Tuesday, 24 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - B.P.R.D.: The Dead #5 (March 2005)

10 YEARS AGO - March 2005
B.P.R.D.- THE DEAD #5 (Dark Horse Comics)
"The Dead"
By Mike Mignola & John Arcudi (w); Guy Davis (a); Dave Stewart (c); Clem Robins (l) & Scott Allie (e)
Hellboy started out as nothing more than a sketch done by Mike Mignola while sitting at a table during a comics convention. He liked the concept and kept playing around with it in his head until it the idea had begun taking on a life of its own. By the time the then still young Dark Horse Comics launched their Legends imprint, Hellboy was ready to roll out. He was a legend from day one. Erelong the character had evolved his own supporting cast of misfits, who were then given their own haul of mini-series as B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense).

But as the legend grew and people began to really take notice of Mignola's brilliant art and kinetic writing, the originator was drawn more and more into other media and away from actually drawing the comics. He had transcended the medium much to the chagrin of fans like myself.

What started as a simple convention sketch had suddenly blossomed out of control threatening to devour the works, not entirely unlike the kinds of stories set in the Hellboy-centric "Mignolaverse". The five-issue mini-series "The Dead" was one of the early ones.

At the time, I was ambivalent towards the non-Mignola Hellboy books. The Hellboy series was capital 'g' Great, when drawn by Mignola. But the stories weren't really all that amazing, were they? I mean, Mignola wasn't even a writer. Why would I want to read a series about a bunch of C-list characters written by someone who isn't a writer and not drawn by Mignola?

My attitude has changed in recent years, I finally got tired of waiting around for Mignola to return to focusing on the artwork. What drew me back in the end, was that I missed the stories.

In many ways, "The Dead" is a typical Mignola story. He's the doom metal maniac's comics writer. His stories are full of ominous suggestions, carefully crafted spooks and large explosions. BOOM. You'll find that word in nearly any Mignolaverse comic because Mignola may be the most H.P. Lovecraft inspired storyteller in existence, this side of August Derleth. Major themes involve that which is familiar being precarious, dangerous, crumbling into dust or exploding into atoms; the world made to devour itself by outside forces in order to evolve into something that seems monstrous to us, but normal to "The Other". "The Other" is often expressed as a malignant force, usually with a swastika band around the arm ... or tentacle.

But B.P.R.D. is the flip side of that expression and that theme is explored in this series with the introduction of a new team leader Captain Ben Daimio. He's basically a normal guy, but returned from the dead after being attacked by ... well that part is left vague but it's fairly obvious what he was attacked by from the large gouges left in his cheek. Being an otherwise normal guy he reacts with naked shock at the team members and they are suspicious of him.

He leads the team to its new headquarters, inaccessibly nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Upon arrival, they soon discover that the facility hides a horrific secret. In the real world, after World War II Nazi scientists were secreted out of Germany and sent to work for various allied governments. The act of secretly shipping out the scientists was called Operation Paperclip. In "The Dead" one of those Nazi scientists has hidden himself away in the derelict research base after nearly destroying it completely and wiping out his fellow scientists in the process.

By issue five his story has been told and his true motivations are unmasked and, in typical Mignola fashion, his flesh falls away to reveal the hideous worm-like being beneath (see picture above).

Meanwhile, Abe Sapien, perhaps the strangest of them all, is off on his own. Abe Sapien is the green-skinned gillman of the Mignolaverse. He's known to be at least 150 years old and no one knows his past before being discovered by Hellboy, not even him. In this subplot, Abe has almost instinctively returned to the place that, it's revealed, was once his home. There, he encounters a being even more "otherly" than him, his long dead wife whose rotting corpse is masked by a beautiful illusion. In the four issues leading up to this finale, Abe succumbs to the illusion's embrace. The Abe subplot really doesn't have much to do with the main plot, either directly or thematically, but heightens the series. It's about an issue's worth of story spread out over 5 issues. For all intents and purposes it's a back-up feature, but Mignola, co-writer John Arcudi and series editor Scott Allie's decision to make it part of the main book is an interesting one, because it allows the unconnected story to break up the pace of the main plot.

I'm just now catching up on what I missed in the Mignolaverse over the course of about a decade of being away. By the way, Mignola actually has recently returned to penciling the adventures of everybody's favorite red-skinned hero in the quasi-regular series Hellboy in Hell.

Well, after finishing the latest B.P.R.D. mini-series is was time for some sounds. It was only inevitable then that the kids of '05 turned their attention to an album that might have made a fitting soundtrack to the B.P.R.D. comic:

Crowbar startled life in 1990 as vocalist / guitarist Kirk Windstein's response to the speed metal bands that seemed to circulate a dime a dozen. Windstein, bassist Todd Strange and drummer Jimmy Bowers loved the fast metal bands that dominated the underground metal scene, particular that in their home town of New Orleans, but they formed The Slugs in order to stand out from the crowd. Before long they had re-named themselves Crowbar and a musical movement was under way. Everybody else was playing fast, loud and rude, Crowbar was going to tune low and play slow.

15 years and seven albums into a ground breaking existence, Crowbar unleashed their eighth studio venture, 'Lifesblood for the Downtrodden' 10 years ago this month. In the grand scheme of their career, it's not the first album you think of when you think Crowbar, but it's better than most of the music that was out there at that time. It was a horrible time for metal. Nu Metal had taken it's toll. A situation that had pushed dyed-in-the-wool metalheads away from riff-based groove and thrash metal into the opposite extreme. Ten years ago death metal dominated in the underground. It must have been harder than ever for a sludge or doom metal band to garner any kind of recognition in that climate.

In the ten years since, the band has only released two more albums, including last year's excellent "Symmetry in Black". Main man Windstein has been busy with the band Down for the most part during that time, but he recently took a hiatus from the southern metal heavyweights to focus his attention back to Crowbar. In fact, he even sat out the recording of Down's latest EP. Here's hoping Crowbar cranks out one more full-length in the next little while before he re-joins Phil Anselmo and co. in Down.

But while those few brave denim-clad souls risked looking unhip by sampling the new Crowbar album and soaking in the Lovecraftian vibes of the newest B.P.R.D. mini-series, it was time for the sights and the sounds to come together. It was time for director Ti West's feature-length film debut The Roost, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival ten years ago this month.

I like this film. It's rough around the edges, but the director's hunger and ambition shine through, pushing a strange and unlikely concept into the area of compulsive viewing. Matter of fact, I'm not even sure what the concept is behind this film. It's about a brother and sister and their friend. They are driven off the road by a bat and must abandon the truck which has been wedged onto a rock. They walk to a farm house but find no one there. When they finally flag down a policeman and take him back to the farm the cop accidentally falls to his death. He is then swarmed over by bats then returns as a zombie. Wha ..?

Visionary direction and a bookend guest appearance by one of my favorite character actors of all-time, Tom Noonan, saves the day. Noonan plays a horror host who it eventually turns out is more horror than host. As always, he embodies the role. Ti West: he's a relatively young director, but if the name rings out it may be because you've seen his excellent House of the Devil from 2009 (also starring Tom Noonan!) or 2011's The Innkeepers or the "Second Honeymoon" segment from V/H/S or 2013's The Sacrament.

As I mention, The Roost has its problems, the story just kind of peters out halfway through before returning to the wraparound segment with Noonan, then returns to kind of peter out once again. It also commits the deadly sin of numerous false jump scares. But these problems are indelibly linked to West's ambition to break out as a major horror director. The structure may seem strange, or even annoying to some I'm sure, but it's inventive, there's no taking that away and whatever other legacy the film has left behind, it did garner West the recognition he sought. To his credit, he's taken his opportunities over the past ten years and ran with them. The Roost is worth seeing and not just for "Ti West completists".

The film was produced by horror veteran Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) and also starred real-life brother and sister Wil Horneff and Vanessa Horneff and Karl Jacob. You can watch it here:


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