In some ways the main B.P.R.D. series (which recently picked up the HELL ON EARTH subtitle) is a sprawling end-of-the-world war epic, with monster-infested fronts all over the planet. It’s still gritty and dark and always a little spooky, but the core team that launched the title is fractured and sort of meandering around having adventures. Hellboy and Roger are dead. Abe Sapien was in a coma and now that he’s out, he looks different and seems a little directionless. Liz Sherman was MIA until just recently. And Johann Krauss’s attitude has gone down the crapper lately, especially since he got a new containment suit. Meanwhile the human team members are getting some time in the spotlight, which is welcome, as they’ve always been a strength of the series.
Just as the contemporary world of B.P.R.D. gets more interesting and closer to the end, it’s also become a mess to untangle. There’s a standalone Abe Sapien book, and the main series recently started numbering sequentially in addition to keeping its series of miniseries format. And a revolving series of — albeit quite talented — artists has left the series feeling a little disconnected. The story is huge, and being told in tiny chunks, so at times it’s hard to get a grasp of the bigger picture.
So, the throwback B.P.R.D. series that began with 1946 are sort of a welcome reprieve, where the world is still a relatively simple place where the good guys at the Bureau fight the bad guys at the secret nazi vampire projects. In B.P.R.D. 1947, the creative team of Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and the twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba introduced Simon Anders, former merchant marine and one of the early members of the Bureau. By the end of that series, he had a couple of vampire spirits sealed in his chest, and his mental state deteriorated further in B.P.R.D. 1948, written by Mignola & Arcudi and drawn by Max Fiumara. B.P.R.D. VAMPIRE is essentially 1948 ½, with the twins Moon and Ba returning as artists to push the story of Simon Anders into its next phase.
Vampires in Mignola’s universe have an interesting history, and this book touches on what we already know and expands it a little more. What’s important is that vampires went “underground” for a time so that humans would forget them and let them pass into myth. Simon Anders knows better, and the vampire spirits in his chest cause such unrest that the only way he can think to exact vengeance is to track down the source of the vampires and kill them.
This is of course not the first time Ba and Moon have drawn Mignola’s world, and hopefully it won’t be their last. VAMPIRE is easily some of their finest work, on par with anything they’ve made. The twins styles are quite different, with Ba preferring the even keel of a graphic pen while Moon opts for fluid brushwork. And yet their figure work and paneling are largely simpatico, to the point that you almost don’t notice the transition from one brother’s hand to the next. And indeed, they work on the same pages in this book and in a few cases even the same panels.
Not enough can be said about Dave Stewart’s colors here. As the main Hellboy series and its many spin-offs have evolved over the years, Stewart is in many ways the anchoring style sense that makes them all feel like part of the same body of work. His lighting and palette set the mood, and you always knows you’re reading a Mignola book from the first page. The addition of master letterer Clem Robins’ steady hand has a similar unifying effect.
VAMPIRE is creepier than your average Mignolaverse book, and a fair bit darker, too. Which is saying something. The story is tragic and downright harrowing. You won’t recognize Simon Anders by the last page. But that’s not to say it lacks the expected pulpy charm of a Mignola book. After all, this is still a series about fighting monster in the 1940s.
Of the the flashback spin-offs, VAMPIRE is probably the best to date. While the pulpy Lobster Johnson series and the recent Sledgehammer ’44 have really gotten back to the core nazi/monster fighting heritage of the Mignola books, VAMPIRE amps up the bloody revenge, obsession and madness. This is horror comics at its very best.
Issues 1-5 published this summer, and a collected edition will be out in November. And I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of Simon Anders riding around on that bear.