No, I still am not reading graphic novels. This is another review by John.
Mike Mignola”s strangest heroes, in their earliest adventures! In terrifying tales of witchcraft and the undead, Abe Sapien, Roger, Liz Sherman, and Johann Kraus learn the ropes as agents of the Bureau For Paranormal Research and Defense! Abe reels with the guilt of surviving a mission that killed more experienced agents, Roger goes on his first adventure with Hellboy, Liz tells the story of how she killed her family, and Johann Kraus dies!
In a nutshell:
John read it in: English
He liked it: Yes
For people who like: graphic novels for mature readers, tales of the supernatural, Hellboy
This is another welcome anthology of short stories featuring the characters of the B.P.R.D. The collection consists of three longish strips and one very short one.
We have encountered references to Liz Sherman’s past, specifically her unintentional killing of her family, and to Johann Krause’s unfortunate demise during the Ghengdhou disaster previously over the period the B.P.R.D. stories have been published, but both were not dealt with in any great detail, and there were blanks in the narrative. This book seeks to fill in those gaps and does so relatively well.
The Liz Sherman story, whilst interesting, is possibly the weakest of these stories in that we see how the terrible tragedy happened, but as the event unfolds it turns out there’s not actually that much to it at all, and the accidental burning of her family does not play the central role in the story that one expects.
Also there does seem to be a lack of emotion at the centre of the story as it is related, with the central harrowing event not having any deep emotional resonance even with the characters. In fact the episode reads more as a coming of age story than as something which mars her life. The main event here is how she and Bruttenholm deal with the haunting of a local community, and is standard B.P.R.D. fayre. This is a world in which magic and witchcraft exist and witches on the whole are a bad lot. The witch theme is often revisited and this is no different as we encounter a witch haunting a local priest in the story. Still, although I feel the key event in Liz’s life perhaps could have been dealt with better on the whole it is well written and enjoyable.
The Johann Krause story for me was much better than that featuring Liz Sherman. I feel this story could only have been written now with the character of Krause having been fully developed over the series. The villain of the piece is interesting, and the story emphasises the determination of Krause supporting the character’s arc quite well. His reasoning for donning the survival suit are both believable and unexpected. The end frame of this piece is a brilliant image that brought to mind the iconic image of the Priest in the Exorcist. The composition of that end frame is quite superb and hints at the outcome between Krause and the villain more clearly than a 5 page story. Absolutely wonderful.
The shortest piece in the anthology - ‘Casualties’ - is a sort of throwaway story, only a few pages long but somehow very satisfying. For me this underlines the title of the anthology ‘Being Human’. The characters are stating the obvious but it has a nice emotional heart at it’s centre. I always enjoy these stories where we are given glimpses of the characters questioning their actions and reasoning it out. These always build on the human element, and enrich the characterisation, and although short, these type of stories are often amongst the most enjoyable.
The last strip features Roger the Homonculus who was killed earlier in the series. I like this aspect of the B.P.R.D. where the reader can revisit characters who have left the B.P.R.D. universe, often tragically. We encounter Professor Bruttenholm in the Liz Sherman story as well of course. I like the way there is no reset button on the death of a major character, it is a breath of fresh air amongst comic books where the reset button is pressed way too often. Usually we find these characters being revisited in their new stories earlier in their timeline way before the events that led to their demise come about. This is the case in this story featuring Roger and Hellboy. Roger always came across as a reluctant hero, and this aspect of the character is underlined here once more. The only problems I have with these sort of stories are the outcome and the fact that there is no consequences for the actions of a character, as if nothing takes place in the real world. Well, this is the Universe of Hellboy so I suppose this is to be expected.
This is a tale of revenge where a practitioner of Voudoun has come to exact a terrible price for the misdeeds of others. It left me with a bit of a nasty aftertaste. Of course denouements in comics are often violent so I shouldn’t be surprised, endings are often throwaway as well with things quickly resolved. I was personally sympathetic to the antagonist and I feel the point of the story, which was somehow to help Roger grow and appear human, although he isn’t, could have been handled a bit better. Sometimes it is hard to see the reasoning behind how these stories develop – probably it’s a sign of the times – but not in a good way.
In the collection overall the writing is a bit of a mixed bag, the artwork is immaculate, of course, with some very beautiful page compositions. For a long time fan of the B.P.R.D. the anthology is a pleasant interlude between the developing major arc. Although I have some minor reservations with one or two of the stories, still, it is certainly the case that the Universe of the B.P.R.D. and Hellboy remains the most detailed and interesting in the comics milieu at the moment, and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes comics aimed at the mature market.
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Have you read this book? What did you think of it? John would love to hear other opinions.