Tuesday, November 23, 2010

B.P.R.D. Volume 2: The Soul of Venice and Other Stories (August 2004)

The second volume of Bureau tales offers us five stand alone tales and a variety of creators.

“The Soul of Venice” Story by Miles Gunthier, Michael Avon Oeming, and Mike Mignola. Art by Michael Avon Oeming.

Something strange is going on in Venice and a team, Abe, Liz, Roger, and Johann, are sent to find out what. Using Johann as something of a paranormal Geiger counter, they track the problem down to its source, but from there on things take an unexpected turn.

A solid adventure, it’s the ending that really makes this story. I was surprised to see a sorcerer invoke the Tetragrammaton, the name Jehovah, actually, but I realize that it has been used in occult practices. At first brush I found Oeming’s art a little cartoonish, but I like it. A good story will do that.

“Dark Waters” Story by Brian Augustyn. Art by Guy Davis.

A small Massachusetts fishing town is attempting a little gentrification when a buried piece of its history is brought to light.

This is a very important story in the development of the series, because it was Davis’ first crack at it. The story itself, though, isn’t much. Salem rip off meets crazed, judgemental minister. Ghosts of the dead seek vengeance. It’s a bland retread. When I picked up this trade, I remembered it as being something of a let down. It was this story in particular that I was thinking of.

“Night Train” Story Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins. Art by Scott Kolins and Dave Stewart.

Another ghost of Lobster Johnston story! Another messed up World War II chronology! (Okay. Fine. No time for that in these short synopses.) Johnston faces off with a German saboteur and a train load of G.I.s and scientists plummets off a bridge. Years later Liz and Roger go to investigate the train’s re-appearance.

This story didn’t click for me either. The basic ideas are fine, but it moves alone without ever getting any emotional traction. Kolins’ art doesn’t help either. Roger looks angry all the time, which couldn’t be more at odds with his personality, and Liz is drawn at her most comics-babe-like. It doesn’t really fit her at all.

“There’s Something Under My Bed” Story by Joe Harris. Art by Adam Pollina.

Toys-coming-alive at night has been a staple since, at least, Hans Christian Andersen. Now it’s the Bureau’s turn.

Unlike the previous story, this one was able to pick up on a theme, one that complements both the regular cast and this familiar story idea, and makes it work. It’s the good monsters versus the bad monsters and can the children tell the difference? Pollina’s art is very loose, but it fit’s the story well.

“Another Day At The Office” Story by Mike Mignola. Art by Cameron Stewart.

Abe and Johann lead a team to fight zombies in Moldavia. It’s a short, fun take on a type of monster I personally have never really gotten. The story manages to be both clever and pretty straight forward, hence the title. In hindsight I particularly liked that none of the supporting cast were used as red shirts (no I haven’t spoil anything) and that the locals had polished off most the zombies before the Bureau even got there. If villagers from Eastern Europe don’t know how to deal with monsters, who does?

Mignola wrote this one himself--though he does get a shared credit on the first story. Stewart does a good job, as you’d expect, but I don’t know if he was really challenged by this story.

A few observations:

This book starts with a cast list: Johann, Liz, Abe, Roger, and Kate (in that order). It’s an attempt, I think, to affirm that this is the team. These are our stars, and not that guy from the other book! Kate, interestingly, is described as the Bureau’s “special liaison to the enhanced talents task force.” So the team has a name, sort of, even if it’s a somewhat bureaucratic one. Enhanced talents. It’s odd that the Bureau would have a liaison to members of their own organization. That may reflect the attitudes of un-enhanced members to their own monster squad.

Roger seems singled out for special attention in the first three stories. He’s been the big guy with the big heart and now he’s shown to be a little more rounded as a character. A little more proactive, too.

Finally, there aren’t any introductory comments with the stories, but there is solid sketch book, often, as editor Scott Allie points out, featuring Hellboy. Oeming admits membership in the I-used-to-think-they-were-goggles club. Good for him. It occurs to me that Lobster Johnson does wear goggles. I guess, at this point, someone needed to.

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