Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 109 (5/23) -- B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs by Mignola, Arcudi & various artists

Getting into a groove can be a good or bad thing -- it all depends on the groove. When creative work is going well, and staying focused on the core concerns of a work, a groove can be a great thing. When it's just lame rehashing of the same thing that's been done a thousand times before, though, it's pure lousiness. And, for the same reasons, getting out of a groove can be the best or worst things a creative work can do.

B.P.R.D. -- mostly but not always written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi with art by Guy Davis -- has been in a very good groove for several years now, telling interlocking stories that combine to move forward the larger story of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense's battle against various supernatural forces that threaten the entire world. This book is a jump out of that groove -- both obvious, in the art styles, and more subtly, in the storytelling. And I'm afraid this was one of the good grooves that jumping out of doesn't really help: War on Frogs wobbles and wanders, and not all of the pieces here work all that well.

War on Frogs is a flashback miniseries, and something of a jam as well -- each of its four issues (plus a fifth story, included here, from the anthology series Dark Horse Presents) was a separate story set early in the B.P.R.D.'s battle against the hideous inhuman frog-creatures, with mostly separate casts and separate art teams. So the book War on Frogs feels like a collection of one-shots, and it's old news -- the reader knows that none of the series characters will be seriously hurt.

The first story, illustrated by Herb Trimpe with Guy Davis inking, is unfortunately the weakest of the lot: Trimpe/Davis turns into bland '70s superhero art, and the story -- the homunculus Roger looks for two frog brothers, and then gets into a fight -- is not particularly special and told flatly. The best piece of the book is next, illustrated by Davis solo, with Captain Daimio tracking down frogs traveling as tent revivalists in the American South. (Though I'd have liked to see that concept expanded; it has the potential to push a lot of creepy/nasty buttons if done right.) Still, this is an episode rather than a story -- it doesn't lead from anything or to anything.

After that comes a grisly John Severin tale, of a regular B.P.R.D. squad on a boat that supposedly has already been cleared of frogs. I find Severin's style too clean and crisp for the kind of horror that this story is aiming for, but I realize that a lot of readers love to see horror like this from Severin, so I'll just shrug and pass on. Peter Snejbjerg then illustrates the story of medium Johann Kraus exorcising a bunch of frog ghosts -- that otherwise show an unpleasant tendency to follow him around -- again, it's a decent story well told, but stays at that level. (Unlike the similar discrete short Hellboy stories, which always had an undercurrent of mythic danger to them.) And last is a story illustrated by Karl Moline -- again, I find his work too clean and mainstream for a book like B.P.R.D., but it's otherwise an effective discrete story.

There's nothing at all wrong with War on Frogs, and it could serve as an introduction to the B.P.R.D. to new readers if they happened to wander into it. (Not the best introduction -- that would be the first volume, Hollow Earth -- or, better yet, the first Hellboy book, Seed of Destruction -- but a decent one.) But it's very much a sidebar to the current storyline, and it doesn't showcase what Mignola, Arcudi, and Davis have been doing so well in the main sequence of the series.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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