There are certain pieces of media that hit you at the right time and the right place, whether it’s that song that becomes the soundtrack of a summer, or the film that kicks you in the gut because it so clearly reflects where you are at that point in your life.
To say that “B.P.R.D.” reflects my life in any way would be absurd, but it happened to be exactly the type of comic that I was looking for when comics and I had one of our falling outs. Specifically, ‘The Black Flame’ was the mini that made me want to go back to my local shop, drop a few hundred bucks on Hellboy/B.P.R.D. trades, and cancel my weekend plans.
For a new reader, there is a lot to guess about when first picking up issue #1, but that is true of just about any comic ever published that wasn’t a true #1, and ‘The Black Flame’ #1 is anything but a “true” #1. But the story was accessible enough, due in no small part to the handy recap page, that I was able to dive in relatively prepared.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the art of Guy Davis.
Davis was a name I was not familiar with before starting ‘The Black Flame,’ and the amount of humanity he was able to bring to creatures as diverse and unusual as a man in a containment suit, a giant, killer frog, or a humanoid homunculus was stunning.
On top of the art, there was a veritable seven layer dip of storylines going on, yet it never felt overwhelming. I was interested in Zinco, I was intrigued by Bureau politics, the interpersonal stuff worked too – even a premonition/dream sequence didn’t seem too much. The story was rich and had the potential to be overstuffed, but never got there.
But it was the explosion that took out Roger that really did it for me.
It wasn’t the knockout blow at the end of the series, it wasn’t done for shock value, it didn’t become the center of everything, nor was it pushed aside. It affected everyone differently, it pushed the story along, and it gave even more depth to the story. Poor Roger, a tabula rasa who only wanted to belong, was now dead. Liz retreats into her grief and sleeps in his room, Daimio wants revenge, Johann clings on to hope and dignity, Abe tries to keep everyone together.
All of this happens along the periphery of combat with a frog army and the titular Black Flame. Neither part overwhelms the other, and they wind up complimenting each other considerably better than would be expected.
This was my introduction to how B.P.R.D. books work, which is to say, they work better than most other comics. Very few pieces seem superfluous or misplaced, especially early on. In the past few years, more minis, more flashbacks, and more one shots have come out, but each manage to color in a blank spot in the giant mosaic that is these stories. If you are unfamiliar with these books, start with ‘The Black Flame,’ and you’ll never look back.