Monday, November 15, 2010

B.P.R.D. Volume 1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories (January 2003)

Hellboy goes on hiatus, only to be replaced with B.P.R.D., a series concentrating on the rest of the cast. The first trade collects four short stories and a bonus feature detailing the origins of Johann Klaus.

The stories “Hollow Earth,” “Abe Sapien Versus Science,” and the bonus feature are inter-related and I’ll discuss them together. “Hollow Earth” begins with an organization that is still reeling from the departure of Hellboy. Kate Corrigan is struggling to hold it all together. Her boss, Director Thomas Manning, is concerned Hellboy’s resignation will hurt the Bureau’s creditability (remember, unlike the movies, the Bureau and its agents are all in the public eye). Abe Sapien is angry about the circumstances of Hellboy’s resignation, particularly the fact that the Bureau planted a bomb in Roger. He also misses Liz, who, since the incident at Czege Castle, has been in a monastery in the Russian arctic. On top of everything else, Kate has to orientate a new member, Johann Klaus.

Johann was a gifted medium, whose spirit would take an ectoplasmic form during his séances. He was in the midst of a séance in February of 2002, when the Chengdu incident occurred. The Chinese government has kept the details of the incident classified, but it is known that an occult artefact, a jar or container, was opened and, at that moment, the souls of everyone within a radius of one hundred miles, was “seared.” On the ethereal plain the extent of the damage was much greater. The bodies of everyone at Johann’s séance were destroyed, leaving his spirit with no where to go. The Bureau fashioned him a containment suit. As Corrigan puts it, “He’s not dead. He just doesn’t have a body anymore.”

He no sooner arrives than Abe has a vision of Liz pleading for his help. Soon he’s off, with Johann and Roger in tow. They arrive at the monastery to discover it has been attacked from beneath by subterranean creatures. In the previous Hellboy volume we were introduced to the idea of the various ages of man. This book pushes things further. The creatures, led by the King of Fear, were slaves of a previous generation of man. They overthrew their masters, only to find themselves trapped, without the energy to power the remaining war machines. They kidnapped Liz to be their power source.

The whole thing has a very Fantastic Four feel about it. Liz is fire, Johann invisible, Roger is a thing, and Abe… well, he can’t stretch, but he is water related and water is flexible and… well, that may be pushing things a bit far, but not too far. Their first mission is to save the world from a Mole Man stand in, after all.

Leadership within the group is interesting. The normal humans in the Bureau seem to think of the gifted ones as an asset, but also as something less than human. We’re given flashbacks to Liz and Abe’s first days with the Bureau and see the scientists treating them as specimens and as threats. It takes Hellboy’s personal intervention to get them treated with dignity and humanity. Yet, the humans always seem to defer to them when on missions. In “Abe Sapien Versus Science” we see Abe play the same role with Roger that Hellboy had played for him, suggesting, perhaps that Abe is meant to be the group’s new leader, but I don’t think he has it in him. In “Hollow Earth” Johann quickly goes from being very deferential, it is his first mission, to asserting himself more and more. Abe is the Scott Summers of the group: a gifted lieutenant, but not a commander. I think that’s one reason Benjamin Daimo was later brought into the group.

That leaves two stories not connected to the overall arc. The first is “The Killer In My Skull.” This is Lobster Johnston’s very first appearance, though his second appearance was collected into the previous trade. It is pure pulp, and I mean that in the best way. I can hear the lines being shouted out as though narrated by William Shatner: “The BODY never killed anyone! It is the MIND!” Interestingly, there is a character here named Zinco. I can’t believe that’s a co-incidence.

Lastly, we have “Drums Of The Dead,” an Abe Sapien tale. The plot is very similar to “The Abyssal Plain.” Very similar. In this case its about the ghosts of lost slaves. Now I love Abe. Really. I mean, who doesn’t love Abe? But this is a poor story. So poor it got me wondering whether he could carry his own title, which is odd because the Langdon Everett Caul stories are great. Of course those stories don’t require him to be the hero, as such. They’re about self-discovery. It doesn’t help that the artist for the story, Derek Thompson, makes him look too much like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. (There is one Abe story between “Drums of the Dead” and “The Abyssal Plain,” “The Drowning.” It’s much better, but we’ll get to it in turn.)

In this volume Mignola hands over pretty much all of the art chores to others. He does the cover work, the Kraus bonus feature and inks one story. All of the stories are heavily inked, with lots of solid black, to give everything that Mike Mignola feel.

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