B.P.R.D. (Vol. 1): Hollow Earth and Other Stories by Mike Mignola (writer) & various writers and artists
The first story in this collection, “Hollow Earth,” starts off in the Ural Mountains above the arctic circle where Liz Sherman is seeking help in a monastery as she hopes to learn how to control the fire within her. At headquarters we meet Kraus, whose origin story we get in B.P.R.D.: Being Human. He has just joined the bureau and moved in to make his home at headquarters since he can’t pass as human in the outside world. Kraus joins the B.P.R.D. at a crucial time: Hellboy has quit, Liz still hasn’t returned from the monastery, and Abe and Roger are threatening to leave the bureau. When Liz contacts Abe through paranormal means, she begs him for help, so before Abe can leave the bureau, he and Roger find themselves on a plane heading to the Ural Mountains. Kraus joins them on his first semi-official case with the B.P.R.D. as they go in search of one of their own. Abe, the reluctant leader of Roger and Kraus, goes deep underground with them, into the Hollow Earth. Signs of Nazis and pre-human creatures make for a fantastic story, the first one written to try to continue the comics with Hellboy’s having quit the B.P.R.D. (though his story continues in the main Hellboy series).
“The Killer in My Skull” and “Abe Sapien Versus Science” are the two short short stories that follow the main comic in the collection. The first story, taking place in 1938, features the first appearance of Lobster Johnson who will show up in other Mignola stories and star in his own series. Johnson is based on pulp heroes of the 1930s and 1940s, and in this story he comes in to solve a series of locked-room mysteries. There’s plenty of action in this tale. In “The Killer in My Skull,” scientists study “Roger,” the fifteenth-century homunculus created by an alchemist who initially brought him to life with lightning (he comes back to life in the Hellboy series when Liz gets close to him with her paranormal fire). In this story, he has been “dead” again for some time due to earlier events. Abe, who himself was examined by scientists who wanted to dissect him for study, interrupts the scientists this time before they dissect Roger.
The last story of the collection, “Drums of the Dead,” was the first Hellboy comic without Hellboy in it. The comic opens on a boat with the crew hearing drumbeats. One man, suddenly possessed, kills another, seemingly driven to act by mystical drums. The B.P.R.D. sends out Abe Sapien on the case. Abe works with B.P.R.D. agent Garrett, a psychic who, after a two-year coma, can see ghosts. The case is a rough one for Garrett. What I like best about this story is that we get first-person narration from Abe. And the fact that we find out Abe, the amphibious man, gets seasick when in a boat! Overall, though, this is a dark story that, in addition to being violent, deals with slavery and the Middle Passage.
This volume is a solid opening to the B.P.R.D. volumes with two long and two short stories. And it is successful storytelling even without Hellboy present. Abe Sapien makes a good leader in the field and in the comic book. I give this a strong recommendation even though I do not think it is quite up to the often five-star material of many, if not most, Hellboy comics.