Friday, August 04, 2006

Book-A-Day #16 (8/2): B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis

Trying to explain this so that it makes sense to a new reader is probably impossible, but here goes:

This is the fifth volume collecting the B.P.R.D. comic books, which have been a series of mini-series. B.P.R.D. is itself a spin-off from Mignola's more famous creation, Hellboy. Hellboy is a mildly monstrous (large, strong, bright red, has a huge stone-like right arm and horn-stumps on his head) creature who was summoned by Nazis led by Rasputin, late in WW II, in an attempt to bring about a Lovecraftian Ragnarok.

Hellboy didn't materialize where expected, though: he was found by a U.S. team and raised as a good guy. He became the core of the "field work" team of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense once he grew up, and thwarted many horrors (a fair percentage of which were attempts to use him to summon various Elder Gods from other dimensions to destroy the Earth, of course). The rest of the B.P.R.D. is made up of some regular soldiers (for cannon fodder, mostly) and various other odd characters: a firestarter, the spirit of a dead medium in a containment suit, a homunculus, and an amphibious man. Some time ago -- probably just a couple of years in comics continuity -- Hellboy quit the B.P.R.D. for personal reasons.

Since then, there have continued to be Hellboy comics, which Mignola writes and draws himself. And there have now been five series of B.P.R.D. comics, co-written by John Arcudi and illustrated by Guy Davis, following the characters he left behind there. The amazing thing is that the B.P.R.D. books don't feel like sharecropping or brand extensions; they're real stories in their own right, set in the same world, in which important things happen and people change.

This is another good 'un: the B.P.R.D. is in the process of clearing out nests of toad-men across North America (scattered there by events in the previous books), and then things get worse.

This is obviously not the place to start: if the idea intrigues you (and I hope it does; Hellboy and its spin-offs are some of the best fantasy/horror/adventure comics of the past decade), start with either Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (the first story) or one of the collections of shorter tales (The Chained Coffin and Others or The Right Hand of Doom). The shorter stories often incorporate folkloric creatures (and do it very well, I think), so readers more used to written fantasy might find those the best entry-point.

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