In the dark days of World War II, Nazi occultists summoned a demon from Hell they believed would tilt the war in their favor. Instead, they got Hellboy, who, after being rescued and raised by an American enclave called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, became one of the world's great heroes. After the events of "The Conqueror Worm," Hellboy quit the Bureau - at which time the characters truly began to come into their own, as creator Mike Mignola and publisher Dark Horse Comics debuted an ongoing series of miniseries starring the amphibious Abe Sapien, pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, spectral Johann Krauss and tough-as-nails Kate Corrigan, among others.
In the second of CBR's series of HELL(BOY) ON EARTH interviews with Mignola, we pick his brain about the dramatic shift in direction that occurred in 2010, as the "Plague of Frogs" uber-arc that had begun before "Hollow Earth," the first B.P.R.D. miniseries, came to an end, with explosions and explosive revelations about agent Abe Sapien, and gave way to the new "Hell on Earth" era.
Whenever discussing "B.P.R.D.," Mignola is quick to point out that most of the story readers see on the page comes from the mind of John Arcudi, with whom Mignola has been collaborating since 2004's "The Dead," the third B.P.R.D. mini. Artist Guy Davis has been on board slightly longer, joining the Bureau with the second mini, "A Plague of Frogs," which Mignola wrote himself. Speaking to the direction of the book, however, and the cosmetic as well as thematic changes between the end of "King of Fear" and the beginning of "Hell on Earth: New World," Mignola said the world of the series is drastically changed from what had gone before. "I don't want to give anything away, but there is a reason we've radically changed the look of 'B.P.R.D.,' the design of it, we gave it the 'Hell on Earth' title," Mignola said, noting that, while the war against the subterranean frog people - over whom Abe Sapien was apparently meant to be king - has concluded, threads of eight years' worth of stories cannot be so tidily wrapped up. "'Wrap things up' might not be the right words, that's gotten us into trouble. Fans said, 'Well, you didn't really wrap things up!' It's all one big continuing thing. So instead of saying we're wrapping things up - because you can't, it's too big of a story - we can escalate it. So we turn a corner and basically we, you know, have earthquakes and volcanos and suddenly a giant monster gets up out of the sea and breathes gas into the air. That means, from here on out, it's a whole other ball game.
"One thing I've been saying to John [Arcudi] ever since the beginning was, eventually, we're going to really start wrecking stuff. And once we start wrecking stuff, it's not going to get fixed," the artist continued. "So where the title 'Hell on Earth' came from is, this is the point when you're going to see things really start changing. You're not going to rebuild Houston. You're not going to rebuild this place; Superman isn't going to fly in and save this island from being destroyed by a volcano. It's an altering world, and mostly not for the better. But I do think the frog thing, which had run the thread almost from the very beginning, the third book, I did say, ok, maybe that thread has hit a brick wall. Let's do a finale where we nuke those guys out of existence. But they did their jobs. We're now in a situation where we have much bigger problems than frog people."
Though the "Hell on Earth" era is being deemed the second major cycle in the story of the B.P.R.D., it will not have a central threat or menace that runs through every series. That is not to say, however, that there is not a bigger picture. "The big theme is going to be breaking stuff," Mignola said, noting that he and Arcudi have already discussed the broad structure of the mega-arc, which was not the case in "Plague of Frogs." "We didn't know where that was going - we didn't have a title for that overarcing structure. We just did stories and little by little it took a shape. As we started talking about how to wrap things up, we gave the thing a definite shape and labeled the whole thing 'Plague of Frogs.' With 'Hell on Earth,' we've had a couple conversations where we said, this happens, which leads into this, which leads to this, which leads to this and ultimately leads to this. So while there's all kinds of wiggle room in there, and there's all kinds of undefined spaces - kind of like the way I plot Hellboy - we do have certain signposts that we want to hit. It's a big story. It's not like it's going to be over in two years. It's a big story, but we have certain, very definite things we're going to do in there."
Perhaps one of the threads that might get some attention is the status of leading field agent Abe Sapien, whose relationships with Devon and other colleagues were strained by the "Plague" finale. The revelations about Abe Sapien in "King of Fear" would seem to put him in a similar position to Hellboy, who was confronted years ago with his destiny to become the Beast of the Apocolypse. But, Mignola said, this does not mean Abe's life will mirror his mentor's. "The character of Abe is very different from Hellboy as far as how they deal with problems. Their psychology is very different," he told CBR. "I had done a couple of not-quite-prophecies - I do tend to write these cryptic things about characters, so there was stuff even in the early 'Hellboys' where there was something about Abe, there must be something special about this guy. But I didn't really know exactly what that was. I was so busy with Hellboy and what the hell my prophecies were going to mean with Hellboy, I didn't really have any time left over to worry about what these prophecies were going to mean for Abe. But, like Hellboy, Abe is an evolving character, and I think it's been great having him as 'the regular guy.' Bringing in his origin that he was a guy, that's great, and that's kind of sad. Because he was a guy, but he's really not that guy anymore. Where he goes, what ultimately he is, you know, that's something we'll see.
"Not only am I being careful not to give it away, but I'm not even sure. That's John's territory. We've had some discussions, and I think there's going to be some really interesting Abe stuff coming up. But all these characters in B.P.R.D. are evolving," Mignola continued. "At no point do any of these characters get the magic pill that turns them back into whoever they were in 2002. The beauty of this stuff is, we don't have to keep Superman, Superman. We don't have to keep Batman, Batman. This book is not meant to go on for 50 years. Because I won't be around, John won't be around. We're going to treat it more and more like a finite series."
Between this year's two main "B.P.R.D." series, "King of Fear" and "New World," Abe took center stage in the two-issue "Abyssal Plain" miniseries, written by Mignola and Arcudi with art by Peter Snejberg. The story dealt with an early episode from Abe's career in which he was tasked with retrieving an ancient artifact from a sunken Soviet ship. Here, too, the story originated with Arcudi. "If John has a story that doesn't fit into the regular B.P.R.D. storyline that he needs to do or wants to do, that's great. Some of these stories also come about because you have an artist you really want to work with, and the easiest thing to do is schedule one of these things. We're going to do at least one more two-issue Abe story, so we now know what the second Abe collection will be, which will be three short stories. 'The Abyssal Plain' was entirely John. We talked about the storyline, and I think I made some suggestions to tie it to some of the continuity with Russia. But that story was about 96% all him."
Continuing on the topic of the nature of his collaboration with Arcudi on the main "B.P.R.D." title and spinoffs, Mignola said he provides "vague directions" which tend to be suggestions rather than instructions. "It really is his book. We'll talk about the direction, and he's a great guy to co-plot with. It's interesting because I kind of hit walls, where I go, 'We could do this,' and he'll say, 'Oh, that character wouldn't do that.' I like that. Because that means he knows who those characters are. I don't want to say he knows more than I do, but in some ways, he really does. Some of the characters he created, but even with ones I created, he's so good with character that he's really made those characters into living, breathing people," Mignola said. "So my role on 'B.P.R.D.' is kind of the big thing - 'Let's blow up this continent! Let's do this, let's do that! Let's have this giant monster get up out of California!' But it's John who decides what that does to these characters. And the conflicts between the characters, and the emotional stuff, and all that. There's a lot of stuff with B.P.R.D. where I'll call up John and say, 'This is cool - what's going on with this guy? And sometimes he tells me, and sometimes he doesn't tell me. But what we've got planned is really exciting."
Mignola also noted that functional details, which can sometimes become significant plot points, are all Arcudi's doing. When the United States government cut off funding for the B.P.R.D. at the beginning of "King of Fear" and when the United Nations expanded the Bureau's operations at the end of that same miniseries, Mignola told CBR, "That's all John. I have no idea how anybody funds anything, I have no idea how somebody gets from one place to another. 'We need to be in Oklahoma!' Turn the page, 'Here we are in Oklahoma!' There never any sign of a vehicle or anything! John is a much more detail-oriented guy than I am. His concerns are much more about the material world, and my concerns are much more the supernatural thing. It's about the monsters and the supernatural function. I'm much less knowledgable or concerned about who's going to fund this vehicle and how this army's going to do this and what the Russians are going to think about this and are we going to piss off the Japanese if we do this... That stuff requires a knowledge of how things really work in the world, and I have very little of that knowledge."