to draw some crazy shit. Nichayko is creepy enough. He's like a smaller version of Frankenstein's monster, but in a suit filled with formaldehyde. The spirit that Kraus first communicates with goes through a painful transformation as the monster within breaks the chains that bind him. It's a disturbing sight as this man's body is literally ripped to shreds as the creature wrenches free. There are zombies, melting bodies, and mutants, but by far the most unsettling image in the book is the wall of corpse flesh. Let me say that again so that mental image can really sink in. The wall of corpse flesh. This thing is terrifying. It's a dark cavern made from rotted faces, arms, and other assorted body parts. Oh, and it comes alive when people get too close to it. I get shivers just describing it. It's so friggin' creepy.
It should also be pointed out that Dave Johnson did some great covers for the series. They're presented here as chapter breaks and I'm really glad that Dark Horse included them. To go with the setting, Johnson created images that spoke to the Cold War era propaganda pieces of old. They're all very red with Russian writing in an iconic look. Any of these could have been used as posters to warn Americans of the weird stuff that the Communist menace might have been up to.
Also included in this collection is An Unmarked Grave, a short story set after the death of Hellboy. It's a touching comic where Kate Corrigan meets Alice Monaghan, the girl that fell in love with Hellboy shortly before he was killed in The Storm and the Fury. The two women share their thoughts on his final moments. Kate has trouble believing he's really gone while Alice is looking forward to the world that Hellboy helped save, despite the fact that a lot of it is messed up right now. It's a great comic drawn by Duncan Fegredo, but it doesn't fit well with the Russia mini-series. It's like Dark Horse wanted to include it somewhere and just tacked it on here. It might have been better to hold off and put it with the eventual Hellboy in Hell trade paperbacks.
B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - Russia gives us a look at how another country is handling these world-ending events. The S.S.S. is due to make another appearance in the series soon and I can't wait to see it. I also love the push that Kraus got throughout the book as he has to take on more of a leadership role in the Bureau's affairs. No one else is around to take on that challenge so it's up to him to rise up and help everyone out. Based on the events of this comic, it's clear he's up to it.