Saturday, January 8, 2011

B.P.R.D. Volume 4: The Dead (September 2005)

It’s a new year and time to settle back into this project. Volume four marks a new beginning for the Bureau and sees a lot of changes.

John Arcudi joins the comic, completing the creative team of Mignola, Arcudi, and Davis. It’s my understanding that he and Mignola fresh out the stories and then Arcudi writes them.

Ben Daimio joins the team. Daimo is both a former Marine Captain and a former Green Beret, which I didn’t think was possible. Aren’t the Green Berets Army? He represents a new direction for the Bureau. They are now on a war footing. While human, he is the most disturbing looking member of the team, thanks to a horrifying gash from his chin to his left ear. It leaves the teeth in the left side of his jaw completely exposed and evokes both the Joker and Two Face. He’s tough guy. After the incident that ruined his face he was assumed dead and his body was bagged. Three days later he cut his way out. He is brought on as the new Team Field Commander, an appointment that doesn’t go down to well with Liz. For his part, Daimo isn’t too concerned with making a good first impression. The first thing he says on meeting Liz, Roger, and Johann is, “I’m Ben Daimio. Not as pretty as I used to be, but looking around this room, I don’t see how that’s really gonna be a problem.”

The first thing Daimo does is help the Bureau relocate. The frogs are moving west and the Bureau wants to stay ahead of them. The solution: a high tech (circa 1950s) Rocky mountain fortress originally built as the Center for Defence Research and Development and abandoned for some time. It’s quite a switch. From an academic-bureaucratic setting in New England to a vast mountain stronghold. I’ve drawn comparisons to the Bureau and the Fantastic Four before, but this brings to mind a forerunner of the FF, the Challengers of the Unknown and their base in Challenger Mountain. I love the place’s design and decor. The clunky old-school computers make it look just what a SF mountain fortress is supposed to look like. Once at their new home Daimo seems to have a secret, his actions sometimes suspicious, but explanations will have to wait. No sooner are they there than their new home reveals some secrets of its own.

Johann, who is naturally more sensitive to psychic influences than the rest of the team, is suddenly chattering away in German and insisting that they open up the sealed fourth sub-basement. It takes some convincing, but they do it. I had a German speaking friend of mine translate the German text for me, but that was over five years ago and I’ve no idea what any of it says now. In the sub-basement they find Dr. Gunter Eiss, who has been trapped there, living off mushrooms and spiders, since 1958. Eiss was a Nazi scientist brought to the U.S. with the close of the Second World War. That happened a lot. The U.S. used to brag that their Germans were better than the Soviets’ Germans. The difference between his explanation of how he came to be trapped there and the reality of the situation is substantial, as the team discovers.

While this is going on Abe is away on his own journey of self-discovery. He may be following in Hellboy’s footsteps thematically, but his own story is less full of portents than it is of pain. It’s neither creepy nor scary. It’s just sad. He and Kate travel to Littleport, Rhode Island, where Langdon Everett Caul once lived with his wife Edith. Caul was often away, much of the time with his friend Elihu Cavendish. On February 22, 1865 he left home and never returned.

This is a good book. The story is interesting and well told, both as a whole and all in all its particulars, but it is also a jarring reboot for the series. On her arrival in Colorado Liz is complaining about how fast it’s all happening. It seems to suggest there are forces at play that we aren’t being shown. How was it that Daimo was chosen? How did they come to have this new base of operations? Liz raises these questions, but it almost seems like lampshading. Whatever the answers are things are definitely ratcheting up, both for the Bureau and the coming war.

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