Change is afoot for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. As announced at the B.P.R.D. panel at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo after the completion of the current "King of Fear" miniseries, the entire "B.P.R.D." line will get a facelift with the new branding "Hell On Earth." However, what that means exactly and how the final issue of the current series (shipping May 12) will affect the future remains uncertain.
To help dig in to what that means for Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, Johann Kraus and the rest of the team, Mike Mignola returns to CBR for a new installment of our regular interview series, TO HELLBOY AND BACK! In this week’s edition, the team's creator and overseer of the entire Hellboy universe explains exactly what the change in “B.P.R.D.” will mean for the future of the Bureau, how collaborator John Arcudi drives the specific twists and turns of the major stories, what releasing Hellboy from the team changed about the entire franchise, and much more. Plus, Mignola and Dark Horse share an exclusive first look at the final cover for the next B.P.R.D. miniseries, "Hell On Earth: New World."
CBR: We've talked about the Hellboy series and how "The Storm And The Fury" represents the end of this chapter of Hellboy's life, but the way that "B.P.R.D." has come together over the years has been – it seems to me – a little less planned out, though the stories have slowly built into a bigger arc. Did you have some plans for the characters that John Arcudi expanded on, or has the whole thing grown naturally on its own?
MIKE MIGNOLA: It's hard to say, exactly. I think when we did the miniseries that introduced The Black Flame and early when John and I started talking about this stuff, you suddenly had a bunch of new pieces put on the board. Just like with Hellboy when, in the second miniseries, there were a lot of ideas – some of which still haven't played out – we did the same thing with the B.P.R.D. There are a lot of pieces we put on that board, and in my mind they kind of start going where they're going. After a while you go, "Okay, you've had fun. Let's try to tie this stuff together." That's where we are now. We're tying up a lot of stuff so we can start this new cycle of "B.P.R.D."
But also, it's not like we start on square one. We go, "You guys have had some fun so far. Now where are we?" You shut down certain things, and for other things you just say, "This is the direction we're going in." Does that make any sense? [laughs]
It makes total sense.
The constantly fascinating thing to me is that these characters do take on a life of their own and they do go places that I didn't necessarily anticipate. And it's been really great with the B.P.R.D. where I can work with John on this stuff. There are two people looking at these characters and saying, "What does this mean? What does that mean?" I'll throw a lot of stuff at John without dictating too much, and then we'll discuss what characters are interesting to him and see where he thinks things should be going.
We're still not quite to the wrap of "King of Fear" yet, but Dark Horse has teased this "Hell On Earth" idea as what's next. What exactly does that mean for the B.P.R.D. corner of the Hellboy universe?
"Hell On Earth" is not the title of a miniseries. What it is is the next cycle of B.P.R.D. stories. The first cycle, which ends with "King of Fear," is what we'll call "Plague of Frogs." Very early on, the miniseries I wrote myself kind of put these frog creatures on the map and everything else sprang from those things. So now if we close the book on the whole Frog chapter, then "Hell On Earth" is the next cycle of miniseries. And I don't know how many books there'll be to that... probably at least as many as there were that make up "Plague of Frogs." And the actual title of the first mini is "New World," and I think we're following that with "Gods And Monsters," which is a Dr. Pretorius quote from "Bride of Frankenstein." So we introduce a lot of new ideas, but we're also dealing with a world that's been altered by the whole Plague of Frogs thing.
It's hard to talk about because "King of Fear" is just wrapping up, but just like the frogs became the unifying thing that drew together all the ideas in the last cycle, is there something you and John have lit upon that will drive "Hell On Earth?"
Ummmm. I think so. It's not a piece of technology, but I think that in "Plague of Frogs" I didn't know where it was going to go and John didn't know where it was going to go. We discovered where it was going to go. I think with "Hell On Earth" we have a clearer idea of where it's going to go. How long it's going to take to get there, I'm not sure, but we've just begun discussing very definite markers we want to hit along the way with an ultimate goal. This one has a bit more of a spine to it while with "Plague of Frogs" we were two or three miniseries into it before we saw how it was going to shape up.
One thing we do know about what will change is that you'll be redefining how the B.P.R.D. operates a bit and giving a new status quo. Do you then start back in with smaller cases to let a broader mystery build from there?
Yeah. Again, it's really difficult to talk about it without stepping on the toes of "King of Fear," but John is much more real world-oriented. While "Hellboy" has careened into fairy land, John's stuff takes place very much in the real world. He'll deal with things like UN councils and things where... I won't say "I couldn't care less," but I couldn't begin to write about that stuff. It would involve knowing stuff and how government things work. My role is to give a broad strokes approach to this stuff, and John is dealing with the mechanics of how things really work. But yeah, there definitely is a new structure to things. As I said, it's a changing world so because of the things that happened in this "Plague of Frogs" story, you can't go back to a time before it all happened. It's going to change the way government functions. It's going to change the way military functions. People can't say, "Well, okay. We're going to forget about all that stuff with the frogs now." It's just like you can't go back to a pre 9/11 world. Well, I guess sort of you can, but it's happened. You can't not deal with it.
I think that's the beauty of having both these books. Left to my own devices, we'd lose sight the real world all together. Like, in all my time drawing Hellboy I think I only ever drew three cars. [laughs] The real world is not where I function, so it's probably just in the nick of time that John took over so we do see how the B.P.R.D. kept going and how it functions in government and everything else. It's great, but it's not something I would have ever gotten around to doing.
Hellboy, once I cut that character loose from the B.P.R.D., it was a question of, "If I open this guy up and tear out the structure from this guy's life, where does he go?" And the guy just fell off the edge of the map. That's where that character went because of the things I read and the things I want to draw – my interests – that's where the story went.
SPOTLIGHT ON...LIZ SHERMAN
Fiercely independent and also inextricably linked with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Elizabeth Sherman is one of the most important and often mysterious figures at the heart of the Hellboy universe.
Adopted by the B.P.R.D. at age 12 after outbursts of her pyrokinetic ability led to the death of her family, Liz spent years shutting herself down from contact with the outside world. Her more active work as a Bureau field agent only came about after she made friends with Hellboy, one of the only beings alive who had nothing to fear from her powers. However, Liz's tenure with the team has remained contentious over the years, with the agent quitting the organization 13 times only to return to the safety and familiarity of the Bureau months later.
A turning point came for Liz after she'd helped awaken Roger the Homunculus and saw Hellboy leave the team. Traveling to a monastery in the Ural Mountains in 2000, she finally gained a level of control over the flame inside her that had for so long been a burden, but Liz's true trauma was only beginning. Over a series of encounters both psychic and physical with the madman known as Martin Gilfryd, Liz was tapped to be the vessel for the Black Goddess – an entity that could destroy the Plague of Frogs and most of the rest of the world in the process. Liz turned on Gilfryd, burning up the ancient monk rather than go along with his schemes. However, as the final battle with the frogs has raged in "King of Fear," the fate of Liz and the team both remain in doubt.
While she appears on the cover for the "Hell On Earth" kickstart for the B.P.R.D., Mignola and his collaborators opted to speak little on her future until the final issue of the current series ships on May 12.