The Abe Sapien series is shifting its focus from the past to the present, telling stories in tandem with the ongoing Hell on Earth plotline. These aren’t just stand alone stories either. Just like B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth and Hellboy in Hell, Abe Sapien is becoming an ongoing series with a long term story that’ll be unfolding for years.
I think it’s fair to say it’s going to be pretty cool.
So before we launch into the next stage of Abe’s life, we at Mignolaversity wanted to shine a light on Abe’s past and his most defining moments. In a break from tradition, this countdown is ranked chronologically, not by importance, so you’re going to have to deal with that. Though I have still saved the biggest one for last.
If you aren’t up to date with Abe’s career in Hellboy and B.P.R.D., it may be a bad idea to read this. Huge spoilers will follow.
Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
Seed of Destruction wasn’t just the introduction of Hellboy. In its pages we are also introduced to “Doctor Abraham Sapien,” dressed in heavy clothing with a hat, glasses and a fake beard. (This is the only time he’s referred to as “Doctor” in the series). He, Hellboy and Liz Sherman have been sent to Cavendish Hall as part of an investigation into the death of Hellboy’s adoptive father, Professor Bruttenholm, who was killed by a frog monster. That’s right, a frog monster. The first of many. An entire plague, in fact… but we’ll get to that later.
Once Hellboy and Abe are alone, we get to meet Abe properly, as the fishman found in a hospital basement in a tube labelled, “Icthyo Sapien, April 14, 1865.” (The date of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, hence the name Abraham Sapien). For a long time, this is all we knew about Abe, although there is another clue to his past hidden in this story. Upon seeing the frog monsters for the first time, Abe watches them from the shadows, trying to shake off a feeling he has. “I sense a kind of kinship with the strange amphibians…” Reading it now, that line takes on a whole new meaning.
Jumping ahead a little, Rasputin, the mad monk, has Hellboy paralysed and Liz bound, draining her power to give form to Sadu-Hem, one of the monstrous old gods from the dawn of time. With Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom, Rasputin plans to unlock the prison that holds the Ogdru Jahad, the seven dragons that will bring about Ragnarok, the end of the world.
Then Abe shows up and throws a harpoon through Rasputin’s chest. That’s right, the supporting character just saved the day. This may be Hellboy’s first story, but it’s Abe that gets to be the hero in this one. Without him, Hellboy, Liz, and all of humanity would’ve been screwed.
OK, so technically it wasn’t entirely Abe. The spirit of Elihu Cavendish was involved, wanting vengeance for his entire family being turned into frogs, but is that really important? I’m betting even if ghostly Cavendish didn’t show up, Abe still would’ve saved the day here.
Bringing Back Roger
Abe Sapien versus Science
(collected in B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth & Other Stories)
At the end of Hellboy: Almost Colossus, Roger the homunculus was dead/dormant. Since then the Bureau has been doing experiments, trying to revive him. In truth though, their hearts aren’t in it. “Scalpels and microscopes. That’s how we learn things,” as one of the doctors says, eager to begin dissecting this fascinating specimen.
It’s not an unfamiliar situation to Abe. There was once a time when he was going to end up getting dissected himself if the Bureau’s last attempt to wake him up hadn’t worked.
So Abe decides he isn’t ready to give up, and ends up frying all the lab equipment, blacking out B.P.R.D. headquarters, and zapping Roger back to life. It’s a short story, but without it there would have been no more stories for Roger, who went on to become a real fan favourite among Hellboy and B.P.R.D. readers. We owe Abe for that.
The Secret Origin of Abe Sapien
B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs
The Hellboy Universe was over a decade old when Plague of Frogs began, and we still didn’t know anything about Abe except that he was found in a hospital basement. This is the story that changed everything.
Sadu-Hem has returned, taking a human host and fleeing to Crab Point, Michigan, and turning everyone in town into frog monsters, so the B.P.R.D. is sent in to do deal with things. From there on everything goes downhill really fast. The Bureau’s helicopters crash, Roger is hung, Johann’s containment suit is ripped up, Kate and Liz have to battle a churchyard full of glowing skeletons, and a plague of frog monsters is unleashed on the United States. Oh, and Abe gets a harpoon through the chest, just as Rasputin promised he would. Sort of an eye for an eye deal.
When Abe subcumbs to his wound, his spirit departs and witnesses his own creation. This is more than just the standard “life flashes before your eyes” moment though. It begins with an ancient cocoon taken from the depths of the ocean by five Victorian men. They perform a ritual with the cocoon, but something goes wrong and it crumbles to dust. Caul, the man leading the ritual, is suddenly able to see Abe in the room watching them. He’s starts yelling, “It’s come for me. It is because of what I’ve done,” while Abe drifts closer until the two touch and Caul passes out. The rest of the vision is seen and heard from Caul’s point of view as his body changes and is sealed inside a secret chamber beneath a hospital in the days following President Lincoln’s assassination.
It is one of the most strange and perfect sequences I’ve seen in comics. It is an origin that doesn’t take away any of the mystery from the character, but rather deepens it. To this day there are so many questions that remain unanswered. What was the creature in the cocoon? What were those underwater ruins it was found in? (Were they Hyperborean ruins?) What had Caul done to provoke this transformation?
And it can hardly be a coincidence that as Caul began his transformation into Abe, outside it was raining frogs…
B.P.R.D.: The Dead
In The Dead we see a marked difference between Hellboy and Abe. Whenever Hellboy’s past was brought up, he always turned his back on it and tried to ignore it for as long as possible. However, Abe immediately investigates his former life, the life of a wealthy explorer, Langdon Everett Caul (“Everett” being a homage to William Blake Everett, the creator of Sub-mariner).
Caul is as much a mystery as Abe himself. He looks like a man in his thirties in his photographs, but he’s actually closer to seventy. He also spent a great deal of time at sea travelling with a man called Elihu Cavendish (sound familiar?). Cavendish spent most of his life looking for Hyperborean ruins in the Arctic Circle. It’s possible Caul joined him on these expeditions. This long history together could perhaps explain why Elihu’s spirit was able to possess Abe in Seed of Destruction.
Abe’s search for the truth leads him to Caul’s mansion and the ghost of his long dead wife, Edith. She draws him into a fantasy in which she is alive and he is Caul and happy again, but Abe is unable to ignore the truth. They have both changed and cannot return to the way things were. He has no wish to live a dream and a lie. He wants to face the truth, no matter how harsh it may be.
Ultimately this frees the tortured spirit of his wife, and Abe is left with the heavy burden of accepting the man he was.
The Oannes Society
B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls
This is my favourite B.P.R.D. story, and one that really digs into the core of who Abe is. By this point Abe has accepted Caul as his past, and has even taken a few of his belongings as his own, including a cigar case that opens up an all-new mystery. Again, if it had been Hellboy, he probably would’ve ignored it, but Abe immediately heads off to Indonesia to investigate.
This leads him to the Oannes Society, a group of Victorian occultists of which Caul was once a member. Three of them are old, clunky cyborgs, while the fourth has upgraded to a huge human body they grew in their lab. The Oannes members are glad to see Abe and happily welcome him back into the fold, eagerly telling him about all their work since they had to abandon him a century and a half ago. They are well on their way to creating a devastating tidal wave that will kill millions so they can harvest their souls into bodies, spiritual reservoirs, that will survive the end of the world to be the engines of domination in the new world. Best part? Apparently all this was Caul’s idea.
It’s a confronting moment for Abe. Caul may be Abe’s past, but they are clearly very different people. Everything Abe learns about Caul disgusts him. He’s a stranger, and Abe rejects the ideology of this version of himself, using Caul’s own cane to destroy one of the bodies in the lab. And thus begins a huge action sequence with monsters, explosions, cyborgs and a sword fight. Moral of the story? Don’t tell Abe who he’s supposed to be. You mess with Abe, and you’ll get hacked into pieces.
Yep. I love this story.
The New Race of Man
B.P.R.D.: King of Fear and B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: New World
Caul was a monster. Abe could accept that and live with it, but in King of Fear he is faced with something he can’t accept; a fear that’s been gnawing at him for nearly fifteen years. The frog monsters that have taken over the world bear more than just a passing resemblance. Abe is what the frog monsters will become in a few thousand years of evolution. Abe is the first man of the new world.
It was one thing to accept that the man he used to be was a monster, but to accept that who is now is a monster is very much something else. His inability to accept this leads to perhaps his biggest professional mistake. In New World Abe finds Captain Daimio, the guy that turned into a were-jaguar and killed a bunch of B.P.R.D. agents and soldiers. This guy is a very real threat, but Abe never tells anyone about him. Abe believes in the man Ben Daimio is, and that he can conquer the monster he’s become. Daimio’s situation mirrors Abe’s at this point, and if Abe can’t believe Daimio can conquer his demons, how can he believe the same of himself?
It is a mistake that will ultimately claim many more lives in The Long Death.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Gods
The “New Race of Man” stuff is not something that has inspired a lot of confidence in Abe, causing a rift between him and his colleagues, especially Agent Devon. This has brought out an impatient and aggressive side of Abe, which is starting to get on even Kate’s nerves.
Enter Fenix, a sixteen-year-old girl that can sense the future. She’s been using her abilities to steer people clear of the horrific volcanoes and monsters in the ever-changing landscape of a world going to hell. It’s an ability the B.P.R.D. could certain make use of.
Abe and Devon are sent out to find her and see if they can bring her in, but Fenix has plans of her own. When Abe meets her, he lays down his gun and tries reassure her. But apparently Fenix already knows who Abe is and proceeds to shoot him repeatedly in the throat and chest, leaving him lying broken and bloody on the ground. All the while Devon watches and does nothing. A girl that can see the future just shot Abe. It confirms every suspicion Devon had, so he lets her go, and later when he’s asked who shot Abe, he says he doesn’t know.
As for Abe, he survives, but with extensive brain damage, and then his body begins to change…
…Which brings us to the present. For the second time in his life, Abe is going to wake up in a tube to find himself changed, this time into everything he never wanted to be. It will be a change that will set him on the run from the B.P.R.D., having to survive alone in a world going to hell.
It will be Abe’s most defining moment to date and a story you won’t want to miss. B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #105 starts this month, followed closely by Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible in early April. You can read all the latest news and interviews here at Mignolaversity as a part of our 31 Days of Abe, and don’t forget the “Evolution of Abe Sapien” art contest if you want a chance to win all six Hellboy Library Editions.