3 out of 5
The start of ongoing numbering with issue #100, i.e. when I started to really feel like B.P.R.D. was just another book I was buying, and not something special.
Hellboy was almost always woven with folklore, and so the stretch to Arthurian characters and ghouls and Baba Yaga along with the Ogdru Hem seemed, mostly, in line. B.P.R.D., though, as the ‘ground forces,’ felt somewhat more grounded, taking on the frog plague and battling human enemies (albeit maybe possessed ones) while HB was off cavorting through dreams and Hell. I may never have really gotten on board with whatever Hell on Earth was selling, but the tone implied by that subtitle seemed generally accurate: odd, Lovecraftian creatures wandered the planet. We meet a reanimated corpse, leading the Russian B.P.R.D. Someone turns into a Wendigo. And then in Return of the Master, maybe as a nod to that title, there’s, like, a big ol’ battle with Lord of the Rings orcs and Game of Thrones giants. It’s not very interesting in itself, it didn’t seem like it matched the series right, and it does something that this book has done way too often: the battle is impossible, the heroes have lost, and then something random comes and saves the day. It’s not Liz this time, but she rather humorously shows up pretty soon after. It maybe doesn’t help that Tyler Crook, colored by Dave Stewart, looks extremely streamlined and flat; his style isn’t necessarily fitting for the large scale stuff. (Smaller character work – with Devon, Fenix, Panya – is better suited to Crook’s style, and he gets a lot out of those scenes.)
That said, this battle – led by a Rasputin-lookin’ dude – is conceptually interesting for how it’s baited-and-switched with what’s happening over at Zinco. The rerouting to snatching Johann’s meatsuit body for ‘research’, only to repurpose it as a house for whatever the Zinco head plans on resurrecting, is clever, and makes the eventual reveal there well done. The destruction that immediately occurs in the wake of that is where the shocks are, further rendering the previous Orc battle as just a distraction, for both the characters and the reader.
There’s enough pluses to make this a worthwhile read, and it concludes well, just the big brawling, no-real-stakes antics show signs of the book’s evolution into a regular, average comic.