After the epic struggle depicted in the previous volume, it’s not surprising that Mignola, Arcudi and co. would want to dial things back a bit. They’ve clearly got a lot more story to tell and the kind of tension they’re generating with it needs to be carefully modulated lest the audience burn out on the depressing fate that appears to be awaiting everyone. So backing off on the overall level of intensity is welcomed here. What’s even more appreciated is the payoff we get on previous storylines as “B.P.R.D.” continues to play the long game.
We don’t follow up immediately on the dramatic rescue in Scotland as things pick up with Johann leading a team to Chicago in an arc appropriately titled “Wasteland.” It’s a survival story as the team’s chopper crash lands after being exposed to mutagenic monster vapors and they have to hoof it to the city. In addition to lots of monsters, they encounter a father and son who join up with them only for things to go bad almost immediately thereafter. Most of the story is a game of “who’s going to die next,” yet that’s the least interesting part of it as the characters are so thinly characterized that it’s hard to care about their fates.
Yet it’s the payoff once they get to Chicago that makes this story worth reading. You see, the last time this title came to Chicago was for the events of “The Abyss of Time” which involved one B.P.R.D. member touching a sword and winding up in a dreamworld of a past age. He’s still in the city and the results of his finding wouldn’t be out of place in an issue of “Conan.” Laurence Campbell, new to this title, illustrates these issues and he works in a more grounded, less exaggerated style than other artists you see here. It’s still an effectively creepy one to see in action, particularly when the young boy finds his lost mother.
It’s also worth noting that with the stories here, it appears that Mignola and Arcudi are getting the hang of this whole “ongoing series” thing as opposed to the series of miniseries and one-shots that has made up “B.P.R.D.” until recently. Instead of having to wait for a proper miniseries to advance the main plot, it moves steadily forward here through scenes like Kate and Panya videoconferencing with Iosif of the Special Sciences Service and a Abe awakening in the second arc, “A Cold Day In Hell.” This arc, while not drawn by main artist Tyler Crook, continues on directly from the previous volume as we find out what happened to agent Giarocco after she and her team were rescued. Turns out that she volunteered for a special rescue mission to a part of Russia that has been overrun by monsters.
At least, that’s what she was told. Iosif has his own plans and they concern keeping vampire girl Varvara in check. If you’ve been wondering how she wound up caged in a glass jar since her appearance in “Russia” then you’ll get your answers here as the means of her containment are key to this story. Overall, this two-part story is an effective bit of supernatural action that moves the story forward, gives you more insight into key members of its cast, and is entertaining on its own terms. Much as I like this series, I wish Mignola, Arcudi and co. could do this with every story they tell here.
Peter Snejbjerg provides the art here and after years spent drawing all sorts of weirdness for Vertigo and DC, he makes a fine debut here. That he’s able to draw great monsters and other walking monstrosities should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work. Snejbjerg also has some extra tricks up his sleeve as he pulls off a nice visual coriolis effect at the story’s climax which was appropriately disorienting given the demonic events of the scene. Though it’s clear that the image of Varvara at the end of the first part is meant to be key to the drama, it’s not my favorite image of the character. That would be the scene of the character imprisoned for the first time and looking extremely grumpy about it. It’s one of the rare scenes where she actually seems like a little girl and I found it to be terribly amusing in this context.
Overall, my feelings about this volume are summed up best by Iosif’s final words to Agent Giarocco as he tells her to appreciate partial victories as it’s unlikely they’ll see any other kind. Given that “B.P.R.D.” is steadily marching towards the twilight of mankind, seeing the team come out ahead in these stories was a nice change of pace. Even if it means that they’ve simply got more to lose now. Even so, “A Cold Day in Hell” works on a level that I’d like to see this series hit all the time.