Review: ‘Abe Sapien: The Drowning’ and ‘B.P.R.D.: 1946’
It’s always a bit sad when someone quits a job, especially a well-loved and -trusted colleague who did a huge amount of the work. Sure, you’ll all take him out to lunch on his last day (or as close to it as you can manage), but that’s for his benefit. The next Monday, you all have to go back to work, and try to make up for what he used to do as well as you can.
Hellboy has been gone from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development for a while, now – since 2001, though the stories take place in various eras and times – and they’re still trying to make up for the loss. In an office, that would just entail some cursing, some longer hours, and a lot of questions about how to fill out the TPS forms. But for the B.P.R.D., there’s the little matter of saving the world without a nearly indestructible red guy with a sledgehammer for a right hand leading the way.
Since [[[Hellbo]]]y left the B.P.R.D., Dark Horse has published an increasingly proliferating array of stories set in the same world: an ongoing sequence of B.P.R.D. miniseries, and then short series about Lobster Johnson and Abe Sapien.
This year has already seen the Lobster Johnson trade paperback, and eighth volumes of both Hellboy and B.P.R.D. (which I reviewed together back in June), and now there are two more Hellboy-universe books to keep us busy.
[[[Abe Sapien: The Drowning]]]
Story by Mike Mignola; Art by Jason Shawn Alexander
Dark Horse, September 2008, $17.95
Abe has been at the center of several B.P.R.D. stories before, but this was the first time he got his name in the title – it’s a flashback story, set in 1981, when Hellboy was on an extended leave from the B.P.R.D. but supernatural mysteries still needed investigating.
B.P.R.D. head Trevor Bruttenholm had recently discovered that a British supernatural agent had used a rare and powerful Lipu Dagger to kill the evil Dutch warlock Epke Vrooman in 1884, near the Atlantic coast of France. Vrooman’s remains and the dagger are at the bottom of the sea, in a shipwreck. But surely an amphibious man wouldn’t have any trouble in diving down and retrieving the dagger?
Abe takes the mission, and sets off for the small French island of Saint-Sebastien, with some B.P.R.D. backup. But Vrooman is not exactly dead – or, rather, he’s not permanently dead, and there are forces and creatures working to bring him back. There’s also some supernatural secrets on Saint-Sebastian, including a family with a somewhat Lovecraftian relationship to the sea and its denizens.
Abe runs around and does what he can, but The Drowning mostly happens around and in spite of him; he does effect the outcome – things would probably have been much worse without Abe – but he’s not driving events. On the other hand, [[[The Drowning]]] ends up about as successful as most of Hellboy’s adventures: the supernatural menace has been defeated, and not everyone is dead.
The Drowning also sees the debut of another new Hellboy-universe artist, Jason Shawn Alexander. He’s another moody cartoonist, along the lines of Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, and Guy Davis, but Alexander works with a finer line and less of the big wodges of black that’s characteristic of Hellboy’s world – he’s closer to Davis than to Mignola.
The Drowning is the story of Abe’s first solo mission; how he went from being the tentative follower of his early stories to the (relatively) confident leader in the contemporary B.P.R.D. tales. As such, it’s not really an essential story, but it’s a welcome one.
Written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart; Art by Paul Azaceta
Dark Horse, November 2008, $17.95
1946 is another story that didn’t absolutely need to be told, but it’s still great to have it. This is basically a Trevor Bruttenholm solo story, set in Berlin right after WWII. Bruttenholm is trying to research the various Nazi supernatural schemes – with particular emphasis on any that may still be running secretly, as supernatural schemes tend to do – while at the same time not antagonizing the Soviet forces that are doing the same thing.
He’s seconded an infantry unit that’s been ready to go home for months, and isn’t too happy to be pushing papers for an “egghead.” (But they come around eventually – once they see what’s really at stake.) And he runs into his Soviet opposite number: she appears to be a cute young girl in a white dress, but Varvara claims to be actually a demon summoned by Tsar Peter hundreds of years before, who decided to stay on Earth for her own amusement.
And, as you know he would, Bruttenholm does find a Nazi scheme that’s still running: Vampir Sturm, which involved creating a vampire army. And where are those vampire soldiers now? Ah, that would be telling!
1946 is a Nazi story, so we get strange Teutonic armor, brain-controlled gorillas, and evil heads skittering about on mechanical legs. Bruttenholm is the only character here familiar from earlier stories, so he’s the only one we’re sure will survive. And, again, 1946 isn’t a story that explains a previous secret; it’s just a Bruttenholm solo adventure, the one that solidified the B.P.R.D.’s position after the war. But if you’re looking for a great moody story with both killer gorillas and feral vampires, 1946 will be right up your alley.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.