"B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: The Long Death" #1 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and James Harren kicks off another fantastic mini-series with a story focused on Agent Johann Kraus. Like all Mignola's excellent books in the Hellboy universe, "The Long Death" stands nicely on its own for both veterans and new readers, making it a powerful beginning to a must-read mini.
Mignola and Arcudi really pack in the plot for this issue, excellently developing character as they lay the groundwork for a mystery with plenty of intrigue, horror and a few jokes that picks up nicely on a previous Abe Sapien story. The writers' most impressive feat is making readers really feel for Agent Giarocco in a few short pages. It's important work, considering the impact of the ending. Lesser writers might have attempted a heavy-handed cliche to force reader empathy but what Mignola and Arcudi do is more subtle and natural. As a result, the ending has all the more power. I literally gasped when I hit the final pages -- the mark of a damn fine comic.
Harren's art is an absolute dream. It has style and incredible depth while never losing focus on telling a clear story. He finds an emotional center for each character he deals with, however briefly -- particularly impressive considering Johann Kraus is essentially faceless. From character design to landscape, Harren's world building is strong and well constructed. His colors are a lovely slightly de-saturated palette well suited to the book's tone. The restrained palette especially pays off toward the end of the issue when Harren's colors become appropriately garish and aggressive for a bloody battle. The color shift only aids in emphasizing the brutality of the scene, working wonderfully.
"B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: The Long Death" #1 is a very smart comic in how it handles plot and character with gorgeous visuals. Mignola's "Hellboy" universe books are usually very good but this is one of the best I've read in some time. I can't wait to read the next issue.