By Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, Christopher Golden, Geoff Johns, Michael Avon Oeming, Guy Davis, Ryan Sook, and others
This is it. It’s finally, officially happened: You’re out of excuses. Maybe the original concept never appealed to you or maybe after hearing for years about the originality and superb quality, the thought of trying to jump into a whole universe of hundreds of issues of established characters and events was far too daunting a task. Maybe you saw the movies and thought that would be enough. Maybe you were content to simply stick with the tried and true Big Two super heroics, but give a knowing nod when others sang the praises of Mignola’s unique, atmospheric and heartfelt tales. ‘It’s too late to start’, ‘what order are all these things supposed to be read in?’ or ‘the big collections seem so pricey’ were all valid, if not misguided, reasons to put off the worthwhile and mind-opening dive into the Mignolaverse. But here we are. With the release of B.P.R.D: Plague of Frogs volume 1 trade paperback and it’s 408 page count and $19.99 price tag, there can be no more excuses. Buy this book, devour it and relish one of the most satisfying comic reading experiences available.
Talent-wise, this collection is overflowing with some of the best creators working today and all contribute their own wonderful individual quirks to the Hellboy mythos. Of course, it’s Mike Mignola at the helm throughout, steering each and every story along the river that was borne from his imagination, but by handing over the down and dirty reins to the likes of Ryan Sook, Michael Avon Oeming, Cameron Stewart, Scott Kolins, Adam Pollina, Geoff Johns, and Guy Davis there’s a fresh breath of air each time you turn the page. Amazingly, it never once feels disjointed or discordant. It all fits and all feels like it’s moving together towards the same shared goal. It’s an orchestra of paranormal proportions directed by the Hellboy maestro himself and yet Hellboy is nowhere to be found. Instead the plethora of ideas found within this tome focus on the former supporting cast members of his solo title, now fleshed out (or scaled out or spirited out, as the case may be) and every bit as engrossing as the big red guy ever was.
Upon opening the cover, you’ll be greeted to a quick line-up and bio of each of the B.P.R.D players: Abe Sapien, amphibious agent unsure of his origins; Roger, a homunculus with an endearing joie de vie; Liz Sherman, pyrokinetic recently coping to put her traumatic past behind her; Johann Krauss, a former medium now ectoplasmic entity inhabiting a specialized suit; and Kate Corrigan, Director of Field Ops. And with that, we’re off and running into the blue-collar work of this occult police task force. Reading through each of the eleven tales (of varying lengths) what becomes apparent quickly is how fantastically human each of these characters are. Despite their monstrous appearances or abilities, each and every one of them is relatable as they struggle to deal with change, loss, identity and fear. What they often find themselves up against is just how monstrous most of humanity can be; both in the form of wayward glances from everyday townsfolk as well as the ill-intentioned villains they need to take down. They’re a team that cares about each other and doing the right thing in the face of unabashed evil. Whether it’s a lesson in how to make a s’more or a comforting hand placed on a shoulder or sharing the details of bad dream over a cup of coffee, the relationships built between these bizarre characters are the foundation for every cryptic, demon-riddled, frog-monster hunting adventure. There’s surprising amounts of humor and levity to balance out the moody darkness and what might appear on the surface to be a very horror-driven book reveals itself as a having tremendous heart. Don’t worry though, it’s only as mushy as the rotting, fungus-controlled corpses allow it to be.
Technically, this omnibus is a paperback version of the hardcover released in 2011 and collects the first three trades of B.P.R.D, which include the teams first ever Hellboy-less adventure Hollow Earth and bookends with the titular five chapter Plague of Frogs with a healthy dose of shorter tales like Drums of the Dead and The Soul of Venice. There’s not a dud among them and while art-styles may vary between the Mignola-inspired heavy and blocky Ryan Sook and the almost Crumb-like Derek Thompson, each flows into the other seamlessly. Requiring specific attention is Guy Davis, who would go on to be the series’ sole artist for years. His style is more akin to Jeff Lemire or Matt Kindt than it is to Mignola, and yet his loose pencils and knack for creature design make him the perfect artist for this book. Honestly, Davis injects so much emotion into his storytelling that you’ll find your face within an inch of the page without realizing it had drawn you in so close. There is a fourteen-page sequence with no dialogue that features Abe Sapien reliving his past that should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand how to effectively tell a story. Not just a comic-book story; any type of story. It is thoroughly riveting and underscores the mastery of skills Guy Davis brings to the séance table.
Dave Stewart is deservedly synonymous with Hellboy at this point and his shelves long ago broken under the weight of his Eisner Awards. Stewart is as responsible for the look and tone of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. as Mignola is and this omnibus is a tremendous showcase of why that is. Working with multiple artists, Stewart can on one page give a sepia-infused page the proper Victorian feel while on the next allow murky blues and greens instill a spooky serenity only to turn another page and find a pitch-black cavern revealing only torch-lit glimmers of objects and textures. Dave Stewart is the finest restaurant you’ll ever eat at, providing exactly the right ambiance for the meal that’s being served.
In addition to all of the meaty goodness that are the stories themselves, this collection also includes dozens of pages of extra content including a revealing afterword from Mike Mignola, tons of sketches from multiple artists and perhaps most intriguing, an excerpt from a handwritten (!) script from Mignola. It’s all great stuff and worthy of spending time with to gain insight into the thought processes involved in making this omnibus as engrossing as it is.
There is no barrier to entry with this book. You do not need to have read Hellboy to enjoy B.P.R.D: Plague of Frogs volume 1. Everything here is presented in chronological order. We’re talking about hundreds of pages for a steal of a price. B.P.R.D. is everything you’ve heard it was and undoubtedly more. It’s not solely a horror book, just filled with fully realized human characters dealing with the horrors of the job. This is an experience all its own and one all comic book fans need to embark on, lest they float as aimlessly as Abe, awash in a sea of the familiar yet unknowable, feeling wholly unfulfilled. So, what’s your excuse?