Mike Mignola and (usually) John Arcudi have done their best over the years to build up the Black Flame as one of the key “big bads” of the Mignolaverse. Unfortunately their best hasn’t been good enough in this case. Sure, the Black Flame was big, fearsome, and had those all-important Nazi connections, but he was virtually a blank slate personality-wise whenever he showed up. Even if he did represent a formidable mystical threat for the B.P.R.D. I honestly found it hard to get excited whenever his next major appearance was teased. So I was hoping that this origin miniseries, co-written by Chris Roberson and Mignola would finally give me a reason to care about this character.
Thankfully my hopes were answered. There’s a bit of a shell game in the first issue as we’re introduced to Sgt. McAllister and Constable Sadhu in British-occupied Burma circa 1923. They’re investigating the disappearance of a little girl, daughter of some British aristocrats, and soon come across the (supernatural) adventuring duo of Sarah Jewell and Marie Lafleur who are on an investigation of their own. A thuggee cult operating out of a place known as the Temple of the Black Flame. Sensing that their investigations are connected, the four team up and prepare to head out into the jungle with Farang, a German drunkard trying to forget his time in WWI, as their guide.
To the writers’ credit, it’s not immediately obvious which one of these characters will wind up becoming the Black Flame… until the second issue. Yet by the time the character’s destiny is forced upon them it actually does feel suitably tragic. We’ve learned about how this person has struggled to make it this far in life and the only reason said individual becomes the Black Flame is because they were trying to do the right thing. Roberson helps sell this feeling with some snappy dialogue that feels era-appropriate and not too exposition-y. After this, and his previous collaborations with Mignola, I’m left feeling that Roberson is a worthy heir to Arcudi even if he isn’t co-writing the next “B.P.R.D.” miniseries.
The art from Christopher Mitten is less effective, however. While he has a good design sense for the era and the supernatural aspects of the story there’s a simplicity to his style that didn’t really work for me. While Mignola himself is a master at delivering simple linework that really stands out on the page, Mitten has a way to go in that regard. Most of his scenes have an unfinished look to them that nagged at me throughout the volume.
Obviously this book is only for those fully invested in the Mignolaverse, like myself. Yet this volume didn’t just succeed in telling a worthy origin for the title character. No, it actually left me wanting a follow-up miniseries to see where the Black Flame goes from here. I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting to feel that way at the end when I started reading this comic.