Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"BPRD: the Black goddess"

"B.P.R.D.: the Black goddess" is the name of the recently-concluded mini-series, featuring characters Mike Mignola created as Hellboy's colleagues in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, before taking the protagonist into a more fantastic and mythological direction. Dark Horse has decided to publish the spin-off title as a series of mini-series, with the gaps between stories enabling co-writer John Arcudi and artist Guy Davis to further develop new stories, while having more time to dedicate to other projects. After the first couple of tales featuring the team, pencilled by Mignola-inspired Matt Smith and Ryan Sook, the Hellboy creator used the B.P.R.D. oneshots by various creative teams, as a means of finally settling on distinctively talented Guy Davis as the penciller/inker. Arcudi joined soon, and since then, the creative team has kept up with perhaps the most solid and reliable title in the "Hellboy" line, doing mostly standalone tales, that tied with the overall story arc featuring the characters. 

Still, since the previous mini-series, the creative team has been focused on tying up almost all of the loose ends, resulting in the "Black goddess" being highly inaccessible to new readers. The mini-series is in fact so continuity oriented, that it even references "Lobster Johnson: the Iron Prometheus" project, luckily Dark Horse has kept most of their "Hellboy" titles in print. The publisher has always been a huge supporter of manga, so it makes no surprise that they look at B.P.R.D. in the enduring format as a series of tradepaperback collections.

The series works as a modern pulp horror team title, defined by offbeat characterisation and a caricatural esthetic. By establishing a paranormal investigative agency as the center point, the creators strive to present their work as a somewhat derivative piece of fiction, but only in order to embrace the many established monster conventions, putting their own spin on it. Preseting a military operation the book takes an urban approach, yet without stepping too far into the science fiction aspect. It's chief assets are the well-developed approach to structuring the stories, fast pace and a strong individual voice, focusing on unique characters, that are only enhanced by the expert use of continuity. Even though many of these elemets were already present in the parent title, it's surprising how quickly and effectively Mignola and his collaborators have managed to turn the book into a fully functional and distinctive experience in itself. It was only due to the hard work and unrellenting vision that his creations have managed to stand side by side with "Fables" and "Walking dead", as some of the strongest creator-owned genre titles in the superhero-oriented American mainstream.

"the Black goddess" story, despite being geared towards the long-term fans, is a great example of many of the "B.PR.D."'s strengths. Functioning primarly as a character piece, it works to finally complete Liz's years in the making character arc, by bringing it to the forefront. After witnessing Abe coming face to face with his past, the readers are finally treated with the culmination of the slowly built subplot featuring the pyromaniac falling under the influence of an Eastern mastermind. Fittingly, she spends most of the arc on the sidelines, as all of the obscure history of her mysterious benfactor is revealed to her infuriated team-mates. Nevertheless, it's her decisions that help resolve the matter in the end, amidst a wall of tension caused by the monsters trying to breach into the lair. Despite the presence of long-time players, Abe and Kate Corrigan, it's Johan who once again plays the most interesting role, as his emotional conflicts have recently turned him into a very passionate and unpredictable character, despite the cold, featureless look of his containment suit.

Still, the authors are careful not to let the flashback-heavy story function only to fill in the gaps in the antagonist's background, as the characters' strained and nervous state, leads to many twists and turns in this expertly-paced story. All along, the larger "Hellboy" set-up simply refuses to be deffered by dwelling on the past, as the lair is besieged by literaly hundreds of monsters that have played a role in the spin-off since the beginning, hoping to commence the end-times Mignola has threatened for so long ago. Despite Davis' talent for showing emotion on the character's expressive faces, his layouts really stand out in those sequences, providing the reader with endless hordes of mindless monsters, that the military tries to keep at bay. The designs for the were-creatures typical of the locale is once again original and in keeping with the book's style, while Dave Stewart's colors provide their standard atmospheric effect. Yet, the complicated battle set-pieces reveal that Davis' natural sensibilities still lie with the more intimate scenes. Employing another penciller to further detail the visuals would work to bring to stylings the definition they could have. 

Yet, it's clear that the emotion is once again not in the climatic war of the netherworld on human civilization, as the story is grounded by a single person's position, and the decisions he has made in his long life, spotlighting all of Davis' best strengths. The team negotiating the best course of action against the complex figure around whom rage conflicts both personal and all-encompasing, set in the distinctive geographical region, works to give perfect distinction to a tale devoted to history. 

The creative team are already at work on the follow-up, "the King of fear", that should bring some of "B.P.R.D."'s longest subplots to an end, focusing most likely on Captain Daimio.  Utilising the cast of characters that have matured considerably since their somewhat limited roles as Hellboy's former colleagues, it stands to reason that the book will be at least as gripping as "Black goddess", or for that matter any of the mini-series that preceded it. Before Dark Horse starts to serialize the new entry, the follow-up to the prequel "B.P.R.D. 1946" will take it's publishing slot, along with more specials detailing the long conflict with the frog-like monsters that the initial stories centered so heavily on. Competing with Hellboy's own title, a new Lobster Johnson adventure and the recently announced mini spotlighting sir Edward Grey, it stands to "B.P.R.D."'s strenght that it has become such a reliable title, that can always be counted upon for quality entertainment by John Arcudi and Guy Davis, working closely with Mike Mignola.

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