B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know Vol. 2 Review
Editor’s note: this is a review by staff writer Brian Levy. While he does represent Mignolaverse.com, these are his views, and do not necessarily reflect anyone else on staff, or the site as a whole.
This review contains some mild spoilers. Nothing huge, but if you want to go in totally clear, just skip to the last paragraph. All art within is credited to:
Pandemonium is a very successful comic. This collection contains the next-to-last arc before the final story in the B.P.R.D. series and as such, has a lot of work to do. The comics dream team who created this book pull it off delightfully, painfully, dramatically and with levity and heart at the same time. All at once, it comes together in this trade. By the end of it you know, without a doubt that we along with all our pals, Hellboy, Liz, Abe, Ed and the rest have reached the end of the road.
Opening with the wonderful three page return to Hell drawn by Mignola, we start the book off with Hellboy being yanked back to life with the help of Edward Grey and an old friend whose identity I won’t spoil here. What follows is the story of Hellboy’s return to the world, his reunion with his closest friends and how no one, including Hellboy himself quite understands exactly what happened to him for the last 7 years while he was in Hell. Some characters, like Liz and Abe understand the gravity of Hellboy’s resurrection. Others, like the increasingly volatile B.P.R.D. Field Director Andrew Devon have no idea what to do with the returned Beast of the Apocalypse.
The conflict of the arc lies with Varvara, a demon prince in the body of the little Russian girl, now loose in the world, in the process of turning New York City into a new Hell. Having amassed an army of followers, including notable Nazi bastards Karl Kroenen and Herman von Klempt, Varvara’s truly evil, demonic personality is now fully out for the world to see and tremble before. Where before she was a delightfully grey character, she now finds herself primed to be as one would expect a demon lord set loose on Earth to be. It’s satisfying and disappointing all at once. Vavara always seemed to have a spark of something resembling decency to her, but by the end of the last installment and continuing into this one, it’s abundantly clear that she’s an undeniably evil being.
Scott Allie’s writing suits the chaotic clash of worlds of The Devil You Know really well. His characters argue and talk over each other. They get confused. Questions are posed in frustration that aren’t easily answered. The whimsy of Hellboy in Hell meets the military vibe of B.P.R.D., while coming up against the contemplative in between space that Abe Sapien took up. Different tones are all speaking to each other, and it’s as messy as it needs to be and it works profoundly well. The scope of the Mignolaverse is massive, reaching across series, time periods, countries, and genre. That’s always been one of the most exciting things about reading the different series in the first place. Something could be mentioned offhandedly in Lobster Johnson that becomes a key plot point to BPRD. Pandemonium continues that tradition but now it’s all in one book. Everything has finally converged. The individual stories that led up to the moments told in this book were for those sprawling books that came before. This is where it all ends. It’s incredibly impressive.
Likewise, Sebastian Fiumara and Lawrence Campbell do this plot absolute sweet justice. Lawrence Campbell covers the later two chapters in the arc, when everything literally goes to Hell. It’s essentially one big battle sequence. There are exhilarating action beats, tense standoffs, and absolutely shocking reveals and it’s all visually handled with the ever-deft hands of Mr. Campbell. It’s frankly incredible how ranged his illustrations are. He can handle any kind of scene. Everything from simple conversations to chilling horror all the way to grand scale fantasy. It’s all done with a realism that this line of comics had never seen before he came on back in BPRD Wasteland, but any worries that the more true-to-life forms that he draws would somehow scale down and demystify the world the stories are set in are null. What Campbell draws is simply fantastic.
Sebastian Fiumara’s chapters are equally impressive, if the scale is a little smaller than the calamitous final moments of the books. The first three parts are very character focused, made up of character beats and plot table-setting, and the art calls for a particularly expressive illustrator. Fiumara delivers beautifully. In a particularly memorable scene, Fiumara depicts Hellboy, Liz and Abe enjoying some coffee together. It’s a simple scene but it’s a long awaited one, so thoroughly wished for by readers that it would have been very easy to let it be illustrated as something much more emotionally wraught than it is. Instead, he just lets the characters act as they would. The body language is pitch perfect. The expressions are incredibly human. The people at the table are for that scene, just people at a table, despite what else they may also be. Credit goes to Scott Allie as well for handling the actual reunion of Abe and Hellboy. It’s not shown. We see Abe before he finds out and we see the two of them after they’ve hung out together for some time. The actual reunion is left to our imaginations and it feels right.
Dave Stewart’s coloring is masterful. The color palettes, like the plot lines and characters, from all the different ongoing series converge in this book and as the book continues toward its grisly, action packed conclusion, the vibrance of the colors continues to grow. If you were to line the pages up on after another it would look like a gradient shifting from subdued, moody greens and blues while everything is getting set up along to bloody, vivid red, during the big fight sequence, and concluding with a shocking, otherworldly green at the very end when the final twist is revealed. Character informs color. Emotion informs saturation. It’s just so good. Stewart has a feeling for color that is simply unmatched. He is the best colorist in comics, period. This trade paperback should be looked at as proof.
Pandemonium is many things. It’s reunions, it’s conflicts, it’s shocking reveals, it’s final battles, it’s loss, it’s an end and it’s a middle chapter all at once. One thing it isn’t is a good place to start but if you’re caught up and ready to experience the entire Hellboy universe coming together, breathing in, and then exhaling before things get seriously crazy, make sure to read this paperback. It’s really something.