Hollow Earth & Other Stories collects the first B.P.R.D. mini-series, as well as the first Abe Sapien one-shot and some back-up features. Coming out of Hellboy, the book had some big shoes to fill when it was first launched, but quickly established it’s own distinctive identity. While this identity has itself changed a lot over the years, the first volume is still the best jumping on point and features some classic adventure mixed with horror.
Hollow Earth begins with Liz Sherman seeking out a remote temple above the arctic circle in an attempt to gain control of her pyrokinetic powers. After this short prologue it quickly jumps to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense headquarters, where the team is welcoming a new member in Johann Krauss. Johann was a psychic medium before a terrible incident reduced him to an ectoplasmic entity the B.P.R.D. has encased in a suit. Things start to go badly for Liz, forcing her to send a psychic cry for help out to Abe back at the Bureau. This results in the mounting of a rescue mission, including Abe, Johann, Roger the Humonculus and Field Director Kate Corrigan. Over the course of the next few issues the team will discover the ruins of an ancient underground civilization, gigantic monsters and the (typically) potential end of the world. It’s a classic Mignola story inspired from equal parts of adventure, horror, classic pulp stories and debunked pseudo-science.
One of the best aspects of the book, and one that often flies under the radar, is the amount of humour that the series packs in. While it may get lost in the horror and action, there’s honestly a chuckle every few pages and it’s one of my favourite aspects of Mignola’s work. Even amongst the doom and gloom there’s a humour reminding us that these comics are meant to be fun. It’s odd to think of a series that eventually evolves into the outright end of the world as funny, but B.P.R.D. has honestly given me more laughs than a lot of comedy books.
The creative team for the mini-series features some interesting choices, including Ryan Sook, Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski in addition to Mike Mignola. Golden and Sniegoski are credited as Mignola’s co-writers, and this collaboration must have been enjoyable for Mike since he’d go on to work on three illustrated novels with Golden. Sook’s art pays obvious homage to Mignola’s Hellboy style, creating a continuity between B.P.R.D. and its parent book that enforces the idea of an expanding universe. At the same time, his own personal flair shines through, especially in a few panels distinctly his own.
Drums of the Dead was the first solo Abe Sapien release, coming from the team of Brian McDonald and Derek Thompson. I’s a story about Abe investigating mysterious incident of possession along oceanic shipping lines. The story was released as a single issue (split with Heads, a short Hellboy back-up) so it progresses quickly from boarding the boat into a flat-out brawl. McDonald doesn’t just write a fist-fight though, tackling some dark subject matter in the story’s end. Thompson provides art with heavy use of shadows, giving the story an almost claustrophobic feel that fits the tight confines of a ship.
The Killer in My Skull and Abe Sapien Versus Science were both originally short back-up features written by Mignola and drawn by Matt Smith. The Killer in My Skull features the first appearance of Lobster Johnson, trying to solve a locked-room murder mystery. The result is uncovering a conspiracy involving telekinesis and fighting a gigantic floating brain. It’s an almost surreal blast of a story, encapsulating some of the weirder vibes Mignola can channel. Abe Sapien Versus Science is an introspective story about Abe as he remembers what it was like to be first discovered by the B.P.R.D. The reason for these unpleasant memories is his observance of Roger the Humonculus, recently recovered during one of Hellboy’s adventures. It’s an important story in establishing Abe’s character as well as bringing Roger into the team.
The selection of stories is perfect for the first volume of the series. They may be grouped because of their chronological publishing dates, but their ability to be collected together as an introduction to the team is quite serendipitous. The selected stories honestly structure the first volume perfectly, providing a good selection to build both the team and the book. They start to lay out the team dynamics early and establish the characters strongly while also giving the book as distinct feel different from Hellboy.
There are two stories that push Abe to the forefront, positioning him to take the central lead left vacant with Hellboy’s absence. At the same time, since Hollow Earth is really about the search for Liz and Abe Sapien Versus Science is also the awakening of Roger, both characters are also emphasized as central to the team and story. This all comes together to make B.P.R.D. stand out as a team book foremost, whereas Hellboy was really about a lead character and his supporting cast. Even the addition of Johann brings an essential part of the team dynamic in his role as the rookie (essential to any team book) and ectoplasmic medium in a rubber suit (… also essential?).
The inclusion of a Lobster Johnson story may seem arbitrary, lumping all the non-Hellboy stories into B.P.R.D., but it actually reflects the essence of the book. B.P.R.D. as a book makes the statement that the B.P.R.D. as a team has a life after Hellboy and that there are enough mysteries in the world for two books to be exploring them. The inclusion of Lobster Johnson further emphasizes this, promising that the world is even bigger with even more mysteries and interconnected stories to uncover.
The last few years have proven this especially true, seeing that Lobster would eventually get his own book, as well as solo adventures for Abe and the introduction of Witchfinder. The world that Mike Mignola first created in Hellboy has proved compelling enough to spawn all of these books, not to mention movies and books. While the sheer amount of releases may make some fans choosy about what to spend their time on, B.P.R.D. is essential reading to any Hellboy fan as well as fans of great adventure and horror stories.