Now this is interesting. I’ve said before that this title’s biggest weakness is its tendency to put out stories that aren’t immediately entertaining, but set up things that will be paid off quite well down the road. One only needs to look at route Mike Mignola and co. took to get to “B.P.R.D.: Vampire” to see what I mean. “Lake of Fire” almost falls into the same trap, except for the fact that it’s already known that the storyline it’s setting up will be addressed in the next volume, and it does a really good job of building excitement for that event.
In case it wasn’t obvious from the title, we’re back to following up on the exploits of former B.P.R.D. member Liz Sherman. Last seen being driven away in an ambulance in “The Return of the Master,” we pick up with the former firestarter still recovering from her injuries at a hospital. While she’s making good progress, the hospital itself is struggling under a lack of antibiotics to fight off infection in its patients. Luckily their newest physician, Dr. Clyburn, has plans to help them with that. We know he’s legit because a few pages earlier, he brought a dead cat back to life with some fluid he got in the wake of a monster attack in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Kate Fenix tries to make sense of her life by returning to her childhood home only to find that a group of egg-worshipping cultists -- of the same kind encountered by Abe Sapien -- have taken up residence nearby.
Dr. Clyburn is another one of those mad scientists whose experiments unleash new horrors that have to be taken out by the B.P.R.D. The doctor’s kind are a dime-a-dozen in this series and save for his bi-chromatic eyes, he’s not all that special compared to those who have preceded him. Fortunately the story isn’t about this guy, it’s about Liz. Or rather, it’s about the woman finally realizing that it’s time to stop running from who she is and to face what fate has in store for her. It’s a storyline we’ve all seen before, but Mignola and regular co-writer John Arcudi solidly execute it here. Dr. Clyburn and his experiments may be pretty standard-issue antagonists by “B.P.R.D.” standards, but they make for a decent trial by… Well, let’s call it a crucible for Liz to overcome and get back to being the character that we loved from the title’s previous incarnation.
The same kind of thing happens to Fenix as well. Only she’s not faced with a mad scientist, but a guy with some secrets of his own who encourages her to get over herself and do some good in the world before it ends. Familiar sentiments, to be sure, but the writers keep it interesting by playing up the contrast between the ostensible friendliness of the cultists and their actions towards Fenix’s benefactor. I also liked the fact that his fate is ultimately left up to your imagination. More interesting still is the fact that we finally get some background on Fenix herself as well has her precognitive abilities. As is the case with most supernatural gifts in this series, they’re much more of a curse than a blessing.
While these two storylines are going on, there’s also a running subplot detailing what’s going on in the B.P.R.D.’s headquarters. Not only do we find out that New York is utterly cut off by land and by sea (with a nice sequence showing the sea monsters taking out some fighter jets to impress this fact), but the crew gets some evidence that FINALLY twigs them onto the fact that ZinCo Industries may be up to no good. This particular subplot has long been a source of irritation for me as the writers’ use of dramatic irony here has done a better job of making their protagonists look like fools than anything else.
Still, I can’t fault them for the way they build things up at the end here. Not only do Liz and Fenix’s stories finally come together in the end, but so do everyone else’s. This assault on New York is going to involve everyone from B.P.R.D. stalwarts Johann and Kate to supporting characters like Carla Giarocco, who survived the events of the previous two volumes, and Howards, whose mind survived a trip to the past and came back with Conan-level fighting skills. Even though “Return of the Master” involved a ramping of of the global threat faced by everyone, it didn’t involve the entirety of the B.P.R.D. This trip to New York has them bringing pretty much the entire cast of the title onboard to take on one of the biggest threats to the world that we know of. I honestly can’t imagine anyone who has followed the series up to this point not being excited about what’s going to happen next.
So yeah, even if the actual stories being told here are more or less excuses in getting the cast arranged for the next volume they’re executed in a way that really make you want to read it. All that’s left now is to see if everyone can deliver the goods when vol. 9 arrives in September. Based on their record so far, I think they will.