Monday, July 18, 2011

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Monsters #1: A Comic Review

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Monsters #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art: Tyler Crook

I've missed an issue here or there of Dark Horse's B.P.R.D. series, so I'm not exactly sure why Liz Sherman is hanging out in a trailer park and living with a couple of goobers. But I've never objected to any Liz-centric story, neither this one nor the recently completed "The Dead Remembered" two-parter starring the character as a teen. Liz has always been a troubled and largely unhappy person. Just a guess here, but it probably has something to do with having killed her family via pyrokinesis as a child. Little things like that tend to make one prone to bouts of mopey behavior.

We love her, though. B.P.R.D. stories are full of fanciful freaks like Abe Sapien and Dr. Johann Kraus, but writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi have never neglected the human element. They make Liz darkly fascinating and each new story reveals previously unimagined facets of her spiky personality.

So why is she living in low-rent exile among a bunch of drunks and wife-beaters? I'd better pick up some back issues, or maybe Mignola and Arcudi will reveal the answer in part two. In the meantime, they delve into a setting right out of one of the better episodes of The X-Files, with the supernatural elements coloring the edges until the gory cliffhanger on the last couple of pages. As far as I know, we've never met any of these secondary characters before, but Mignola and Arcudi bring them to vivid life with just a few lines of dialogue, despite tagging them with names like Jubal and Jeb. What the heck is Liz doing there?

But oh holy moley, we've got a live one here in artist Tyler Crook! While the amazing Guy Davis will certainly be missed, the creative team has recruited someone with a similar aesthetic-- a kind of loose, Alex Tothian look, perfectly attuned to the story's trashy setting and to its ominous undertones of encroaching menace; according to Dark Horse, he lists the great Milt Caniff as an influence and it shows. You can't go far wrong following Caniff, Frank Robbins or Harvey Kurtzman. Crook makes each character a distinct individual, with shabby fashion sense and deadbeat body language-- slumped over while carrying a case of beer, thrusting hands in pockets, angrily kicking at a frog in the rain. With a few impressionistic gestures here and some heavy black-spotting there, Crook's art-- much like that of his art influences-- is both caricatured and yet has an almost documentary-like believability thanks to a sharp eye for details such as cereal boxes on top of refrigerators, magazines downturned on the floor to mark the reader's place and beer cans tossed in the corner. This is my first encounter with Crook's art and I'm already in love with it. Colorist Dave Stewart-- a longtime series stalwart-- gives it a subdued palette that serves Crook well, all drab neutrals except for the red of Liz's hair.

I hope Crook has a long, long run on this series. People need to see the man's work! I'm looking forward to part two for that and to have all these intriguing questions answered. Or not, because much as I enjoy what Mignola and Arcudi do with their scripts, Crook's going to keep me buying B.P.R.D. for as long as he handles the art.

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