The Hellboy universe has expanded considerably since Mike Mignola introduced his eponymous hell-spawned anti-hero over two decades ago. The series, including spin-off companions B.P.R.D, Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, and offshoots like Witchfinder, demonstrates Mignola’s flair for crossing folklore, historical fantasy, and pulpy fun while opening limitless storytelling avenues for the characters who populate his worlds. Remarkably, Mignola’s yarns never feel stale or rehashed, and he approaches the arcs of even the most minor characters with a comparable level of reverence afforded to his series’ most prominent stars.
The Black Flame, one of the B.P.R.D.’s deadliest foes, has always been one of the chronicle’s most intriguing nemesis’, and has manifested through numerous villainous characters. The skeletal being sheathed in ethereal black flame first appears as an early adversary for Lobster Johnson who is seemingly vanquished at the hands of the cunning vigilante. The Black Flame is later reincarnated into occult enthusiast Landis Pope assuming leadership of the Frogs during the calamitous Plague of Frogs saga. In The Rise of the Black Flame, Mignola, with Chris Roberson (iZombie; House of Mystery) on board as co-writer, reveals once-and-for-all the origins of this captivating character, a villain whose lineage can be traced to an ancient civilization, exposing a flawed human core churning within this mysterious force.
The writing duo deposits their distinguished team consisting of British police sergeant Geoffrey McAllister and constable A.N. Sandhu, as well as paranormal investigator Sarah Jewell and her companion Marie-Thérèse Lafleur in Southeast Asia where they pursue a sword-wielding cult, the “Black Hoods”, suspected of kidnapping a missing girl, the daughter of prominent British diplomats living in Rangoon. Their investigation takes them deep into the jungles of Siam where they uncover the cult’s plan to summon a powerful force referred to as the “Great Darkness”. The team is guided by Raimund Diestel whom many fans will recognize as a troubled man harboring many demons and a significant connection to the events unfolding.
Throughout his career, Mignola’s tales have been consistently driven by bright characterization. His penchant for teaming up unlikely allies crosses age, gender, race, and even species borders keeps his realm richly diverse and inclusive in the collective effort required to battle immense evil. Mignola is masterful at planting story seeds to be explored in later chapters, and his run of origin tales reveals backstory without diluting the characters’ enduring mystique. The same can be said for this recount of the Black Flame, an origin story that feels organically integrated into the annals of the B.P.R.D, a glimpse into the past that provides added depth to a fearsome antagonist.
The art of Christopher Mitten (American Vampire; The Dark Crystal) fits cohesively within the Mignola brand, his style suited to the ever-evolving interpretations offered by other exceptional artists who’ve been recruited for the task. Mittens’ illustration work retains the striking blend of light and shadow as well as captivating architectural structures we recognize from his stellar work on Umbral and Wasteland, two world-building titles that also strongly benefit from his aesthetic. As expected, Dave Stewart’s coloring feels at once otherworldly yet rooted enough in reality for readers to grasp the apocalyptic implications of our heroes’ potential failure.
The Rise of the Black Flame is another splendid example of Mignola’s ability to make irregular characters the focal point of their own heroic tales, and the strength of his world-building prowess is undeniably mighty. The book has everything readers desire and expect of a Mignola property: fearsome monsters, strange occult mythology, and dialogue that bounces comfortably between dime store detective novels and pitch dark poetry. Once we learn the distressing truth about the Black Flame, we realize Mignola has left enough open that we may dare glimpse even further back into the dark ancestry.