B.P.R.D. Vol. 9: 1946
Mike Mignola & Joshua Dysart, writers
Paul Azaceta, artist
Dark Horse, November 2008
Another Hellboy-verse tale, another litany of misery, failure, and impending doom. Like the proverbial pink elephant, now that I’ve noticed the mile-wide undercurrent of fatalism flowing like the Styx through all of Mike Mignola’s interconnected Hellboy and BPRD comics over the past few years, it’s impossible to stop thinking about it. But that’s a good thing, because it prevents me from writing off this look at one of the early adventures of Hellboy’s old mentor Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced “Broom,” which I don’t think I’d ever put together until now) as something of a throwaway throwback. Both the main Hellboy minis and the parallel BPRD books have gotten pretty far away from early HB‘s two-fisted occult-Nazi slugfests, so when you open a book with that familiar mix of cybernetic Nazi gorillas, sentient decapitated SS-captain heads in jars and so forth, you might think Mignola and his collaborators are going for the easy stuff. Not so: Mignola and his co-writer Dysart root nearly all the important character bits in the trauma of the then-just-completed Second World War. Much of what happens in the central storyline, centered around a Nazi vampire-virus doomsday weapon to be released when the Reich falls, happens because of how American and German soldier characters recoil from the thought of both inflicting and enduring further horrors. There’s a genuinely difficult sequence in which the protagonists’ noble intentions are thwarted by circumstance and they end up perpetrating the exact atrocity they promised not to. Mignola and company also make the effort to push the Nazis out of the “I hate those guys” boo-hiss villain mold and connect their blasphemous black-magic doings in the story to the real-world mentality that led them to systematically slaughter millions of people.
Which brings us back to do, if you will, and how the supernatural evil in Mignola’s stuff seems to be slouching toward victory. One of the main characters here is Varvara, an unnervingly cute little Russian girl in a frilly white dress who runs the Soviet Union’s BPRD equivalent. Turns out she’s actually a demon in human form who hangs around our world because she loves watching people get hurt. If there’s a better encapsulation of the prevailing tone of the Hellboyverse over the past few years, I’d like to see it. I wouldn’t mind seeing it drawn by Paul Azaceta just like this one is, by the by. His loose, simplified, seemingly photoreffed style reminds me of Emmanuel Guibert gone pulp, and he executes all the creepy images and military hardware his writers serve to him with panache. It’s exciting, emotionally resonant genre storytelling; with All Star Superman over and depending on how you feel about Captain America, I’d say it’s another chapter in the best ongoing super-comic on the stands today.