Saturday, June 28, 2008

B. P. R. D.- Garden of Souls by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis

Abe Sapien may be a fish-man now, but back in Civil War times, he was a human named Langdon Everett Caul, a scientist and occult investigator part of an organization of like-minded men seeking to know the secrets of life itself. Abe doesn't remember anything of his earlier life, but he recently found out about his former life, and now he has decided to look into it.

Apparently the men Abe knew as Caul discovered a 3000 year old mummy, who, when they unwrapped its bandages, was somehow still alive. Now, Abe has just come back from a mission where fellow B.P.R.D. operative, the golem named Roger, sacrificed himself to end a mighty evil. As a result, he is being buried under a fake name in Colorado, in hopes that those who might still wish to steal his body and do something with it are thrown off the track and cannot find him.

Back at base, Liz Sherman is having nightmare apocalyptic visions where Rasputin tells her that she can trust only him, Johann Strauss is delving into the records that remain after the fire that nearly destroyed them all and discovers some unusual information about a current agent of the B.P.R.D, and Captain Benjamin Damio is having some sort of secret procedure to guard against an attack by... something unnamed and probably very horrible. Abe gets a package for himself and finds a cigar case with his old initials on it, containing three very old cigars and a map showing a location in southeast Asia.

Abe and Damio travel to Bangkok, where Caul's old friends now live, carrying on their experiments on a small jungle island. Abe is abducted by one of the men, now in a new, purpose-grown body. The others, who should have been long dead, are now only able to live in a bath of nutrient fluid, carried around in robotic bodies. They have been tinkering with the local wildlife in the effort to understand the secrets of life, aided by the mummy, who they call Naunet, but whose real name is Panya.

Panya is desperate to escape her virtual imprisonment on the island, and to expose the schemes of Caul's former friends. But they tell Abe themselves, eager to have him join in their scheme and thinking he will support them: Since humanity is killing the earth, they will don the new bodies they are growing for themselves and set off a tidal wave that will kill most of the remaining humans. When the dead human souls leave their bodies, they will also be drawn into the new bodies, which are made to house many souls. The men will become the remainder of humanity, embodying the entire race.

Abe is appalled at their plan, and makes it clear to them. But they have already set their plans in motion, with 35 huge bombs set in place around the pacific rim. Can Damio, separated from Abe and with the help of a little retarded girl possessed by Panya, find the bombs and neutralize them before Caul's former friends decide to unleash their plan early?

Mike Mignola has a very unique style of artwork also uniquely suited to the types of stories he tells, which tend to be full of dark plots and strange organic-techno machines that look as though they were the product of some long-hidden strange race from the mists of pre-history. That artwork is fully allowed to shine in B.P.R.D., which used to be Hellboy, but since Hellboy quit, has become the playground of the "lesser lights" from the roster.

This story really focusses on Abe, and we finally learn a bit more about how Langston Edward Caul became Abe Sapien, and why he was discovered underneath an old hospital with the date of Abe Lincoln's assassination on his tube.

Anyone who reads this comic expecting it to be just like the Hellboy movies will be in for a big surprise. Liz doesn't like Hellboy, she likes Abe, and Johann Strauss, just introduced in the second movie, has never met Hellboy, as he joined the B.P.R.D. after Hellboy left. His appearance is quite a bit different from the movie as well, and his powers are different also.

This is a great graphic novel and can stand alone quite well. It does help to have read all the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. books before this one, however, to understand who Roger was and how he died, and where Liz's visions are coming from. Even without that, this remains a superior book and superior story, and the art is dark and scary and outstandingly outré.

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