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Monday, October 31, 2011

Death Panels, Part III: Jack the Ripper in
From Hell Leads Comics Whose Stories Go Epic

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 at 12:30 PM

Page 2 of 2

The world nearly ends -- again -- in MIgnola's B.P.R.D. - GUY DAVIS
  • Guy Davis
  • The world nearly ends -- again -- in MIgnola's B.P.R.D.

Hellboy's spinoff, the B.P.R.D. series, contains the stronger ongoing narrative thread of the two. B.P.R.D. embraces the Lovecraftian elements that inform Hellboy's backstory wholeheartedly. Its protagonists (including amphibi-man Abe Sapien, pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, Roger the homunculus, and ectoplasmic spirit Johann Kraus) are pitted against mysterious forces that have unleashed a worldwide plague of monsters. B.P.R.D. manages a massive plot without for a second abandoning its large cast of characters, which would be easy enough to do in this sprawling, writhing story, now spanning 15 collected volumes. Individual character stories combine the mythic and the quotidian. They ebb and flow throughout the series, maintaining forward momentum even while our heroes' world goes to shit around them on an enormous scale.

The Goon (cameo by Tippi Hedren) - ERIC POWELL
  • Eric Powell
  • The Goon (cameo by Tippi Hedren)

Eric Powell's The Goon is pure pulp that's been reduced to certain bare-bones elements and stripped of all pretension.* The Goon is a pastiche, but a pastiche that is executed with skill and confidence. Each issue contains something at its core that is much more ambitious and often more affecting than the material would suggest on its surface, and that alone sustains our interest in The Goon.

The Zombie Priest - ERIC POWELL
  • Eric Powell
  • The Zombie Priest

Powell's hero is a huge, punchy lug who, with his scrappy loudmouth sidekick Franky, is the only thing standing between his city and the zombie hordes that lurch nearby under the direction of the cretinous Zombie Priest, a greedy, grasping would-be mastermind who uses the skin of a human face as top-hat decor. The series progresses in fits and starts. Powell's appealing artwork has a solid, sculptural quality that keeps the eye very busy and fully satisfied even if the stories occasionally get a little weak.

But there are long, sustained stretches of greatness here as well, particularly in the alarmingly emotional story contained in "Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker", the sixth collected volume of the series, in which certain shadowy corners of the Goon's past are illuminated. Namely, we discover how he got his scars, and why he has such a hang-dog, hopeless attitude toward relationships with women. In addition, the later, multivolume story known as "The Return of Labrazio" builds terrific suspense and plumbs similar emotional depths first tested in "Chinatown."

A page from "Chinatown" - ERIC POWELL
  • Eric Powell
  • A page from "Chinatown"

Of the three bodies of work described here, From Hell is the only one that stands finished. The others continue to develop and grow, with issues of Mignola's Hellboy, B.P.R.D., and Witchfinder, as well as Powell's The Goon, rolling out on a regular basis. Significant about the shared "epicness" of these various series is that each author's world is a fully imagined place, where things happen according to well-established rules. That these comics continue to introduce new characters, plot lines, and thematic ideas without nicking the integrity of their fictional universes is the best indication that their endurance is all but guaranteed.


* I'm referring to the kind of pretension that dogs the best-selling comic series The Walking Dead, which is marred by way too much plot that comes from the mouths of characters who wouldn't plausibly have the time to explain so much for fear of their brains being eaten.


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