The War Goes On in the Dread-Filled Return of ‘B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know’ #1

Author: Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Artists: Laurence Campbell
Release Date: July 26, 2017
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Genre: Horror

Rating:
From its inception, B.P.R.D. has been a series with much more genre latitude than any other in Mike Mignola’s universe. Over nearly 150 issues, the story morphed from a Lovecraftian descent into gothic madness, to an eldritch post-apocalypse story, to a boots-level military comic in the vein of EC Horror to a kaiju-versus-superhero smackdown without missing a beat. B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth wrapped with Johann making the ultimate sacrifice, heroically giving up his immortality to save the world. It was a moment that finally paid off 10 years of character development and plot threads, but it also marked the absolute height of the superhero story writer John Arcudi had told and allowed for a dramatic change of tone and style as the world comes back from the brink.

What’s notable most then about the new B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know #1, which arrives in stores Wednesday, is how much that dreary military tone remains. Picking up shortly after the fall of the Ogdru Jahad, the issues sees the Department’s remaining heavy hitters, the reluctant pyromancer Liz Sherman, the rogue exorcist Ashley Strode, the mystically empowered barbarian Agent Howards and teenage telepath and would-be-messiah Fenix scattered throughout a reeling nation, constantly dealing with what remnants of the apocalyptic war that ravaged the country.

The Ogdru Jahads’ corpses loom over the issue, illustrated with haunting detail from Laurence Campbell and even when they’re not on panel, they’re impossible to ignore. B.P.R.D. agents still face the alien children, constantly having to be on guard or face the deadly consequences. Even Fenix, who fled before the end-times kicked into high gear, sees darkness on the horizon and recognizes that the war is far from over.

In that regard, it’s not terribly surprising to see the threat that’s coming. Varvara, the new Queen of Hell is on the cover and her arrival, finding an ally from Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.’s past, is a chilling moment, although an expected one. The threat here is low-key but genuinely unnerving, as the newly unleashed Russian evil is finally preparing to use the power she’s had to hold at bay for years now.

It’ll be interesting to see how, and if, the series focuses on Varvara as a primary antagonist. Up until now, B.P.R.D. has thrived as a series with a Lovecraftian scope, where ordinary men and women were nearly powerless to fight against an unknowable, unstoppable evil. Despite all of her power and her somewhat ambiguous goals, Varvara’s still a demon and one readers have known for a long time. There’s a risk of losing some of what’s made this series so special by putting the spotlight on her, but it’s too early to tell how things will evolve beyond this first issue.

B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know #1 may be a first issue, and a damn strong one, but it feels more like B.P.R.D. #148 than anything else. More than almost any Mignola-verse comic before it, The Devil You Know #1 is a story that expects a fairly expansive baseline knowledge from readers starting at the very first page. That’s not a bad thing, particularly for a series that has often left as much up to readers as it’s actually revealed but it doesn’t feel like a true first issue, particularly one trying to draw in new or lapsed readers. That being said, there’s enough excitement, style, and passion here, courtesy of Mignola and co-writer Scott Allie, that you can’t really ask for a stronger snapshot of the twisted new world order than this.