Graphic Novel Reviews: Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson

[So sue me, I didn’t post about these in my last post as I said I would, but here they are now…]

Hellboy is experiencing a surge in interest and popularity due to the new (and I’ve heard fantastic) movie Hellboy II: The Golden Army directed by Guillermo Del Toro which was released on July 11th. Now, I’ve been a Hellboy fan for quite a few years now, and really did enjoy the first movie since it distilled the basic story-arc of the first few graphic novels very well (and I’ll let it go that that they had Hellboy and Liz start a romance because it does kind of make sense in a weird way), so I am anxiously waiting to see the second movie. But until then, I’ve had new Hellboy and B.P.R.D. installments to read, as well as the trade of the new spin-off series, Lobster Johnson.

Hellboy vol. 8: Darkness Calls by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fregedo
Since Hellboy left the B.P.R.D. in Conqueror Worm (Hellboy vol. 5), I’ve found the series to be somewhat adrift. Hellboy’s various adventures in Africa and underwater, collected in Strange Places (Hellboy vol. 6), and the next volume, The Troll Witch and Other Stories (Hellboy vol. 7) which collected a variety of Hellboy’s previously published adventures, simply never felt up to par compared with the epic storytelling of volumes 1-5. That being said, Darkness Calls feels like the series is getting back on track.

Part of what makes this happen are the recurring references to major elements of the Hellboy storyline, including the return of the Baba Yaga who seeks revenge on Hellboy for shooting out her eye; Hellboy’s apocalyptic destiny; the goddess Hecate; the spirit of Rasputin; other members of the B.P.R.D.; and an absolutely fantastic plot. Unlike the past two volumes which have been made up of shorter stories, Darkness Calls is a whole story arc, which allows for the level of richness I’ve come to expect from Hellboy. Steeped in Russian mythology, with plot elements that harken back to the beginning of the series, an epic battle between Hellboy and immortal soldier Koshchei the Deathless, and, of course, plenty of the regular Hellboy horror, fantasy, and humor, Darkness Calls is a return to form for the series.

B.P.R.D. vol. 8: Killing Ground by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis
It’s amazing that in the few years that Liz, Abe, Johann and the other members of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense have had their own series sans Hellboy that they’ve released just as many trades as the Hellboy series. Like volumes 6 and 7 of Hellboy, this volume falls somewhat short of what I was hoping it would be, if only because the storyline strays from the apocalyptic battle with the frogs, frogmen, and the epic otherworldly nastiness they herald. In the same vein as how I only really liked X-Files episodes that dealt with the alien invasion and finding Mulder’s sister, this installment is more of a “character development” arc and deals with the history, and unfortunately the death, of Captain Benjamin Daimio.

While I did not feel quite as upset by his death as when Roger the Homunculous died, he was still an intriguing character, though this volume explored much of history in depth, so perhaps it was time for him to go. The strongest aspects of this volume are the humor created by Johann’s spirit form being contained in a giant synthetic human body (and his subsequent attempts to satiate his repressed libido) and the continuing revelations of Liz’s link to the mysterious evil man that seems to exist in her head and the impending doom he portends and is somehow connected to the frog/frogmen phenomena.

Lobster Johnson vol. 1: The Iron Prometheus by Mike Mignola and Jason Armstrong
I’ve found the various references to Lobster Johnson throughout Hellboy and B.P.R.D. intriguing, so it is unfortunate how disappointing this trade is. The writing just isn’t as strong as on either of the other two series, and as a result the story is rather flat. Set in the late 1930s, it has a slightly more pulp/noir feel than the series it has sprung from and features gangsters, Nazis, and twisted scientific experimentation. What really saves The Iron Prometheus is that it connects heavily with The Killing Ground (B.P.R.D. vol. 8) and also illuminates more the back story of the Hellboy universe. The same mysterious evil man who is tormenting Liz’s mind in the present is a force to be reckoned with in Lobster Johnson’s world. He takes The Lobster on a reality-hopping journey to the ruins of Hyperborea, the ultra-advanced prehistorical world that is referenced numerous times in the other Hellboy/B.P.R.D. titles, and, in addition, turns out to be the mastermind behind the plot to steal a device powered by Hyperborean technology which can create abundant power and turn men into violent dragon-beings (cool, huh?). He brands Lobster Johnson and I believe it is the recurring struggle between the two which will form the main overarching storyline for the series. Proof of their repeated connection can be found in The Killing Ground as it is Lobster Johnson’s spirit which rises from Johann’s incapacitated body to save Liz from the very same evil man in her head (yeah, convoluted). I really hope Mignola and Armstrong can get this series going, but as it is right now, it isn’t one I will be looking forward to with the same excitement as the others.

Exciting Hellboy/B.P.R.D. news!
In October, The Drowning, the first volume of the Abe Sapien spin-off series, will be released and in November, B.P.R.D.: 1946, which chronicles the early years of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and its founder Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, will be published!

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