Friday, November 4, 2011

Tales from the Long Box: B.P.R.D: Hollow Earth

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

B.P.R.D: Hollow Earth

In 2002 Hellboy had acheived a rare form of comic fame. He was an independent character, free of the confines of the big two and the super hero trappings of most mainstream characters. Guillermo Del Toro was circling the character for a feature film adaptation which would launch him onto an even larger stage. At this point in time my experience with Mike Mignola's creation was practically nonexistent. I'd read a single trade paperback, which I wasn't exactly taken with.

I had two friends who were quite taken with Mignola as an artist and after constant prodding from them I dug a little deeper into his universe and found it did appeal to me. I particularly loved his minimalist art style and over time his style would inform my tastes more than any other artist. Without Mike Mignola I never would have come to appreciate guys like Guy Davis, Darwyn Cooke, or Ryan Ottley.

Meanwhile, in comics continuity, Hellboy had departed the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development leaving Mignola free to tell some stories focusing on the lesser known (though, in my opinion far more interesting) characters that make up the supporting cast. The first BPRD mini series was called Hollow Earth and focused on Abe Sapien, Roger the Homunculus and my personal favorite, Johann Kraus, setting off on a journey to rescue the missing Liz Sherman. Liz has been kidnapped by undergound dwelling creatures who are using her as a power source for a machine being used to resurrect undead gods... or something. I was a little fuzzy on the machines actual purpose.

Like all Mignola Hellboy-universe tales there is an ever present air of melancholy to the proceedings. However, with the absence of Hellboy's usual tough-guy antics we're treated to some fun interplay between our leads. This was the series that introduced Johann Kraus to readers and his stoicism adds an interesting dynamic to the team. The fact that three writers are credited on this series does seem like overkill though. It's only a three issue mini, featuring a handful of characters and a rather straight forward plot. It's essentially a men-on-a-mission story. At any rate, the writing is top notch here, particularly the dialogue.

Unlike a lot of stories set in this universe this one never takes itself too seriously. The comedic elements at play come almost entirely through dialogue, and the way characters are reacting to one another. Again, the plot isn't dense but it's interesting and incorporates elements of mythology as well as Jack Kirby-esque giant machinery.

On the art end of things, this was one of the projects that put Ryan Sook on the map. His pencils here are much more Mignola-influenced than his current work but it is still eye catching. His storytelling here was possibly even stronger than it is today. This maybe could be attributed to the minimalism he employed in his early style. If you didn't read Sook's name in the credits you probably wouldn't even catch on to the fact that he was the artist.

Hollow Earth really set the stage for the BPRD series going forward. Mini series that lead into one another but stand alone and can be read without prior knowledge of anything that came before. If you haven't been introduced to these characters this would be a great place to start. The characterization here perfectly captures Abe, Roger and Johann and encapsulates all the tonal aspects of the Hellboy universe that work while leaving out the negative.

If you're just looking for a fun adventure story with a simple, but engaging story and interesting characters pick this up.

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