“Hellboy” is one of the most prominent comic book franchises to be conceived of outside of the bubble of the Big Two that has also launched itself a plethora of spin-offs. Today, we are going to take a look at the first story that sprung its most popular spin-offs, the stories of those, human and otherwise, that work to protect the world at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “B.P.R.D.”
With apologies for intruding on the stomping grounds of Mark Tweedale. Check out the lovely work he does.
Written by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, & Tom Sniegoski
Penciled by Ryan Sook
Inked by Sook & Curtis Arnold
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Hellboy’s departure from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense has left the other supernatural members questioning their futures. But when a vision appears to Abe Sapien warning of danger for the missing Liz Sherman, he takes a very irregular group of agents on a mission that could lead them right through the center of the earth. Written by the author of Hellboy: The Lost Army, Chris Golden, Buffy/Angel writing partner Tom Sniegoski, and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Drawn by Spike and Dru and Spectre artist Ryan Sook, B.P.R.D. begins a new direction in the Hellboy group of comics.
Hollow. If there was a word to fit the theme going throughout this story, it would be that. Not because it’s bad! It’s real good. “B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth” is, on the surface, a simple tale of assembling a team after the Bureau’s most prominent agent, Hellboy, leaves to wander the earth. However, when you look beneath the surface, you find not only that but a glimpse at characters who feel rudderless and… well… hollow after having such connective tissue removed from their day-to-day lives. All the while, it serves as a great introduction to the world of “Hellboy” in general.
Every character has had something removed from them, whether it is physical or emotional. The story starts two years prior with Elizabeth Sherman, the B.P.R.D.’s resident pyrokinetic, entering the monastery Agartha in order to try to find some form of spiritual balance in her life. This event ends up being the catalyst as we return to the present at B.P.R.D. Headquarters to introduce us to the rest of our cast. Director of Operations, Kate Corrigan is trying to hold the organization together amidst governmental pressure and the waning commitment of agents such as the aquatic creature Abe Sapien. Sapien himself has become more and more disillusioned with the B.P.R.D., in particular because the Bureau had put a bomb in one of his friends, the homunculus Roger, without telling anyone (“Hellboy: Conqueror Worm”). However, it is a vision of a distressed Elizabeth that kicks Abe back in to action to rescue his former comrade.
If there is something both a benefit and detriment to ‘Hollow Earth’ it is in its simplicity. I’ll admit, this story had been my first foray into the Mignolaverse way back when I first read it some three-four years ago. Mignola, Golden, and Sniegoski do a real good job of keeping it that way and inferring to the deep past these characters share without it drowning the book. Hellboy’s hiatus; Roger, the Chengu Disaster; little mentions to the past are sprinkled in to make a new reader want to know more. That said, it is that same simplicity that backfires on the story. The antagonists, a group of creatures that want Liz’s flame to power these ancient machines, feel like non-entities with little depth. The big kicker though was Liz herself. The story starts with a good hook on her emotional emptiness but the rest of it she feels like a damsel in distress; not even escaping confinement under her own ability or feeling like she grew from that emotional emptiness.Continued below
I have to admit, Ryan Sook’s more modern work leaves me a bit cold (albeit usually the fault of the colorists he’s with), so it is nice to revisit some older work. He and co-inker Curtis Arnold of course invoke Mignola’s work, working with minimalized linework and utilizing shadow to emphasize horror and emotion. Whether it is Abe’s face hidden to emphasize his sadness and jaded mentality or the group looking into a dark, empty, hollow chasm, this less-is-more mentality serves to great effect. On top of that, the panel pacing in this story is very good. Such sequences that come to mind being Elizabeth meditating, each panel being a symbol made of flames or Abe looking through old books and effect, emphasizing his melancholy before Liz contacts him.
As has been said before, it’s kind of hard to find new things to say about colorist Dave Stewart. If he isn’t the greatest colorist in the last twenty years of comics, then he certainly ranks. To compliment the discussed use of shadow, Stewart always seems to know the proper coloring to make the darkness and the light pop in equal measure. A good example of that being the flashbacks to Johann’s “origin.” The use of ethereal blues and whites emphasizes not only the dissolving of his physical form without having to use gore while also using it to create an ethereal “outline” of his spiritual essence. But the coloring is its own star when we show Liz and her flames, in flashbacks to childhood and her present captivity. They are bright, bold, angry and afraid, able to convey Liz’s fears in a way opposite of the dark, oppressive creepiness of other scenes.
“B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth” was my first glimpse into the Mignolaverse and I am glad to say it still holds up as a good, if simple, story and as an entry point to the world outside of the big, red demon dude Hellboy. The reexamination in a bubble did make me come to realize it does have some faults, such as Liz’s non-actions in a majority of the work, but those would be ironed out in the continuing adventures of the series that would launch from this story.
The original trade paperback that contained ‘Hollow Earth’ is out of print, but it and the next two volumes of “B.P.R.D.” were collected in the “B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs – Volume 1” omnibus that is well worth the price.