This volume introduces us to Ashley Strode, an agent of the B.P.R.D. who specializes in exorcisms. We first meet her as a beginner learning about the practice who then tries to free a child by taking on a demon imprisoned inside a 150-year-old priest. A few years later, Ashley is taking names and kicking demon ass all by herself as she gets caught up in a decades-old mystery involving missing children in a small town. These stories appear to be the brainchild of creator Cameron Stewart who, in addition to providing the art for the first story, co-wrote them both. Ashley’s an appealingly feisty character, particularly in the second story when she goes toe-to-toe with a Marquis of Hell in words and action. Which is good because even with the exorcism angle these stories come off as pretty standard-issue Mignolaverse fare. They’ve got some memorable moments — such as showing us what a demon-possessed goat looks like — but nothing to really distinguish themselves from what has come before. Save for the bright and lively art from Stewart in the first arc and Mike Norton in the second.
Even if the story doesn’t really stand out, “The Exorcist” does manage to distinguish itself in a somewhat dubious manner. Specifically: Why the hell are we getting this as the penultimate volume of “B.P.R.D.?” Had this volume arrived earlier in the “Hell on Earth” cycle, I’d be more inclined to give it a pass as I could assume that Ashley and her demonic encounters would play a larger role in the central plot down the line. With one more volume to go that looks increasingly unlikely at this point. So why are we getting it now? Well, only the second arc was published as part of the ongoing “B.P.R.D.” series. As the first was originally just a two-part miniseries they needed another story to go along with it in order to get it collected. Also, the three-issue second arc may have been a necessary tactic to give Mike Mignola and John Arcudi the time they needed to work on the final arc. Whatever the reason is, “The Exorcist” still reads awkwardly after the build-up to the final conflict in the previous volume. I imagine that’ll be less so once we get the final volume and can go straight to the main event after this okay bit of filler.