Book of the Month

Book of the Month – B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs Vol. 1 Hardcover
Writer: Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Geoff Johns, Michael Avon Oeming
Artist: Michael Avon Oeming, Guy Davis, Ryan Sook, and others

Size: 400 pages
Price: 34.99

Quite a few years back, I got an email from Dave Stewart, who is, in my opinion, the best colorist working in comics, possibly ever. Dave was listening to the podcast, and knew that we, and especially me, weren’t all that familiar with Hellboy. So he boxed up some comp trades he had and send them along. On the one hand, he probably just wanted to get some ink for the books he’d worked on for so long. On the other, and this is most of the reason, he was just proud of the work and wanted to share it. I was excited to get the books, and I tore through them. Since that time, I’ve been buying every Hellboy and B.P.R.D. issue that came out, and have become an immense fan of the comics born from Mike Mignola’s imagination. It was a good day when that package arrived, and it started something.

I started buying B.P.R.D. issues from the middle of the story. I’d never gone back and read the B.P.R.D. trades, and in truth, it wasn’t a big problem. I knew most of the characters from Hellboy, and could follow along easy enough. Before long, I found myself enjoying the adventures of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense even more than whatever Hellboy was doing at the same time. There’s something about an ensemble that I just love. When the first hardcover collection of B.P.R.D. was released, I eagerly snapped it up, excited for the chance to read through the whole series from start to eventual finish.

In the afterward of the book, Mignola writes that the initial mini-series was a sort of experiment to see if the characters around Hellboy could sustain a story without him, and wouldn’t you know it, they could. If anything, reading this from the start, it seems that the longer Hellboy stayed away from them, the more interesting the characters became. Just as in the fictional world, they all leaned on Hellboy when things got too hot. He could handle whatever came along, and they were all just fine, as long as Hellboy was with them. When Hellboy quit the Bureau, the remaining members had to fill that void and step up. It was then that the true quality of those characters shone through.

And what characters they are. The Hellboy/B.P.R.D. world spans decades and the entire globe. The story takes place both now and then, and we spend time with current and earlier versions of the characters. This volume focuses mainly on Abe Sapien, even divulging key details of his origin, also showing him come into his own as a leader and the guy who gets things done, which had previously been Hellboy’s job.  We spend more time with Liz Sherman, who can’t quite get over her past, but in building her bond with Abe is made stronger and more interesting. In this volume, we’re introduced to Johann Krauss, a being of ectoplasmic energy trying to fit in with the new team. Readers are also treated to Roger the homunculus, who is no longer around. Roger is a personal favorite of mine, and I was so glad to read new (to me) pages with him. I love the contrast in what he appears to be, and how he speaks and acts, like the sweetest most innocent child, who also happens to have unimaginable strength. As always, Kate Corrigan does her best to wrangle these characters and keep them all safe from both monsters and bureaucracy.

The best thing about this team is that they are all competent, and the book isn’t about them fighting amongst each other. It’s about them helping and supporting one another against massive supernatural threats. But their confidence is so quiet and yet so strong. There’s none of the typical posturing we’re so used to seeing from years of superhero comics. Their fantastic jobs are just that, jobs. They care about what they do, and they want to help people, but there’s also a sort of workaday quality to the personalities on the team that I find refreshing. Abe gets vomited on by a medium who has just been possessed, and just calmly exclaims, “This can’t be good.” Off to work again…

If you’ve never read any B.P.R.D. or just wanted to go back and do the whole thing, that’s one great reason to pick up this hardcover, but another very good reason is the line up of talent that assembled to produce these pages. Ryan Sook, in a very different style than we’ve seen from him recently, worked with Mignola and writer Christopher Golden on the first story, Hollow Earth. Then Michael Avon Oeming, of Powers fame, did art on a great tale of an investigation in Venice, where Roger falls in love. The Mignola influence was very apparent in his work, and it’s a beautiful piece. Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins produced a short story with a ghost train and Lobster Johnson that included one of my absolute favorite moments with Roger and Liz, involving a lobster lunch and later some s’mores. Guy Davis makes his B.P.R.D. debut in a shorter issue, before penciling the entire arc of Plague of Frogs, where we see why he stuck around as the regular artist for so long. And as Davis wraps up his duties as the current artist on B.P.R.D., it’s great to be able to go back and witness his beginning.

Truth be told, maybe even more than the characters, one of the things I’ve really come to love about B.P.R.D. has been Guy Davis’ artwork. He’s noted, rightly, for his skill at designing monsters, but what stands out for me is the incredibly effortlessness of his pages, and how good his storytelling is. He can play moments of any size, and that page is his tool to do whatever he wants with. There is a sequence of Abe Sapien walking through his own past, and pages and pages go by without a word, and they are easily some of the most riveting comic book sequences I’ve read in recent memory, both in story, and in how they are rendered. He is a master, and this book is worth the price of admission, if only for his work.

I suppose there’s also the bookends of Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart to appreciate as well. The stories and characters all come from Mignola, who so deftly and surely built this world and controls what goes on in it. It’s such a testament to his talent when you realize how long this story has been going on, and yet it feels so fresh and relevant even now. But not only does he create the stories, but when he farms out work, he chooses such wonderful talent to write and draw in his place. Then on the other end of the process, Stewart comes in and ties everything together with his colors, linking visually what Mignola has created ideologically. There’s no doubt in my mind that without Stewart, the universe Mignola created wouldn’t be nearly as cohesive or appealing.

At the back, there is some sketch and design material from the various artists throughout the book. The most interesting bit to me was a scan of a handwritten script and panel breakdown from Plague of Frogs by Mignola. I’m so used to see typewritten scripts that it was unexpected. But really, it makes sense. B.P.R.D., like Hellboy feels a little handwritten in general. It’s a single world and story, but it exists on little bits of paper, ideas connected here and there, and somehow, it all works, because the right people are making that happen, with Mignola right in the middle.

Retailing for $35, this 406 page volume is worth every penny. I haven’t torn through a book this long that fast in a long time. We’ve got to wait all summer for the next volume, but you can bet I’ll be there when it’s released. If you haven’t, this is the right way to get on the B.P.R.D. train, and even if you’re not up to date with Hellboy, don’t let that put you off. These stories live on their own, they do a pretty good job of explaining what you’ve missed so far. This is among the best in modern serialized comics, and Dark Horse has put together a great package, with a book I’ll be glad to have on my shelves for a long time. What I'm saying is, thank you Dave Stewart.

Josh Flanagan
Roger the homunculus loves lobster.
josh@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. Excellent choice, Josh. You’re not wrong. At all!

  2. Just got done re-reading the first two trades.  Fantastic stuff!

  3. An excellent book. Nice to see Dave Stewart get recognition as well. His work on BPRD contributed as much to the tone of the book as Davis’ pencils. This series started great and only got better.

  4. Sounds good. I’m almost ready to jump on, but just one question; Should you read Hellboy first to get a better feel for the universe or is this something I can blindly jump in on without any knowledge of Hellboy?

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @RocketRacoon  You can dive in. Early on there are some ties to the first trade or two of Hellboy, but it’s not crucial. And it’s not like reading Hellboy is torture either. 😉

  6. Excellent choice.

  7. @RocketRacoon  Read the last paragraph. “even if you’re not up to date with Hellboy, don’t let that put you off.”

  8. Over the weekend I crammed on BPRD and Hellboy via the Darkhorse app.  Hellboy’s really good but BPRD is AMAZING.  You really don’t need to read one to get the other at all.  I’m really kicking myself for taking so long to get to it

  9. @PaulMontgomery  thanks for the info. My first dip into the Dark Horse pool is forthcoming.

  10. Great pick, I’m so pleased with my copy of this book!

  11. Great surprise! I picked this up on a whim yesterday since i had been hearing so much praise from this site and others and now thanks to this review, it’s made it’s way to the top of my to-read stack

  12. Sweet pick, at the top of my list of things to buy.  Now I wish they would compliment this will the release of the next volume of ‘Library Edition’ Hellboy HCs

  13. THis HC was my intro to the Hellboy universe.  I have since gone and purchased every BPRD trade through vol 9 as well as Hellboy vol 1.  Pure entertainment.

  14. I’m definitely planning on picking this one up with my next order (probably on the 18th because Hellblazer: City of Demons and Geoff Johns Flash Omni drop that day…).  I’m really glad to see they already have Vol. 2 in the works as well.

  15. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Sold all my BPRD trades last year and finally ordered this first hardcover today. Really deserves the deluxe format. 

  16. I’m 100% on board with this pick.  I feel like this series is so consistently good that it sometimes falls through the cracks.  Anyone out there looking to read Hellboy or BPRD, don’t be intimidated by the continuity or large number of trades.  I started in the middle and skipped around a bit.  They’re just really great reads.

    Also, Abe Sapien lived in Rhode Island before he became all fishy.  That’s really enough for me to buy it.

  17. Been meaning to give this a shot for a long time now, guess I have no excuse now. Ordered on amazon

  18. Brilliant pick, Josh.

    I have the first four trades and love this, altough I never read Hellboy. Can’t recommend it enough.

  19. I never read any Hellboy or B.P.R.D., but I love the Hellboy movies, would this be a good enough for the fans of the movies? Especially Golden Army?

  20. @SpiderTitan  Yes.

  21. Josh got it right, baby!!

  22. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Just got my copy. Love that these collect three trade volumes rather than the usual two. 

  23. This is a gorgeous upgrade from the trades. I’m all-in for this format for this book, a rarity for me.

  24. How can you go wrong with this? Its amazing.

  25. I jumped on board with both, Hellboy and BPRD where they were in their runs about 3yrs ago and havent regretted it.  Im just now reading the early stuff thanks to the HB Library Editions and this BPRD collection. 

    No one has a good enough excuse not to try these series out. Great comics.

  26. I’m excited to re-read all the Hellboy stuff. As soon as I buy this I’m gonna start working through the library editions and BPRD HC’s

  27. Surely this book is deserving of a Booksplode podcast as well? 🙂 I’d love to hear the others weigh in on it too.

  28. Got this on FCBD for 50% off can’t wait to dive into it!

  29. here’s another book I’m gonna try

  30. Need.
     

  31. I’m going to buy this hardcover now, thanks for the great article Josh!

  32. Just ordered this last night based on the review. Fingers crossed!

  33. If I was giving the ultimatium of reading only one comic ‘verse it would be an easy choice. Hellboy/B.P.R.D/Witchfinder/Lobster Johnson, hell just call it the Mignolaverse would win in a heartbeat. This coming from a guy that loves his superheroes. There is just nothing this engaging (except for some Vertigo) out there.