B.P.R.D. began as a simple experiment to focus on a core group of characters within the Hellboy universe independent of Hellboy himself. Characters that were once sidekicks (for lack of a better word), like the amphibious Abe Sapien and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, were pushed to the forefront of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, granted their own spinoff title and a chance to sink or swim on their own merits. Nearly a decade later, B.P.R.D. has proved to be a rousing success and a title that has become every bit the equal of its devilish franchise hero.
Plague of Frogs, Vol. 1 presents the first cycle of stories (also collected individually in the trade paperbacks Hollow Earth, The Soul of Venice,and Plague of Frogs) in an epic that came to define the overarching mythology that lies at the core of B.P.R.D. Presented in a thick hardback, this opening volley is the first of four collections that will piece together the “Frogs” storyline in its entirety.
Starting with Hollow Earth and The Soul of Venice, readers are introduced to the quirky ensemble as they struggle to find their place within the B.P.R.D. following Hellboy’s departure. Although there are references to past adventures, it’s a series very open to new readers unfamiliar with creator Mike Mignola’s ever-expanding gothic lore. Written by a stable of writers under Mignola’s supervision, the opening chapters provide some great character pieces set against chilling horror stories that manage to offer unique twists and a few surprises, along with a few inspirations reminiscent of old B-movies, blending superheroics with science-gone-wrong morality tales. After a lengthy introduction to establish the characters, their relationships, and the diverse realms they inhabit, the final chapter of this volume launches into Plague of Frogs properly, with an exciting, fast-paced story that raises the stakes considerably while tightening the noose around the ensemble. Each segment of this final chapter is designed to carry maximum weight after all the character building of the book’s earlier portions so that each action-packed set piece and cliffhanger is finely tuned and suspenseful.
The volume is also chock full of extras, as Dark Horse provides a look behind the scenes, reprinting character studies and design evolutions from the various artists involved in bringing B.P.R.D. to life. It’s fun to read about how the artists, like longtime B.P.R.D. illustrator Guy Davis and Michael Avon Oeming, developed their ideas with Mignola, and how much they enjoyed being a part of the Hellboy universe. There’s a clear love for the world and its mythology amongst the talent involved, and that enthusiasm shines through in these sketchbook reprints, particularly as many can’t help but craft their own visions of the iconic Hellboy character.
B.P.R.D. manages to break away from Hellboy and stand on its own successfully. It rises above the moniker of spinoff to become its own entity, with its own identity and brand of storytelling. It's a brilliant expansion to Mignola's Hellboy universe, but one that can stand proudly apart from that loveable, big red oaf. It's interesting to watch those involved in crafting this series as they begin to realize that and develop the assuredness required to execute the long-ranging epic that the Frogs storyline grew into. And the best part of all—it’s only just getting started.
Reviewed by Michael Hicks on July 9, 2012
B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs Collection, Vol. 1