"B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth - Volume 4: The Devil's Engine & The Long Death" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Tyler Crook and James Harren
2012, 178 Pages
Trade paperback released on December 18th, 2012
The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is scattered. Hellboy is dead. Abe Sapien is in a coma. Liz Sherman is missing. Kate Corrigan, the current head of the Bureau, is struggling to stay on top of supernatural disasters that are springing up all over the world and she has a limited amount of agents available to help her. Andrew Devon has been sent to pick up Fenix, the young girl with the ability to sort of predict the future in The Devil's Engine, while Johann Kraus leads an investigation up north, looking into the disappearance of several locals in The Long Death.
Devon and Fenix make an unlikely pair. They're joined by Fenix's huge dog Bruiser as they make their way back to the Bureau headquarters. Planes are grounded because of the volcanos that have erupted in the area, so they're forced to take a train. This is something that Fenix has a bad feeling about. Her powers don't manifest in a clear manner. She can't just see the future. She gets a hunch or feels something in her gut to know when it's wrong. That's the vibe she gets from the train and it ends up being correct. The ground gives way shortly after the train leaves, killing everyone on board except for Bruiser. Fortunately, Devon and Fenix jumped out beforehand, but now they're stranded in the desert and there are monsters in the area ready to eat them alive.
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Agent Devon is loyal to the Bureau, but it's clear that he's in over his head. He admits as much as he's holed up in a train car with giant monsters attacking from all angles. He's a researcher, not a field agent, but he has strong convictions about Abe Sapien, thinking that the fish man is meant to doom us all. This is why Devon didn't do anything when Fenix shot Abe and sent him into a coma back in Volume 2: Gods and Monsters. Since then, Devon has wanted to know why Fenix shot Abe in the first place. Did she see something that can confirm his suspicions?
The creatures that terrorize the area first appeared in Gods and Monsters as well. They are just as creepy here as they were in that book. Picture a giant white crab with razor sharp teeth and hands instead of claws. Artist Tyler Crook made these things look soulless. Their eyes are blank and they want nothing more than to feed and destroy, tearing through a fallen comrade to get to their prey. Because they're entirely white, the blood from their kills stands out on their faces. Colorist Dave Stewart did a great job in making this pop on the page. It makes the monsters that much more terrifying.
All of that was just one half of the book. The rest of this collection is The Long Death, which centers on Johann Kraus. After the events of Volume 3: Russia, Kraus is experiencing new things. He has a new containment suit that gives his gaseous form more mobility and control. After having a dream for the first time since his body was destroyed, he jumps at the opportunity to lead a mission up north to investigate the strange disappearances of some hikers. Kraus has an ulterior motive though, as he believes that Captain Daimio, a former B.P.R.D. agent who had destroyed a previous body that Kraus had inhabited, is up there.
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The Long Death manages to be a very human story dealing with various monsters roaming through the wilderness. Daimio has become something deadly that cannot stop killing, so he's lost his humanity. Meanwhile, the Wendigo now possesses the spirit of a man who was not a killer to begin with and now wanders through the woods struggling to hold on to the last pieces of his life that made him a person. These two creatures are smashed together with Kraus in the middle, who just wants to have a body again, but feels the need for vengeance against Daimio – even if it's at the expense of his team.
James Harren's artwork in The Long Death is superb. He manages to capture the meaningful moments such as when Kraus learns of another agent's new child, and the incredible action sequences like when Daimio decimates the Bureau field agents. The fight scenes are definitely the stand-out pages. Authors Mike Mignola and John Arcudi let Harren breath, which brings in some incredible battles. In addition to Daimio's attack, there's a fight between him and Kraus, who has reanimated a nearby dead body, and the most epic battle of the comic between Daimio and the Wendigo. That brawl is gory and lasts for some time, but knowing what we know about both characters at that point, it becomes very emotional. You have a vested interest in them.
The Devil's Engine and The Long Death are further examples that things are just going to keep getting worse for the B.P.R.D. Mignola isn't messing around with the Hell on Earth tagline. The world is falling apart and the Bureau is doing all it can to hold it together. It's putting a huge strain on the agents and they're going to start to break soon. Now it's a race to see if they can save the planet before that happens.