This evergreen review I’m looking back to one of my favorite “B.P.R.D.” stories. If you haven’t read “1947” before, there will be spoilers, but mostly mild ones. I don’t go into plot specifics beyond the first issue, except for a few background details.
Written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart
Illustrated by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
After the discovery of a trainload of Nazi officers drained of blood, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense learns that there are things far more ancient and dangerous than they could have imagined in this direct sequel to B.P.R.D.: 1946. Broom enlists an already damaged crew to lead an investigation that may be doomed before it can begin, climaxing in a witches’ Sabbath, a vampire massacre, and an exorcism.
I usually avoid Mignola books for evergreen reviews, but vampires have been on my mind a bit lately, and I wanted an excuse to revisit this 2009 miniseries. “1947” is a favorite of mine. The script and art come together in a way I can’t help but get excited about. It was also Joshua Dysart’s last bit of writing for the Hellboy Universe and, in my opinion, his best. “1947” also marked the debut of twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá in Mignola’s Hellboy Universe, and Dysart used them in a very powerful way, with Bá portraying the real world and Moon portraying the world of illusion, vampires, and spirits. This concept is at the very heart of the story. Indeed, it’s the very engine of it. This wasn’t a slapped-on concept, but the foundation of the story from which virtually every creative decision stemmed.
Before I get in too deep, here’s the quick set-up. Baron Konig, a vampire and one of the villains from “1946,” seeks retribution against humankind for the horrific acts of torture inflicted on his fellow vampires by the Nazis in 1944 and 1945. He kills a bunch of Nazi prisoners, which gets the Bureau’s attention, so Professor Bruttenholm sends in four new agents (all former soldiers) to investigate. However, with very little to go on, their most recent lead is the venue for a party Konig hosted in 1771.
One of the agents, Simon Anders, gets to work immediately, while his compatriots spend their first evening in town drinking. Up to this point, there’s been nothing out of the usual about this tale. However, as Anders sets off to the library, he strays from pages drawn by Gabriel Bá into pages by Fábio Moon and the tale begins to show its true colors.
The transition is very smooth. It’s not something that jumps out. At first Moon mimics Bá’s more angular style, but over the next few pages his work gradually settles into his own softer, brushier style. Like Anders in the story, we’re not fully aware of the change. The colorist, Dave Stewart, helps sell this too; at this point his colors for both brothers are the same. It’s only when the story returns to the other three agents back at the bar that the switch becomes readily apparent.
But this is only the first stage of the transition. While Anders pores over a book in the library, he’s approached by a woman, Katharina. As the woman talks to Anders, the coloring style changes. The line between light and dark dissolves away, with splotches of blue and pink creeping into the shadows—Katharina’s influence on the color palette literally spreads from the shadows. Soon she leads Anders outside and the pages are flooded with saturated blue and green.
Dave Stewart’s work on “1947” is fantastic. I’m blown away by it every time. He colors Bá and Moon differently, drawing attention to the differences when needed and blending between the two during transitional sequences. This is especially important in sequences involving flashbacks which may be drawn by a different brother than the one doing the primary scene.
“1947” constantly veers back and forth between the Anders plotline and the other agents’ plotline (not to mention occasionally checking in on Professor Bruttenholm and Hellboy too), so each of these sequences has to stand apart from the sequences on either side of it. This is further complicated by the way each scene moves. The color is never static. The first time we cut back to the other Bureau agents they’re at a bar, so there’s warm light and lots of browns, next time they’re in the streets at night, so there’s grays and blues, then there’s dawn, then castle ruins by a lake, then into dark tombs below which erupt in reds, yellows, and oranges once the fighting begins… There’s quite a spectrum of color to travel through.Continued below
The Anders story has an additional element though. His story is full of outside influences, the seduction of the sisters Katharina and Annaliese, the warmth of the party, the chill of the witches’ festival, then sickly greens flood the pages with the arrival of Hecate. All of these elements Stewart manifests as colors that bleed into a scene. There’s so much to juggle in “1947,” but Stewart makes it look effortless.
Dysart trusted the art team to carry a lot of the exposition, which freed up the dialogue to dig into the characters. This is the first time we’re meeting Anders, Stegner, Russell, Ruiz, the Österreich sisters, and Ota Benga, yet each character makes a strong impression without derailing the story. More importantly, this isn’t just another Bureau mission—it changes the characters. And even the characters that don’t change reveal their character to us in interesting ways. Margaret Laine, Professor Bruttenholm’s secretary, doesn’t change from beginning to end, but we see that she questions Bruttenholm and she disagrees with him, but she also trusts him. Even with the limited page space she has, she reads as a character with more to her.
Most scenes are doing more than one thing at a time, which keeps the pacing taught. There’s a technique Dysart uses several times throughout “1947” where he has his characters discuss one thing, while the comic panels show us something else. The juxtaposition allows him to talk about two story points at the same time by drawing attention to similarities or differences in the two elements. And if you’re into the larger mythology of the Hellboy Universe, he throws in a few elements of connective tissue, but done in understated ways. When Ota Benga talks about the many faces of god, there’s a panel of a little wooden Perun statue. Nothing is said about it specifically, but if you remember Perun from “Hellboy: Darkness Calls,” it means something in this context. This sort of subtle nod doesn’t distract from the story at hand, nor does it feel heavy handed. The creative team worked together so seamlessly on “1947,” I never tire of revisiting it (especially as I wait for Bá and Moon to put together the next “B.P.R.D.: Vampire” miniseries).
Plus young Hellboy is fantastic. Before this book came along, we’d not really had a scene with Bruttenholm there as a father figure. He was always giving Hellboy missions, or away on a mission himself, or, y’know, being attacked by frog monsters and dying. “1947” gave us a glimpse of Bruttenholm and Hellboy (and Mac) as a family. I’m glad it did too, because since then we’ve gotten richer stories with both Bruttenholm and Hellboy. If it weren’t for “1947,” I don’t imagine the flashback scene with Bruttenholm in “Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury” would have had the same power.
Yes, this is a story about vampires, but it did so much more than spin a spooky story. It enriched a universe.
I should point out, the “B.P.R.D.: 1947” trade will not be reprinted now that the “B.P.R.D.: 1946–1948” omnibus is out, so if you’re hunting for this story, the omnibus is what you’re looking for.