by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie (Writers), Michael Avon Oeming (Artist), Dave Stewart (Colorist)
The Story: As it turns out, Abe had a pretty interesting rescue mission involving Xibalba in 1983.
The Review: Like many readers, I am always a bit wary of fill-in issues. When the regular artist or writer needs a break for whatever reasons, it is usual to see them being replaced for an issue or two, which then leads to stories on the side or to an artist that doesn’t necessarily fit visually with the rest. Those kind of issues aren’t necessarily bad per se, but for those waiting a month to see the plot progress and the characters develop, it can become a certain exercise in frustration.
Thankfully, Mike Mignola and Scott Allie are still there, as they instead provide for a flashback issue with a different artist, opting for a complete tale that puts Abe in a B.P.R.D. mission. However, is the story good and does it actually adds to the general themes of the book?
All in all, this story might not be absolutely essential to the ongoing themes of the apocalypse and how Abe tries to define himself personally, but it still does delivers plenty of stuff that fans of the Mignolaverse might enjoy. There is action, mystery and a good dose of the supernatural that make this complete story rather interesting on its own.
Part of why this issue works is how the pacing leads to a certain focus on ambiance at times, letting the artist work his magic without too much going on in terms of narration or dialogue. Both writers seems to understand the power of tension and how the art can heighten the context and story in ways that can be much better than simple text sometimes. In turns, this makes the visual flow rather flawless at times as every panels put out necessary elements and actions that allow for a small buildup for whichever might happen next in the issue.
In terms of story, however, this is rather simplistic. There are some twists and turns in its premise, yet the moment the action happens, all pretense of mystery is gone to lead to a good old-fashioned fisticuffs between monsters. The Mayan setting and some use of the mythology is rather smart, as it not only connects to the previous story, but it also gives way to a plot twist that is rather effective. It’s not bombastic, but it’s done in a way that can connect to previous B.P.R.D. and Hellboy tales. It’s fun and it can be interesting sometimes, but it end up being rather straightforward as a whole.
Still, an issue can shine even with a standard plot if it’s presented well, which is thankfully what Michael Avon Oeming does. The Power and The Victories artist fills in here, replacing the Fiumara brothers aptly with his more angular and blocky aesthetics. Setting the story with a lot of Mayan architecture makes his inclusion a rather intelligent choice, as the way he trace lines fits in perfectly, with the backgrounds and scenery glowing in terms of quality. Setting the mood perfectly through his progression of events, the way he portrays Abe and his progression in the ruins and underwater made the horror elements look rather great. The action isn’t bad at all too, with the impact and damages being well-rendered without resorting too much to the same stuff, with a good panel flow and without too many pages and panels dedicated to it. It’s swift, but it’s exciting enough to be entertaining. It might be quite different from the usual art that is seen in this series, but Michael Avon Oeming does a really fine job here.
Dave Stewart, of course, lives up to his talent as he is able to bring out the darkest elements of the plots thanks to a smart choice of palettes. Bringing an unity of themes through a selective diversity, he brings forth the grey, dark blue and greyish green particularly well, setting them up as being much more present. This has the result of making other colors like bright red, beige, yellow and others to have a bigger impact on their respective pages and panels, making them rare in order to give them a higher effect. It’s dark, it’s subtle, yet Stewart does not let the colorization be dull for one second despite all that.
The Conclusion: While the story of this flashback issue might be rather simplistic at times, the use of horror, action and ambiance makes for a particularly interesting read nonetheless thanks to the work of everyone involved.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière