"B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: The Pickens County Horror" #1 is the start of another excellent short horror story that stands alone but still develops the ever-expanding "Hellboy" universe. This model of two-issue, punchy and dynamically terrifying tales yields wonderful stories told with little decompression or overextension. This issue introduces everything we need to know, lays down every hook and opens the path for more warped moments to follow in next month's conclusion.
The horror of the Pickens County is vampires, who definitely fit the mold of things that go bump in the night. There isn't a lot of action in this issue. Although one flashback with Prussian vampires stands out for sheer crazy inventiveness, the rest of the issue is all about the unsettling dread. The fog clouds vision and disorients characters while shrouding mysterious objects. Although the reader never discovers what's beyond the mist, the issue effectively shows character reactions rather than the exact events surrounding them. We need to be as lost in this mystery as the B.P.R.D. investigators in order for the build and eventual break to have greater significance. This is a horror story built to terrify, not disgust.
The main problem with this issue is that it's primarily establishment of characters, settings and tone. This isn't necessarily bad but it holds the book back from being truly great. You have to invest in this first issue knowing the pay off will come later. Since it all needs to appear here, you don't get as many great moments; they've been shifted further into the story rather than the usual method of slipping more progression into the opening and introducing other elements later.
Jason Latour works every panel to increase the tension and feeling of ill-ease. Much of this atmosphere is built through the eyes of those on panel. Latour shades and creates the eyes to show just where these characters are in relation to the terror. It's a simple technique used masterfully on more than one occasion. The kid's vampire eyes are scary as hell and the old man at the end has some seriously crazy eyes.
"B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: The Pickens County Horror" #1 is a fantastic little horror ditty. Although this issue is all set up, the conclusion comes right in the next installment with the promise of a weirder and better plot. It's not often a book can top itself with the second issue, but these short form tales from Dark Horse give us the entire set up and everything else in #1, allowing #2 to run wild and bring everything together with a crash. If the first issue is any indication, I'll be more than happy to sit down with the finale next month.