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Thursday, December 17, 2009

B.P.R.D. Volume 1. Hollow Earth & Other Stories. Dark Horse Comics (2003)

This book pushes the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and the supporting cast from the Hellboy books into the limelight as Hellboy leaves the Bureau to pursue his own destiny. The lead story, Hollow Earth from the creative team of, Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Tom Sniegoski (Writers), Ryan Sook (Pencils & Inks), Curtis Arnold (Inks), Dave Stewart (Colours), and Clem Robins (Letters) sets the stage.
Elizabeth Sherman, who is seeking to manage her firestarting abilities goes to a monastery in the Urals. Abe Sapien, a fishman is growing restive at the Bureau in the absence of Hellboy and Elizabeth and is making plans to depart himself. A new agent Johann Kraus, an ectoplasmic spirit in a containment suit, joins the Bureau. There is significant tension and potential disruption lurking in the Bureau when Abe gets a distress call from Elizabeth Sherman. Abe Sapien, Johnan and Roger the Homunculus go to the monastery to rescue Elizabeth. The find her body, her spirit has been captured and the trail leads down into the hollow Earth. The rescue is brilliantly staged, the reason Elizabeth has been hijacked is suitably ambitious, the action is fast and ultimately a new equilibrium is established.
The remaining stories are much shorter, varied and very well done and include a superb Lobster Johnson adventure that is infused with the true spirit of pulp fiction and a sharp Abe Sapien episode.
This book reveals the strength in depth that underlies the overall Hellyboy franchise, the stories are structurally sound, dramatically strong, the art is fantastic and the invention glorious. Launching a spin off creates some clear problems, the need is to build on the strengths of the original material, establish a new continuity and provide some genuine creative impetus for the enterprise other than simply extending the franchise. Hollow Earth is a model for the process, the cast are given a reason to be striking out on their own, they are also given a dramatically credible reason for becoming an independent team out from the shadow of Hellboy. This is a book with tremendous ambition, it aspires to be a really good adventure book and it achieves it with an engaging and strongly defined cast and a gripping context. Wonderful.

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