Reviewer: Kevin S. Mahoney
Story Title: The Black Flame
Written by: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by: Guy Davis
Colored by: Dave Stewart
Lettered by: Clem Robins
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
B.P.R.D. is a spin-off series (or set of miniseries). Brought to readers by the same mind that created Hellboy, this team book covers some of the same occult angles with a group perspective instead of a single hero’s point of view. The team fights monsters, uncovers wicked conspiracies, and generally tries to keep the world safe from the ebon forces of evil while trying to live their never-to-be-normal lives. There is less mystery in this book than its progenitor, probably part and parcel of Hellboy’s mysterious origin and fate. Instead, fans of B.P.R.D. get a more turbulent soap opera style of character interaction, the result of having so many weird characters in simultaneous contact with each other during stressful and abnormal situations.
However, the books have some common threads. Certain villains and heroes recur. Both books might face the same menace, at or near the same time, in different ways. It certainly promotes cross readership and even helps flesh out the series’ current bÃƒÂªte noire. The two ongoings also have a few parallels in style. The narratives do not necessarily proceed in a dovetailed by the numbers fashion; the ambiguity is not only conspicuous, it’s deliberate. A part of the subtext in both books concerns the idea that mortals dropped into these bizarre situations will never be able to comprehend everything that transpires. And it works in both books, creating suspense and weight in their events. The art in both books, though different in each series, is highly stylized and not at all representative of polished mainstream trends in sequential art.
This issue of B.P.R.D. revolves around the rise of the, um, Frog Army?! The Bureau’s tactical squad of fire-starter Liz Sherman, amphibious agent Abe Sapien, reborn Marine Captain Daimio, disembodied medium Johann Kraus, and Roger the homunculus, plus assorted “red shirts”, is exploring an abandoned sewage plant, exterminating the man-sized monsters as they go. The intel-gathering mission objective certainly takes a backseat to the battle as the frogs overwhelm the team. The team members seem to handle battle trauma very differently, which seems to be leading towards a schism in the group further down the road. That combined with Roger’s newfound hero worship is more than enough characterization to fill an issue. That forward momentum, combined with an Alien-esque close quarters monster mÃƒÂªlÃƒÂ©e, puts plenty of punch in this initial installment. The oddball ending pages combined with an actual letters page is merely gravy on the steak.
The art, while more than competently handling the setting, armaments, and crowds of agents and monsters, is emphatically not for everyone. Lots of textured surfaces, thick dark lines, and complimenting colors cause the figures within each panel to sort of blend. There is no “pop” in this artwork. Nothing except perspective separates the foreground from the background, and so the art seems listless or flat in places. The lettering seems designed to evoke nostalgia for earlier horror comics, and it works in its own way. The scripted words do seem to possess more life and camp than many of the panels themselves, and that cannot be good. A defter hand in the inking or especially the coloring could have made this issue much more dynamic. What readers get instead is sort of groundling.