Monday, December 6, 2010

B.P.R.D. Volume 3: Plague of Frogs (February 2005)

The third B.P.R.D. trade is the first one to tell a single story. Its starts with a professor Derby, Cornell, dropping by a Bureau facility in New Jersey. Recently the Bureau had recovered a mould sample from Cavendish Hall, and, under observation in this New Jersey lab, it has suddenly begun growing at an alarming rate. Its not long before a connection is made to Sadu-Hem and The Temple of New Mysteries, Crab Point, Michigan.

New Mysteries is an interesting name, but only half true. Actually, a lot of it is a re-introduction of ground already covered in the Hellboy trades. Why? Because this volume effectively marks the relaunch of the series. From this point on, while Hellboy is on a journey of self-discovery, B.P.R.D. becomes to engine that drives the Mignola-verse forward. We get a lot of things from Hellboy’s Seed of Destruction: Cavendish Hall, frog men, Sadu-Hem, and even an appearance by Rasputin.

We also get some important new things. Guy Davis is doing the art. From this point on, he will be to the Bureau what Mignola has been to Hellboy. Seriously, if Mignola himself announced he’d be taken over for Davis, the title would risk losing at least as many readers as it stood to gain. This volume is a great showcase for his talent and versatility. We have monsters, including malevolent fungi (who else could draw malevolent fungi?), a variety of cityscapes, from New Jersey to New England, technology, ranging from Victorian to the present, and locations that bring us to the ocean depths. He excels at all of them.

We meet Langdon Everett Caul, the Victorian scientist and occultist who would eventually become known as Abe Sapien. That’s right. Abe is getting his own origin story. It’s complicated, and it’s still hasn’t finished unfolding, but we get to see its start during the American Civil War. In this volume we get the events that led to his abandonment in the basement vault, but we don’t get much in the way of straight answers. For example, as life seems to fade for Caul, he (and we) overhear comments made by his friends. Lincoln has been assassinated. They are all afraid. They mention Booth and Herold, the killer and one of his co-conspirators, and wonder what they’ll say if caught. They also mention Corbett, the man who killed Booth. Either this is all one huge, and somewhat implausible conspiracy, or Abe was there for at least a week and a half before they finally left him.

Caul is an interesting name choice, given that cauls are associated with birth. It’s a part of the placenta that forms over the face. If you’ve read Moore’s A Disease of Language you’ll know that in some areas of Victorian England people who worked on the sea would keep theirs preserved as a talisman to protect them from a watery death.

Re-reading this I know I am seriously underselling this volume. In part its because this is a busy time for me and my head is elsewhere. In part its because I don’t want to give too much of a synopsis, the bane of comics reviewing, and so the details are light. The is a great story in its own right and an important volume in the overall development of B.P.R.D.
Some final observations:

There are a lot of references to earlier Hellboy books. Two I haven’t mentioned are the frogs and Father Nicolas. In the first Hellboy trade a frog appears before the first frog man appears. In this story we also see a lot of frogs along side the frog men. I am not sure why. The ‘frog’ men aren’t actually frogs and other than to serve as a tie back to the previous book, there isn’t any reason for them here. Frogs and frog men don’t, outside of these incidents, usually appear together. Father Nicolas appeared in the second Hellboy trade. He was the priest in the small town that was killed, but later spoke to Abe, giving him a line of poetry that would haunt his dreams and set him off to discover his origins.

For all the well deserved praise I’ve given Davis, I do have one complaint about his work here. Two characters, Professor O’Donnell and Humbert T. Jones, look too much alike. Its confusing on first read.

It was touching to see Roger reading up about Cloacina, given the previous volume.

Circumstances force Johann to find a temporary vessel. Gross, yet very funny. Equally funny to see his Bureau cohorts take it in stride.

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