Comics Review: “B.P.R.D. The Long Death #1″ Not Exactly Entertaining But Different
The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D. for short), a fictional organization featured in comic book writer and artist Mike Mignola’s popular “Hellboy” series, counts among its agents one Abe Sapien, a one-time Victorian scientist and occult investigator who was transformed into a fish-man. When we first encounter him in “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1” (Dark Horse), agent Sapien is out of action; having suffered gunshots to the chest and lapsed into a coma, he remains immersed in a liquid-filled vat.
The immobilized Sapien and his fellow agents (who are themselves only mobile to varying extents; psychic empath Johann Kraus exists as an ectoplasmic entity that inhabits a containment suit) are, as B.P.R.D. members, tasked with protecting America and the world from all manner of paranormal threats. In “The Long Death #1,” written by Mignola and John Arcudi, agent Klaus leads a mission to British Columbia, Canada, to investigate a mysterious series of disappearances. However, the plot thickens as Klaus abandons his team without notice to set out on his own, which prompts second-in-command agent Giarocco to take charge. Will the agents survive the night, with the unknown terror lurking out there? Leadership involves sacrifice: who will ultimately pay the price?
In a comic as weird and visceral as this one, visuals undoubtedly play a crucial role in inducing the reader to feel the appropriate amount of terror or morbid fascination. Though I am an amateur when it comes to the horror genre, James Harren’s illustrations, colored by Dave Stewart, are sufficiently effective in evoking such a response in me. The panels depicting groups of anonymous, mostly featureless agents in communal settings such as in the dining hall, B.P.R.D. jet, or sleeping quarters are rendered in a muted color palette with detailed yet uncluttered lines. These are in sharp contrast to close-ups featuring paranormal creatures in action: blood, guts, and all. I found myself torn between staring, captivated, and wanting to look away, but I don’t think I will lose any sleep over them.
With all due sympathy for water-bound fish-man Abe Sapien’s plight, reading this comic, I felt like…well, a fish out of water. The only previous occasion on which I recall feeling so out of my element while reading a comic was when a friend urged me with uncharacteristically vocal enthusiasm to check out Mark Millar’s “Wanted.” I read that with noble hopes of lending credibility to my claim that I wanted to watch the movie adaptation for reasons beyond James McAvoy, but I simply could not get beyond a certain point.
That being said, “The Long Death #1” is far from unworthy of one’s time—after all, I decided to review it, didn’t I? At the very least, I encourage exploring comics that deviate from one’s typical choices because it can be an enlightening exercise in discovering the extent of diversity in subject matter and style within the comic medium. Additionally, comics push boundaries in a variety of ways, including going for shock value in plot or illustration. Sometimes this is a progressive move, and sometimes it really isn’t, as in instances where female characters are treated violently without any seeming purpose or further nuanced exploration. I’d further concede that what “works” and what doesn’t is highly subjective, an opinion which can be all the more difficult to form when engaging in dialogue with avid fans who are vociferous about defending their tastes. With regard to these issues, I’d say “The Long Death #1” does pass my litmus test.
I wouldn’t call “The Long Death #1” entertaining, exactly, but it is indeed thought-provoking; it got me thinking about the expectations I have of a comic, and how I react when those are challenged. In this comic, my attention was drawn most keenly to agent Giarocco. Having assumed the mantle of leadership after Kraus’ disappearance, she performs admirably, if not terribly originally so far as depictions of leadership and heroism go. Rather, it is her conversation with agent Kraus as they fly to their mission destination that left a lasting impression on me: she shares with him a video on her camera of her young son’s baptism ceremony.
It is a minor interaction that lasts only two pages, but it struck me as an especially poignant or intimate moment in a comic whose pages are otherwise largely strewn with deeply troubled agents and beastly monsters. For this reader, who felt so far from familiar territory while reading this comic, it was a fleeting moment of normalcy to cling to, and a reassurance that, at their heart, all good stories share some fundamental qualities.