Set in 1948 in the early days of the BPRD when Hellboy was still a child, one of Professor Bruttenholm’s (pronounced “Broom”) colleagues, the troubled sailor Simon Anders, is having waking nightmares of the two demonic sisters trapped within him, thanks to the Professor from a previous adventure. He decides this can’t go on – he must vanquish their spirits once and for all and restore his sanity, by going back to their earthly home and killing all of the witches and vampires there. Game on, Agent Anders!
Look at these credits: Mike Mignola. Gabriel Ba. Fabio Moon. Dave Stewart. This is a dream team of comics creators. So how could this book be anything less than a masterpiece with such an array of talent?
I think the reason I wasn’t as enamoured with this book as I usually am with other BPRD titles is because this is a fairly generic Mignola spooky story. Simon – or any protagonist really as Simon isn’t a very interesting character – goes to Europe, encounters some odd people, wanders through romantic scenery of moonlit forests, ruined castles and so on, some witches and vampires show up, fighting ensues, the end. If you’ve read as much Mignola as I have, you’ll know the guy is capable of far more complex and compelling storylines than this – if anything, BPRD: Vampire is Mignola on autopilot.
Which isn’t to say it’s that bad – it’s a decent story, just not very surprising. Mignola on autopilot is still head and shoulders above other writers’ best efforts, I think I’ve just been spoiled having enjoyed so much quality Mignola fare before that my expectations for everything he does is now unreasonably high.
Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s artwork though is what really stands out. There are so many wordless scenes that are just wonderful to behold: Simon taking an old-fashioned train – empty – at night across mainland Europe, quaint lit cottages dotted amidst imposing trees alongside the rails; the amazing town of Cesky Krumlov in South Bohemia (modern day Czechoslovakia) with its stone narrow roads, market stalls and haunted, head-shawled women, and the old, menacing, empty castle, not to mention the dark forests, ruined buildings and the underground throne-room… Ba and Moon’s artwork is really something. It always is, but I particularly liked it here, taking their dark and gothic cues from Mignola’s style.
It was great seeing Bruttenholm out in the field. He’s one of my favourite characters partly because he’s one of the few non-supernatural BPRD members and yet is also their leader, plus he’s just a good dude. If you like Bruttenholm as much as me, check out BPRD: 1946 and BPRD: 1947 for some outstanding stories starring this underused character.
I also appreciate Mignola’s by now highly sophisticated storytelling style. The ending is intentionally ambiguous with Simon’s fate unknown, as well as numerous other characters’ – “deceased” characters have a habit of cropping up in other Mignola books at any time. Events unfold without intrusive explanation as Mignola allows the story to breathe, using dialogue when necessary but also understanding silent images are sometimes more effective in comics, and nothing is signposted – some story points just are. You get just enough story to understand the book but not enough so that you know for sure how everything went down, and I love that about Mignola’s recent work.
As a long-time Mignola reader and big fan of the BPRD, I can’t say that this is one of the better volumes in the series (try BPRD: The Universal Machine instead for an amazing read) but it’s not bad, and for more casual readers, it’s perfectly fine. BPRD: Vampire is a solid vampire/witch/supernatural story and is also accessible to non-series readers who can just pick up this book and enjoy the atmospheric horror of it all – and hey, it’s Halloween, the perfect time to experience Mignola’s dark world! Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are also amazing talents – check out their work like De:Tales and Daytripper for some phenomenal comics. They’re a good fit for these books, I hope they collaborate again with Mignola. And in a world where the most famous vampire story right now is the abysmal Twilight, it’s good to see Mignola and co. give vampires their balls back by making them terrifying bloody monsters again