Posted by: Joe McCulloch on June 12, 2008
B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #1:
This is the first of a planned four B.P.R.D. specials to spin out of a two–part story that ran in the MySpace version of Dark Horse Presents, although I wouldn’t get too concerned about accessibility; right now they seem connected in concept only, all of them being set a few years back in the midst of the Bureau’s war with the frog monsters. Also notable is the lack of a writing credit for creator Mike Mignola – I presume this series-within-the-series will be something of a showcase for frequent co-writer John Arcudi.
As such, it’s a little disconcerting that this comic reminds me of nothing more than a typical Hellboy short, albeit with much of Mignola’s flavor replaced by blander superheroish action stuff. Just as the stereotypical Hellboy tale often begins with someone (maybe Kate Corrigan) filling the title character in on whatever odd myth or fable will be at play, this issue sees someone (definitely Kate Corrigan) discussing a load of information with Abe Sapien. Except, here it’s a blob of backstory as to prior Hellboy and B.P.R.D. plotlines, indelicately synopsizing Seed of Destruction and the Bureau’s then-status quo through what amounts to a glorified, comics-format Previously… text box.
Were this a Hellboy short, Our Hero would then probably encounter some strange beings and get into a quippy fight with a monster, the action ending with some funny or poignant moment. Here the two-fisted protagonist is Roger the Homunculus, in the middle of his ‘impressionable badass’ phase, which I’ve always felt worked better at the time in contrast to where the character had been earlier in the main series, and, in retrospect, in anticipation of where he’s be going.
Taken on its own, as the crux of a one-off issue, it transforms Roger into a rather plain sort of tortured ass-kicker (if always a bit undercut by the whole ‘lack of pants’ thing), one who’ll have a 13-page fight with the monsters at issue — the remaining transformed Cavendish brothers from that first Hellboy storyline — and then sort of feel bad as he blasts them down to bones, since he’s kind of a monster too yet responds to love and etc. etc.
It’s something that’s implicit to the Hellboy concept, in that Hellboy is a classic type of monster superhero, doing good while chafing against his nature – Mignola starts from there, and adds his particular fondness for ancient lore and tales, eventually bolstered by a sprawling cast of characters (and, obviously, his distinctive art). All this story does is state the obvious, with a blander lead character, and a trust in franchise background replacing folkloric fusion. It reads like a fill-in that’s done some time in the drawer, since it’s indistinct enough to plug in whenever.
Consequently, all this issue has going for it is the addition of longtime Marvel hand Herb Trimpe to the art team, with regular artist Guy Davis serving as inker. I can’t even remember the last time Davis inked someone else’s pencils, but here he seems pretty assertive; the monster designs in particular retain a lot of his style, although I suspect Trimpe may have been working toward a sort of visual continuity himself. The two mix fairly well, teasing out a little more of the EC horror influence that always kind of lurked around in Trimpe’s Marvel work. I like those two panels above, with the inky dive in the first and the hanging bones in the second.
But Trimpe’s Roger is more a muscular hero type, and his action pages are as chunky and straightforward as a slugfest can be – I suppose it could be that the entire issue is meant as a homage to a certain brand of old-school, no-fuss superheroic throwdown comic, heavy exposition and all. That wouldn’t make it more entertaining for me, just a little more explicable – and there’s already explanation enough in its merely being Hellboy, sans spice.
Still, that art’s kind of endearing — I had a pretty good laugh at one panel where Trimpe draws Roger’s ass crack as a single vertical line, after which I started feeling like I was unconsciously stretching a bit much to derive entertainment from this thing — so it’s EH by the skin of its teeth.